Australians no longer good friends with their neighbours: survey

Castle Hill '€˜megalot'€™ set for $100 million deal

A group of 25 neighbours are set to earn approximately $4 million each in a 'megalot' sale in Sydney’s North West.

While some neighbours group together to sell their homes to developers for huge sums, half of Australians aren't good friends with their neighbours, a new survey shows.

One in five Australians have never met their next-door neighbours, while 41 per cent of inner-city dwellers don't consider themselves acquaintances or friends with their neighbours, a survey of more than 1000 people by comparison website Finder has found. 

The days of Neighbours-style relationships might be numbered.
The days of Neighbours-style relationships might be numbered. Photo: Pat Scala

The reason behind this disconnectedness could be ​longer working hours, technology and a lack of time and resources, Finder spokeswoman Bessie Hassan said.

"Instead of chatting over the back fence we are locked inside scrolling through our phones," she said.

Generation Y were the least connected to their neighbours – with just 15 per cent describing their neighbours as friends and 23 per cent as acquaintances. About a third of Baby Boomers were friends with their neighbours, while almost half considered them acquaintances. 

"It's no surprise that most Generation Ys wouldn't recognise their neighbours – they've come to know socialising as something that happens online," Ms Hassan said.

But inner suburban apartment dwellers actually consider themselves more connected to their neighbours and friends than their distant outer-suburban house-living counterparts, University of Technology, Sydney social researcher Roberta Ryan said.

Her research report Why Local Government Matters surveyed 2000 people and found half of renters felt connected locally to friends and neighbours. In total, just 40 per cent of owner-occupiers felt the same.

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"People in the inner metro area are more likely than those in outer areas to feel connected locally to friends and neighbours and it's even stronger in NSW than other states," Ms Ryan said.

In NSW, 44 per cent of apartment residents feel connected, compared to 30 per cent of house residents and in Victoria this same pattern was seen, with 42 per cent of apartment residents and 35 per cent of those in houses reporting they felt this way.

This could be due to apartment developments increasingly featuring facilities, such as gyms, that foster a sense of community. It could also be the result of an increasing trend towards long-term renting, she said.

Younger Australians who buck the trend and choose to move away from the city to afford a house may face lower levels of neighbourhood connectivity – only 30 per cent of those in houses felt connected to friends and neighbours, compared to 44 per cent of those in apartments.

This could be due to the "affordability effect" where those who do choose to move into home ownership face buying "further out from the city to buy a house than if they bought an apartment closer to the city," Ms Ryan said.

"It might seem counter-intuitive, but the housing choices of the younger generations may lead themselves to being more connected," she said.

University of Queensland associate professor School of Social Science Lynda Cheshire said neighbours "are central to our lives" for situations from emergencies to small favours and are important for personal wellbeing.

But there are two forms of neighbouring – manifest and latent. Manifest neighbouring is a situation with overt forms of social relationships, such as friendly greetings, while latent neighbourliness is where they would help out when needed, even if never called upon to help.

"Research has suggested that manifest neighbouring is declining and that this is due to a variety of changes in the way we live and interact in modern society. These have lessened the significance of local social ties, meaning that we no longer feel the need to interact with neighbours in the ways we once did," she said.

The changes have included increased mobility, where people maintain connections with people outside their local area, the increased workforce participation of women and the demise of "civil society".

But Ms Cheshire's research has found that neighbours consistently fulfil their obligations, such as in the case of the 2011 floods in southeast Queensland where residents issued warnings "even to neighbours they did not like".

"It's possible that in some cases, people do interact less frequently with neighbours than they once did, but there is nothing to indicate that people do not hold positive dispositions toward neighbours and would willingly help out if called upon in an emergency," she said.