Will our society collapse in our lifetime? The data seems to suggest…

Research suggests tomorrow will be WORSE than today. Yes, that’s right. WORSE. Much worse. The nine trends presented below are based on scientific data and these trends are headed in the wrong direction. These trends range from personal (depression) to interpersonal problems (friendship) to health issues (obesity) to societal problems (mass shootings and climate change). The following nine trends suggest we have major societal problems that are increasing or decreasing rapidly unless we act quickly.

1. Friendships are declining.

“According to work published in the American Sociological Review, the average American has only two close friends, and a quarter don’t have any. It should be noted that other social scientists contest these conclusions. Hua Wang and Barry Wellman, of the universities of Southern California and Toronto respectively, refer to “some panic in the United States about a possible decline in social connectivity.” But notice their language: “social connectivity.” That is not the same as intimate friendship. While social networking sites and the like have grown exponentially, the element that is crucial, and harder to investigate, is the quality of the connections they nurture.

Yet we know that less is more when it comes to deeper relationships. It is lonely in the crowd. A connection may only be a click away, but cultivating a good friendship takes more.

It is striking that loneliness should be regarded as a mental health issue, and that seems right. At least since the ancient Greeks, it has been recognized in our political philosophies that we are social animals. Aristotle was just one thinker to remark that an individual could have everything that life can offer — career, family and money — but if a person didn’t have a good friend, his or her life would be fundamentally lacking. A society that thwarts opportunities for deeper sociality, therefore, stymies well-being” (Vernon, 2010).

2. Empathy is on the decline.

“Recently Fox News covered our study on declining empathy in American college students with this alarming title: “The End of Empathy.” Is this true? Are we now living in a society entirely devoid of the basic glue of human connection and interaction? In order to form an educated opinion, you’ll need some background about the study. To summarize briefly, we collected empathy scores from 72 academic sources from 1979 to 2009. In all of these sources, empathy was measured using a standard scale called the Davis Interpersonal Reactivity Index. People who score high on this “empathy test” give freely of their time and money and frequently help others in need. You can try the test and see how you score compared to the 13,737 students in our sample by clicking here. We ran a statistical analysis to see whether there were changes over time in empathy and found that there had been overall declines, especially since the year 2000.

Why be concerned?

1. This is not the first study to find trends related to declining empathy in American college students. In my dissertation work we also found increases in the personality trait narcissism over time. The fact that there has been other research with similar trends is notable.

2. It’s true that the average empathy score still hovers above the midpoint of the scale, but empathy is still declining substantially, and at a faster rate in more recent years. If recent trends continue, this could eventually translate into broader societal problems. I’m most concerned that current declines in empathy could lead to negative reciprocal spirals as people feed off of each other’s low empathy.

3. Right now our evidence is limited to American college students, but future work will look at broader trends in narcissism and empathy in American society at large. We’re also interested in cross-cultural changes. Stay tuned…

4. Although violent crime in general has declined, certain types of violent crimes have actually risen over time: i) acts of violence against the homeless have shown dramatic increases, especially over the past ten years, and were recently estimated to be at an all time high; ii) hate crimes against Hispanics and perceived immigrants, as well as against lesbians, gays, bisexual, and transgender individuals are all significantly increasing; and iii) hit-and-run car accidents have increased by about 20% since 1998. Each of these specific types of crime target stigmatized, marginalized, or otherwise defenseless groups.”  (Konrath, 2010, p.1)

3. Suicide Rates Rise Sharply.

More people now die of suicide than in car accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and image.phpPrevention, which published the findings in Friday’s issue of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. In 2010 there were 33,687 deaths from motor vehicle crashes and 38,364 suicides.

Suicide has typically been viewed as a problem of teenagers and the elderly, and the surge in suicide rates among middle-aged Americans is surprising.

From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30 percent, to 17.6 deaths per 100,000 people, up from 13.7. Although suicide rates are growing among both middle-aged men and women, far more men take their own lives. The suicide rate for middle-aged men was 27.3 deaths per 100,000, while for women it was 8.1 deaths per 100,000.” (Parker-Pope, 2013)

(source: Graphs.net)

4. Depression in on the rise.

Rates of depression and anxiety among young people in America have been increasing steadily for the past fifty to seventy years. Today five to eight times as many high school and college students meet the criteria for diagnosis of major depression and/or an anxiety disorder as was true half a century or more ago. This increased psychopathology is not the result of changed diagnostic criteria; it holds even when the measures and criteria are constant.” (Gray, 2010, p.1)


5. Entitlement among youth is rising.

American teenagers feel more entitled than ever, according to a new study of high school seniors from three different generations.

