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Why friends are more important to well-being than money

POSTED: July 8, 2015 12:09 p.m.
Lane Anderson/

Research has found that social integration is more important for well-being than income, and also decreases poverty.

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Money is nice, but friends are better — or at least that's the findings from recent research on well-being and poverty.

It turns out that social integration is more important to all-around happiness, and also decreases poverty, while isolation tends to make hardship worse. The United Nations One Million Voices report measures not just income but how people are poor, including isolation.

Policymakers from 40 countries met in Colombia earlier this month to look at these "multidimensional" poverty measurements, and findings indicate that friends and family can ease financial hardship by offering childcare, networking for job opportunities, and can lend money when needed.

Strong social networks also give a leg-up in unexpected ways to fight poverty. A study for the London School of Economics found that women from Bangladesh who were given business training and free livestock improved their income, according to Economist, but their friends also reported increasing their consumption by almost 20 percent a year later.

Opportunities also increase with diverse social networks. The Equality of Opportunity Project in the U.S. has shown that between two kids whose parents have similar income and education, the child who lives in a mixed socio-economic neighborhood is more likely to move up the income ladder. Similarly, OECD research shows that low-income kids have higher academic results when they are in schools with kids from more affluent families.

Unfortunately, those in the deepest poverty are less likely to have networks that are helpful. Living in a poor neighborhood in Atlanta, for example, decreases the chance of having a friend with a job by almost 60 percent, and a 2014 global Gallup survey found that 30 percent of people in the poorest fifth of their country's population had nobody to rely on in times of need, compared to 16 percent from the wealthiest fifth.

While loneliness can make it harder to get ahead, it can also be toxic. A U.K. study found those without strong relationships are more likely to have depression, sleep deprivation and poor health, including cardiovascular disease and dementia.
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