Social isolation on the rise as civic engagement plummets in Toronto, study finds

Civic engagement among Torontonians has declined markedly in recent years, while the proportion of city dwellers who feel socially isolated has increased.

It is according to Toronto 2022 Social Capital Studya wide-ranging report released on Tuesday that explores how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the well-being of people who live in the city through a wide range of perspectives.

« The experience of the COVID-19 pandemic has placed communities around the world under tremendous stress. In the City of Toronto, the pandemic has created widespread economic hardship, while limiting opportunities for residents to connect with their family, friends, neighbors and organizations, » according to the study. said.

You can read the full report at the bottom of this story.

The report is based on the results of a survey of 4,163 people aged 18 and over in Toronto, conducted both online and by telephone, during the summer of this year. The data was weighted by age, gender, education level, immigration background, racial identity and area of ​​town.

The survey was modeled on a previous version from 2018, so results from the two years could be directly compared. It was led by the not-for-profit Toronto Foundation and Environics Institute, along with a host of other partners.

Although “social capital” is an esoteric concept, says Sharon Avery, President and CEO of the Toronto Foundation, it is essential to the well-being of individuals and communities. This includes things like our relationships with each other, our sense of belonging, and our sense of trust in the people in our lives, Avery told CBC Radio. Subway morning in an interview.

LISTEN | More Torontonians have retired from civic life in recent years:

Subway morning5:58More than a third of Toronto residents have no one to rely on in times of struggle, Toronto Foundation report finds

Sharon Avery is President and CEO of the Toronto Foundation.

Volunteering, declining interest in local politics

A key takeaway from the survey is that civic engagement in the city has declined significantly since 2018.

“People stopped volunteering. They stopped joining groups and clubs. They stopped going to their local community center,” Avery said.

Participation declined most significantly in sports and recreation organizations, cultural organizations and labor and professional associations, according to the study – and this effect was most pronounced among people aged 55 and over.

« These declines in group participation are concerning because group participation is associated with many other positive outcomes, » the report said. « People who participate in groups have greater life satisfaction, greater trust in society and others, have more people to rely on, and have broader social networks. »

The results also suggest that about 25% of adult Torontonians currently volunteer, up from nearly 40% four years ago. The percentage of adults in the city who donate to charity also fell, to 63%, from 75% in 2018, « translating into a potential loss of more than 300,000 donors in Toronto », according to the study.

Similarly, nearly every demographic group surveyed said they were less interested in local politics than in 2018. The effect was strongly related to income, the study found, with those on the lowest incomes being the least politically engaged.

Toronto’s municipal election in October saw record turnout, as about 29% of eligible voters cast their ballots. This figure was down from around 41% in 2018 and over 60% in 2014.

Residents less confident than before: survey

Meanwhile, the report found that the pandemic and governments’ responses to it appear to have had profound impacts on people’s social support systems.

« Torontoans are less connected to family and friends coming out of the pandemic, and nearly 40% say they generally don’t have anyone they can count on to help them when they really need it, » says the report. ‘study. This figure is up from 27% in the previous survey.

Based on the results, the report calculates that around 200,000 people in the city have no close friends to turn to for help.

There has also been a recent decline in the general trust people have in others, according to the report.

In 2018, 55% of respondents agreed that “most people can be trusted”. This time around, that figure has dropped to 42%.

« The proportion saying that most people can be trusted increases with age and socio-economic status: it is higher than average for the elderly, for those who own their homes, for those who have higher incomes and for those with a college education,” the report reads.

Similar declines were seen in residents’ mental well-being. Only around a quarter of respondents said they still had something to look forward to, down from 40% in 2018. And city dwellers were almost twice as likely this time around to say their mental health was fair or poor, in particularly among the young and the less fortunate. income of Torontonians.

« Encouraging signs » for the future

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the general well-being of many city residents, there are « many encouraging signs » regarding Toronto’s future social fabric, according to the study.

“The vast majority of Torontonians have people in their lives who they feel comfortable with, who they can talk to or ask for help. The majority of Torontonians also find their city safe and their neighbors helpful. Most Torontonians are members of at least one organization in their community and continue to donate to charity,” he concludes.

« And more than two years into the pandemic, trust levels in most local institutions remain unchanged. »

The report makes a number of recommendations, including:

  • That donors and funders focus their support on hyper-local organizations responsive to community needs, especially those that face increased needs with fewer resources.
  • For organizations and businesses to provide members and employees with opportunities to expand their social networks and access supports, especially for the most isolated.
  • Governments and policymakers invest in community infrastructure, such as accessible outdoor spaces and youth centres.
  • For Torontonians who wish to be civically engaged to join a group outside of their typical social circle; support local arts and sports events; and donate to charities and community groups whenever possible.

Read it Toronto 2022 Social Capital Study below:


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