Thursday, January 5, 2023

American Society is Falling Apart

Powerful article by Anton Cebalo, summing up 20 years of research on the "social recession" in America:

One of the most discussed topics online recently has been friendships and loneliness. Ever since the infamous chart showing more people are not having sex than ever before first made the rounds, there’s been increased interest in the social state of things. Polling has demonstrated a marked decline in all spheres of social life, including close friends, intimate relationships, trust, labor participation, and community involvement. The trend looks to have worsened since the pandemic, although it will take some years before this is clearly established.

The decline comes alongside a documented rise in mental illness, diseases of despair, and poor health more generally. In August 2022, the CDC announced that U.S. life expectancy has fallen further and is now where it was in 1996. Contrast this to Western Europe, where it has largely rebounded to pre-pandemic numbers. Still, even before the pandemic, the years 2015-2017 saw the longest sustained decline in U.S. life expectancy since 1915-18.

Some numbers: church membership is down to below 50% for the first time ever, having fallen from 70% to 47% in twenty years. About 12% of Americans say they have no close friends; in one poll 22% of millennials reported having no friends at all. No good polling yet on Gen Z, but as Cebalo says anyone who has spent time on the internet knows their numbers will be at least as bad. The rate of major depression in people 16 to 25 has gone up 50% in just 12 years. Among people 18 to 30, 17% of women and 30% of men say they have had no sex since turning 18.

Cebalo thinks all of this is tied to a collapse of trust, with the amount of trust Americans report having in institutions and each other declining dramatically. As to what this will men going forward,

We have no clear, comparative basis on which to judge what will emerge from the growing number of people who feel lost, lonely or invisible. The closest comparison comes from the early 20th century when, for the first time, millions of provincial people moved to major cities to pursue their dreams. Many uprooted themselves then only to be poor and unfulfilled, who were later easily excited into a mania over mass politics and culture.



Anonymous said...

Oh the sky is falling again

Anonymous said...

church membership is down to below 50% for the first time ever, having fallen from 70% to 47% in twenty years.

I don't see this as a negative thing

Susi said...

Church membership falling doesn’t equal Society falling apart. From my viewpoint, listening and watching in this very religious area of mid-Virginia, it means that many folks are waking up to the religious scams that these churches run. Pastors living large while dunning parishioners for money. Pastors that get $50,000/year but don’t minister or even show up on Sundays (Presbyterian). Greed abounds in the churches I see, and rampant bigotry encouraged by Pastors, if quietly. The Segregated Sunday. “Christianity” as practiced today,, would shame St Paul and their Savior.
I see many young people being generous and kind. I know that Society, in my area, has expanded to include the formerly discluded.
Society is only falling apart if you blinker yourself to the generosity of spirit that these unchurched, inclusive people have.

G. Verloren said...

Oh, is it 1976 again already?

"I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job.

The dollar buys a nickel's worth; banks are going bust; shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter; punks are running wild in the street, and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it!

We know the air is unfit to breathe, and our food is unfit to eat - and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be!

We all know things are bad - worse than bad - they're crazy!

It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out any more! We sit in the house, and slowly the world we're living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials, and I won't say anything! Just leave us alone.'

Well, I'm not going to leave you alone!


I don't want you to protest, I don't want you to riot, I don't want you to write to your Congressman, because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression, and the inflation, and the Russians, and the crime in the street!

All I know is that, first, you've got to get mad!

You've gotta say, 'I'm a human being, goddammit! My life has value!'

So, I want you to get up now.

I want all of you to get up out of your chairs!

I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell:


John said...

Y'all don't seem very impressed by this argument, but I think having no friends is about the worst crisis anyone can have.

David said...


FWIW, I found the statistics extremely depressing, even painful to read, whether they represent a new trend or not.

I admit it's possible people are just unhappy in new, more isolated ways. But perhaps isolation produces a dull, bleak, empty depression that may be worse than the unhappiness of going to church because that's what everyone else is doing, or mostly not liking the stupid, loud guys in the bar, or whatever.

And, I'll say it, I find the idea of nearly half the population living sexless lives pretty sad. I get it that many of them actually feel relieved not to feel pressure to have sex, that others are devoted to career and don't want the burden, etc., etc. But I bet a lot of them are lonely, depressed, and self-hating about it. Beyond that, I'm not fond of what I perceive as our society's bend toward secular monasticism (at least real monks can think that eternal salvation and a vision of God await them at the end; we get . . . to be VP of marketing). I also wonder if the statistics, especially the male ones, represent some sort of decline in the business of prostitution; that might be an interesting aspect to look at.

I do admit the question of whether any of this is new or a "trend" saying something about "America right now" is important.

David said...


My son just pointed out that trends happen all the time. Did people suddenly change 5 years ago? Well, yes: people are always changing. There are constant trends that go this way and that.

(BTW, this is my son, so be nice.)

Anonymous said...

Yes, that's what I'm saying, things go back and forth. Every time there's a statistic goes in a bad direction, I'm not sure that means SOCIETY IS FALLING APART.