Teens still crave being rich, but say they are less willing to work hard to earn material belongings, a development that the study’s lead author, Jean Twenge of San Diego State University, attributes to increased advertising.

“Common sense would tell you that if you want a lot of material things, you’d be inclined to work harder,” Twenge says. “But advertising portrays these shiny things but not the dirty work that goes into getting them.”

The study asked more than 350,000 high school seniors between the years of 1976 and 1978, 1988 and 1990 and 2005 and 2007 about the importance of money, work and of owning certain material things.

According to the study, published Tuesday in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 62 percent of students surveyed between 2005 and 2007 think it’s important to have a lot of money, compared to just 48 percent between 1976 and 1978; meanwhile, 39 percent of students surveyed between 2005 and 2007 said they didn’t want to work hard, compared to just 25 percent in the 1970s.

Though the so-called “fantasy gap” between wanting a lot of money and not wanting to work hard has increased since the 1970s, American teens today are less likely to want specific material goods than they were 25 years ago.

Fewer teens said it was important to have a lot of money today than did between 1988 and 1990; teens today also say it’s less important to have a vacation house, own a boat or other recreational vehicle or buy a new car every few years than did in the late 1980s. But modern teens are less likely to want to work hard: During the late 1980s, just 30 percent said they didn’t want to work hard.

“Entitlement has increased over time – this idea of getting something for nothing,” Twenge says.”

(Koebler, 2013)

6. The obesity rate is increasing.

National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins shows the evidence of an obesity epidemic with the following images on the NIH blog (Collins, 2012).

Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 10.16.20 PM

7. Gluten-allergies are ACTUALLY rising.

“A study using frozen blood samples taken from Air Force recruits 50 years ago has found that intolerance of wheat gluten, a debilitating digestive condition, is four times more common today than it was in the 1950’s.

The findings contradict the conventional wisdom that the sharp increase in diagnoses of wheat gluten intolerance has come about because of greater awareness and detection. It now seems likely that dramatic changes in the American diet have played a role.

The disease occurs in people whose bodies cannot digest gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. The undigested protein triggers the immune system to attack the lining of the small intestine, causing diarrhea, nausea and abdominal pain.

The researchers who conducted the study also found that the recruits who had the undiagnosed digestive disorder, called celiac disease, had a four-fold increase in their risk of death.” (Mercola, 2009).

“Teams of medical researchers in Parkville, Australia and in Albany, Ohio have identified specific proteins present in the genetically modified organisms (GMO) grain by Monsanto (a multinational biotechnology agricultural producer — i.e., they make fake food). These engineered proteins trigger gluten sensitivity and can instigate celiac disease. Internationally, we have been experiencing epidemic levels of gluten intolerance: over 40% – virtually half the US population – now cannot metabolize gluten. Celiac disease affects one in 133 Americans. If untreated, celiac is potentially fatal. According to CD support groups and information agencies, about 3 million Americans currently have CD, 97% of whom remain undiagnosed; moreover, 30% of the population has the genetic makeup predisposing towards CD.  There is no drug which can treat CD. Meanwhile, we are seeing large numbers of infants already suffering from GERD. This breakdown of normal human digestion is directly attributable to the tampering with nature instigated Monsanto: this is clear from the studies mentioned below” (Health Advice, 2011). CD has been linked to neurological disorders, autoimmune diseases, and premature death.

8. Mass shooting casualties are increasing.

Although violence has decreased in the U.S., the number of mass shooting causalities are increasing.

Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 11.00.13 PM

9. We are becoming much, much HOTTER (and not in a good way) as a planet!

No matter how you look at it, the data seems to suggest we have a big problem regardless of the measures used to assess climate change.



Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 11.25.58 PM

(source: Mann, 2008; used by Poli, 2013)


Wishful thinking won’t help us address these problems and create a better society. For years, psychologists studied optimism, which in a sense is this wishful nature – a belief that future events will be positive. Research has linked optimism to better long-term health, more prosocial behavior, and better work performance. However, in recent years, scholars have suggested it’s not only optimism. It takes hope. Hope can be conceptualized as optimism + pathways and agency (i.e., the belief that you can change your the situation to accomplish a goal).

