Social Isolation: A conceptual and measurement proposal

OPHI Working Papers

Social isolation is a deprivation of social connectedness. It is a crucial aspect that continues to be named by people as a core impediment for achieving well-being and as a relevant factor for understanding poverty. The notion of social isolation has been discussed within a diversity of theories that have provided rich insights into particular aspects of social isolation. However, there is no agreement on the core components of this social malady or on how to measure it. Although the challenge of conceptualising and measuring social connectedness is daunting, this paper argues that existing research in several fields provides solid ground for a common concept and for the construction of basic internationally comparable indicators that measure specific aspects of social isolation. In particular, this paper aims to contribute to the debate on social connectedness and its measurement in three ways: (1) presenting a working definition that, while doing justice to the rich insights advanced by different theories, stresses relational features in the life experience of people; (2) emphasising the relevance of isolation for poverty analysis; and (3) proposing some indicators to measure social connectedness that could be feasibly incorporated into a multi-topic household survey. 

Citation: Zavaleta, D., Samuel, K., and Mills, C. (2014). 'Social isolation: A conceptual and measurement proposal', OPHI Working Paper 67, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), University of Oxford.

Also published in Social Indicators Research, 2017, Vol. 131, pp. 367–391. 

Spanish version: Las dimensiones faltantes en la medición de la pobreza, pp. 97–111, CAF - Banco de Desarrollo de America Latina.

Social connectedness, social isolation, relational poverty, loneliness, social networks, multidimensional poverty, shame and humiliation, personal relations


Diego Zavaleta, Kim Samuel and China Mills

Series Name
OPHI Working Papers
Publication date
JEL Codes
C8, I3, Z130
Publication Number
WP 67