Introduction: Higher levels of social connectedness are associated with better physical and mental health outcomes, but measures of connectedness are often study specific. Prior research has distinguished between perceived and received (quantifiable) measures of social connectedness, with differing impacts on health, sometimes mediated by place of residence. This analysis investigated the relationship between perceptions of social support/connection and quantifiable measures of social encounters, by neighbourhood, to inform understanding of place-based differences in connectedness and health outcomes.
Methods: Negative binomial regression models were used to determine associations between perceptions of social connectedness (perceived community connections and social involvement) and the number of recorded daily social encounters as a proxy for received support/connectedness. Analyses were undertaken across two Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Melbourne with disparate socio-economic profiles to examine potential modification of social connectedness measures by neighbourhood of residence.
Results: Two measures of perceived connectedness had a clear relationship with recorded daily social encounters-feeling a sense of community belonging (RR 1.20 (1.04, 1.37), p = 0.010) and having family or friends close by (RR 1.30 (1.10,1.54), p = 0.002 "neither" compared to "disagree", (RR 1.15 (1.04, 1.26), p = 0.006 "agree" compared to "disagree"). Involvement in a local church, sporting or social club was associated with a greater number of daily social encounters for respondents who participated a few times a year (RR 1.17 (1.05,1.32), p = 0.006) or often (RR 1.23 (1.12,1.36), p<0.001) compared to never. In the less affluent LGA, active contributions to neighbours and community through assistance and volunteering were a frequent driver of social connection. Differences in patterns between the two areas were found with some measures of perception showing stronger relationships with recorded daily encounters in one area but not the other.
Conclusions: These results indicate substantial complexity in the relationship between perceptions of social connectedness and recorded daily social encounters/received connectedness, meaning that one cannot be reliably extrapolated from the other. Drivers of individuals' social connections also varied by area of residence. These findings offer new insights into potential mediators of the association between connectedness and wellbeing.