Sure, the mega-rich don't fly coach like you and me. They wear nicer clothes. Maybe they dine at different restaurants. Those are substantial but still pretty superficial differences. But apparently there's a more fundamental gap between the well off and the rest of us. According to a new study, the rich are more socially isolated.

This conclusion comes from a new analysis of huge amounts of data gathered by both the the General Social Survey and American Time Use Survey, and reported by Josh Rosenblat on Vox. The study's co-authors crunched through the numbers and concluded that, on average, rich Americans spend 6.4 fewer nights a year socializing.

Who cares, you might ask? Maybe they're just busy working late or swilling champagne. But according to the team behind the research, the findings actually suggest something fascinating about both the wealthy themselves and U.S. in general.

Who knows their neighbors anymore?

When the research team out of Emory University dug into the details, they discovered the rich weren't simply anti-social (though they do spend an average of 10 minutes less each day with other people). They were spending more time with friends (who are presumably mostly wealthy like them) and less with family and neighbors.

Partly that's probably down to the fact that rich people don't need to ask their families or neighbors for help. Need a babysitter? No need to call your mom if you have a nanny. Heading out of town? Don't phone the neighbor, just set the alarm.

 

But a tendency among the wealthy to avoid contact with others in the community has been suggested by other studies too. "The paper reflects psychological findings about the social behavior of people with access to different levels of money, and demonstrates how they play out in the real world. For example, previous studies have shown wealthier people to be less interested in social interactions and less compassionate than people with lower incomes. These characteristics, the authors of the paper theorize, manifest themselves in people's social tendencies," Rosenblat summarizes.

In short, being rich seems to make you more inclined to social isolation -- as you make more, your tendency to hang out just with your wealthy peers seems to increase. That makes Americans from different social strata less likely to interact in the real world, and might play a part in everything from declining civic participation (think lower voter turnout) to survey results showing Americans are having less "important" discussions about weighty matters these days. (Social isolation, it should also be mentioned, has been blamed as one possible cause for findings showing adult Americans growing less happy and more anxious as well.)

Traditionalists might be alarmed that Americans aren't often leaning over white picket fences to speak to their neighbors these days, but Rosenblat is more balanced in his reaction. All of this isn't bad, he writes, "and it's not 'good,' either. Rather, it's different. This phenomenon, which doesn't seem to be stopping anytime soon, will force Americans to interact in new, nontraditional ways."

Are you alarmed that Americans of different income classes appear to be increasingly isolated from each other?

 

Published on: May 18, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.