The statistics don’t help me feel optimistic about the future, but my hope is not to instill optimism, but rather some hope for you. You have the agency – the ability to affect each of these trends by what you do. It won’t be easy, but it can be done. You have to believe it will reverse these dangerous trends and you MUST believe you can do these simple behaviors to produce these outcomes and literally save our society. hope


1. Strengthen existing friendships: Ask a friend to be your best friend. Have you ever considered actually addressing the unspoken. How awkward would it be to ask someone .. who you probably already consider a best friend … to be your best friend? You don’t need to sign a contract. Be proactive and enter a best friend relationship by making the expectations clear.

2. Repair broken friendships: Ask an old friend to be a friend again. But seriously, how often do we say to ourselves, “whatever, I don’t even care if we aren’t friends” and stop talking to a best friend because of ONE situation or mistake. Some friendships are certainly beyond repair. But, most probably are repairable. I met two high school girls who were willing to have a real conversation, to be honest with each other, and put the cards on the table about their issues. They talked about why they hadn’t been talking and expressed how much they still really cared for each other… It was unbelievable. After a two year hiatus, they are back.


1. Empathy requires concern: Watch an emotional video to feel for the other person. Empathy consists of an emotional and cognitive component. This emotional component requires us to actually feel from the other person. Put yourself in situations to experience different emotions.

2. Empathy requires perspective taking: Write a journal as if you were someone else. Do you have any idea what it’s like to be President, your teacher, your mom or dad, or your closest friend? Write a journal entry as if you were him or her. What are they thinking? Why are they thinking that way? Who influenced them to think and act in such a way? What do they expect for the future. Actually put yourself in their shoes.


Be a spy: Make an effort to be on the lookout for people who need help. It will take more work and break up your normal routine. But you really have the power to save a life by what you say.


Complement and recognize everyone. Humans have a need to feel appreciated, competent, and valued. A simple act of recognition can meet those needs.


Give behavior-based feedback. Individuals who receive person-based feedback (“you’re smart”) work less hard and give up faster than individuals who were given process-based feedback (“you must have tried really hard to get that grade).

Obesity and Gluten

Use your courage to speak up about food choices. Tell your friend not to eat an unhealthy meal or even better, pack an extra healthy meal for a friend. Cheddar Bunnies are my favorite and organic. I’ve brought them into my office and shared some. Now, they are everywhere. People love them. They are a healthier (and gluten-free) snack to enjoy.

Mass Shootings

Stop bullying and actively care for others. A study by the Secret Service concluded that bullying affected many school-based attackers. Take the time to support someone rather than cut him/her down.

Climate Change

Buy a non-refrigerated meal and non-processed meats. It’s essential that we reduce packing, and wastefulness. There are MANY more things, but try one to star

Stressed? Concerned? Disappointed? Hopefully so. We have to act and get more to act quickly before it’s too late. Start by sharing this with others…

~ by shanemccarty on May 3, 2013.

3 Responses to “Will our society collapse in our lifetime? The data seems to suggest…”

  1. Hi Shane, I agree that we have huge problems.
    Take a look at this video:

    If google search engines show the most popular searches, note how many people at different ages have no friends! I began to think of the causal chain – what if it’s the food source and lack of nutrition and overabundance of calories (meat etc.) that is leading to poorer health, leading to illness, thwarting the development of social relationships, increasing isolation, increasing sedentary behaviors and resulting in depression and suicide? Could the model be that simple, that all these mono-crops and genetically engineered foods are contributing to these problems? The problems definitely seem interrelated. Can we shift a culture to care for each others’ health, nutrition and well-being? This is why I found Sallie Beth’s points so important.

  2. wow!!! Awesome you have covered soooo much!!! Great infographics!!!
    A simple smile can make a big difference in someone’s life!!

  3. I agree, and also with Ruth-Anne’s comment as well. I think technology may be a big culprit. We talk about technology as a “social actor” a lot in my major…how to give technology a faux human characteristic, etc. The easiest example of this is the google drop down of options as you are starting to type in the search bar. Google becomes your best friend and knows what you are going to say before you say it. But I wonder if technology is actually creating a “distance” amongst us. Everything from personalized, hand written notes to a coffee date without texting interruptions seems to be a thing of the past!

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