Humans are social animals by nature. While social interaction is perhaps a basic need, our environments and surroundings are not always conducive to social interaction. It is also extraordinarily difficult to determine exactly what makes up a meaningful social interaction. Individuals socialize in a variety of ways and participate in a wide range of social activities, from spending time with family, to joining a gym, to forming connections on social networking sites. The opportunities for social engagement can also vary considerably based on location, especially on a more local level.
To identify the cities with the most opportunities for social engagement in each state, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the presence of social establishments. The density of these organizations, which in our analysis include both civic and leisure associations, can help facilitate cooperation and community engagement.
While the concentration of these venues offers a glimpse into a city’s social climate, it is also a very limited measurement. This indicator does not account for social support provided by family and friendships, and it also fails to capture individuals who are members of one or numerous organizations but nonetheless feel they lack meaningful social connections.
In addition, the size and popularity of these social organizations can vary considerably. Each state’s most social city has the most establishments per capita, but these organizations tend to have fewer employees, which could also mean fewer visitors. Looking at all U.S. metro areas, the regions with the most concentrated social venues tend to be less densely populated, while the opposite tends to be true among areas with the fewest venues per capita. For example, the number of social organizations per capita in New York City, one of the nation’s most densely populated areas, is lower than in most other regions.
Although living in a large, dense metropolitan area may give the appearance of more opportunities for sociability, the level of social engagement depends on more than just the quantity of connections at a given location. Cities may have more venues, but those venues may be more crowded, limiting the potential for meaningful interactions. Further, at a certain point, the number of choices can be overwhelming, and a large number of options for social connection may actually hinder social participation. In other words, dense, crowded areas, may be among the least amenable settings for being social.
In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Jan Brueckner, professor of economics at the University of California Irvine, explained similar observations from a recent study he coauthored. Based on a measurement of social interactions, Brueckner found that low population density living may actually be good for social ties. While on the other hand, in dense cities like New York, “people are jostled and crowded all day long and they may not want to interact with people as much as the residents of low-density areas,” he said.
For the metro areas reviewed, income is by no means a determinant of social life, and some of the wealthiest cities in the country have the fewest establishments per capita. However, in many cases, wealth can facilitate an active social life. “Social interaction is sort of a luxury activity,” Brueckner said. While establishments do not increase alongside household incomes, high poverty can often limit an area’s access to organized social opportunities.
While income may not determine the number of social establishments, spending habits can certainly influence the type — as well as the number — of organized social venues. Senior citizens, who control a majority of disposable income in the country, for example, are more likely to take advantage of structured social opportunities than younger people. In most cases, there is a larger share of Americans 65 and older in cities with greater numbers of establishments per capita.
Other demographic characteristics contribute to the social life of a metropolitan area. Like senior citizens, single individuals may be more likely to socialize through an organization or association than those living with their family or roommates. Often, there is a larger share of households occupied by a single individual in areas with more establishments per capita.
Financial resources are often needed to cultivate an active social life, but time is also a major requirement. Major urban centers often suffer from severe traffic and congestion, and it is widely believed that heavy traffic in a city can isolate individuals, immobilize residents, and ultimately curb social engagement. The average commute time for workers in the most social city in a majority of states is lower than the national average of just under 25 minutes.
Violence is another major hindrance to social behavior. While the areas with the highest concentrations of social venues do not necessarily have the nation’s lowest violent crime rates, residents living in the relatively safe areas on this list are likely even more able to lead active social lives and participate in their communities.
These are the most social cities in every state.