Do you know your next door neighbour’s name or what they do for a living? Do you say hello when you see them or shut the front door at the earliest opportunity? Does having neighbours make your home environment feel safe and friendly, or would you rather they didn’t exist at all? Neighbours can be the best of friends or the worst of enemies, depending on who you ask.
We surveyed 1,013 Brits aged 18 to 75 to learn more about their relationships with the people next door.
Most people feel that close neighbourly relationships are in decline. 78% believe their generation has a weaker relationship with its neighbours than the previous generation. Not only that, but the younger we are, the more likely it is that we think neighbourly relations have become ‘much weaker’. Almost half of millennials (born 1981–1996) feel they have a ‘much weaker’ relationship with their neighbours, compared to 26% of Baby Boomers (born 1946–1964).
Why do younger people feel most disconnected from their neighbours? Older people are more likely to have lived in their homes for longer than millennials, but even when focusing on those who have lived in their current homes for at least five years, millennials are less likely than older people to know their neighbours’ names, jobs and ages. Only 38% of millennials know their neighbour by name, whereas 39% of Baby Boomers and 35% of Gen Xers not only know their neighbour’s name but also what they do for a living.
A simple hello can be the first step in getting to know a neighbour. But almost 2 in 5 of us rarely or never say hello to our next door neighbour, and even fewer stop to chat for a couple of minutes.
Younger people are less likely to talk to neighbours. Just 9% of millennials say hello to their neighbours every day, compared to 21% of Gen Xers and 28% of Baby Boomers. More than a quarter of millennials never chat with their neighbours. So, is the social media generation actually the most anti-social?
Every generation is happier to chat with their neighbours than avoid them. But the majority of people, no matter their age, aren’t bothered either way. However, older people do seem more sociable. Forty-five percent of Baby Boomers are keen for a chat, compared to 27% of millennials. Millennials are four times more likely than Baby Boomers to avoid their neighbour.
‘My neighbour waits when I’m getting out of the car to try to talk’ 29-year-old woman, from the South East
Sometimes having children of a similar age can establish a connection between neighbours and give them a reason to interact with each other, be it a playdate or recognising each other at the school gates. Having children doesn’t seem to be high up on the average millennial’s agenda, though, with only 14% actively saving to start a family. Older people may therefore be more likely to establish stronger ties to their neighbour if they both have children. As the majority of Baby Boomers are retired, or approaching retirement, free time and loneliness could mean they’re keener to be friends with their next-door neighbours.
We asked if people considered their neighbour a stranger, acquaintance or friend. More people described their neighbour as a stranger (24%) than as a friend (17%). Even so, 4 out of 5 are happy with how close, or distant, they feel to their neighbour. Over half of those who consider their neighbour a stranger are content with their current relationship.
‘My most awkward experience with my neighbour to date was not recognising them around the neighbourhood'. 31-year-old man, from the West Midlands
Communication is key. Two-thirds of people who consider a neighbour a friend chat with them at least once a week. Whereas more than half of the people who consider a neighbour a stranger said they never tried to chat with them. It raises the question, would some people rather they didn’t have neighbours at all?
Half of all renters and 1 in 3 homeowners would rather their neighbours didn’t exist. When you consider our survey takers’ experiences with their neighbours, it’s no wonder that some would prefer to see the back of them.
‘Our neighbour crashed into our car (caught on CCTV) and then denied it’. 33-year-old woman, from the East of England
People living in flats are 1.5 times more likely than those in houses to wish their neighbours didn’t exist, and men (44%) are more likely than women (37%) to wish away the people next door. What could cause so many people to feel this way?
‘She went into the electricity meter cupboard and switched everyone's electricity off – for 10 flats!’ 66-year-old man, from the West Midlands
We asked people to tell us about their neighbours’ annoying behaviours. Answers ranged from common inconveniences like loud music at night to stolen post and spreading gossip. But only a third of people complained to their neighbour in person, and 31% didn’t take any action.
Six percent of people have even moved home to get away from their neighbours. One creative person changed their Wi-Fi network name to ‘stop_slamming_your_front_door’ to (mostly) good effect. While another ‘played ABBA music very, very loudly for 5 hours in a room next to my neighbour’s bedroom the morning after one of their house parties and went out’. We don’t suppose their neighbours were saying ‘thank you for the music’ when they got home.
‘My neighbour asked to share our WiFi’. 38-year-old man, from South West England
Interactions with our neighbours may be increasingly few and far between, but the overwhelming majority of Brits would still go out of their way to do their next-door neighbour a favour. Almost everyone would accept a delivery on their behalf, 66% would look after their pets, and over half would be happy to socialise outside the neighbourhood. Forty percent would even offer their neighbour a spare key to their home.
‘I live in one of the few parts of the country where it is still safe to leave doors unlocked permanently, so keys are unnecessary’. 54-year-old man, from Scotland
The British public seems to think neighbourly relations are in decline. Only 17% consider their neighbour a friend, only 2 in 5 chat with them on a regular basis and less than half say hello to their neighbours at least once a week. Nevertheless, over half of us are happy to chat with our neighbour when the opportunity arises, and most of us are more than happy to do them a favour such as offering a lift or lending them some sugar.
After taking our survey, one person wrote: ‘This got me thinking if I should be friendlier towards them!’. Maybe it’s just a case of taking the plunge and saying hello or inviting your neighbour around for a cup of tea – our data suggests that they’d be keen to have a neighbourly natter.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our research. Feel free to share our work for any non-commercial purposes, but please do the neighbourly thing and give credit by linking to this page.
Legal & General surveyed 1,013 British people in February 2019 about how well they know their neighbours and how close they feel to them. Survey respondents’ ages ranged from 18 to 81 (median age 39). Fewer responses were received from Baby Boomers (15% of participants) than millennials (39%) and Gen Xers (39%), so whenever a grand mean of the UK population was estimated the sample was weighted for different age groups. When analysing differences between generations, the fact that people of different ages are likely to have different living situations was accounted for so that younger and older people could be compared on a like-for-like basis.
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