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"Can I Borrow a Cup of Sugar?": Neighbourly Interactions in the Middle Class

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Lisa Holmes Bio

Euromonitor International examined characteristics of ~6600 online respondents with a middle class income in 16 countries in order to better understand market, regional, demographic, and behavioural differences in the level of interaction one has with neighbours.

How Well Do You Know Your Neighbour?

For middle class consumers around the world, relationships with neighbours span the spectrum from avoidance or lack of recognition to regular and engaging interactions. However, most have at least a cordial relationship with their neighbours, exchanging greetings in passing or occasionally stopping to chat. Many middle class consumers regularly have extended conversations with their neighbours, and nearly one in five often have more meaningful interactions, such as inviting their neighbours over for a meal and even relying on them for occasional assistance with child or pet care.

Understanding the importance of these built-in social networks is critical for companies targeting the middle class. Consumers who have close neighbourly ties may feel somewhat competitive with those living near them, driven to keep their home well-maintained with the most up-to-date appliances. Indeed, middle class consumers with strong neighbourly relationships are more likely to agree that you can tell a lot about a person from the appliances in their home. These consumers also rely on their neighbours for product recommendations and reviews. On the other hand, consumers who rarely interact with their neighbours may be turning to other social networks, whether in-person or online, for product advice and recommendations. Recognising the impact of neighbours (or lack thereof) on the buying decisions of their target market can help companies more effectively structure their marketing and advertising efforts.

Extent of Neighbourliness among Middle Class Consumers

Neighbourliness Chart 1

Source:    Euromonitor International Consumer Survey; Middle Class Home, 2013
Note:        Share of respondents by neighbour interaction. Numbers indicate rating on scale from 1 (Do not recognize) to 6 (Regularly interact) used in the following charts. Results shown give equal weight to each of the 16 markets surveyed.

Identifying the Most Neighbourly Among the Middle Class

Although differences in culture and region often impact the behaviour of middle class consumers, typical characteristics of social (and not so social) neighbours transcend national boundaries. Not surprisingly, middle class consumers who are socially active, whether with family, friends, or professionally, are more likely to engage regularly with their neighbours. Certain household and life stage characteristics, such as age, gender, and the presence of children and pets, as well as specific home characteristics also influence interactions with neighbours. Using the results of Euromonitor International’s 2013 Middle Class Home survey, this article explores the traits that are most closely tied to levels of neighbourliness.

Social “Butterflies” Make Friendly Neighbours

One of the factors most closely linked with neighbourliness is how social a household is in general. Unsurprisingly, outgoing middle class consumers who frequently invite friends, family, and other acquaintances into their home also reach out to their neighbours and establish close relationships with those who live around them.

Average Neighbourliness by Frequency of Hosting Others at Home

Neighbourliness Chart 2

Source:    Euromonitor International Consumer Survey; Middle Class Home, 2013
Note:     Showing average level of neighbourliness for each level of hosting at home. Responses to levels of neighbourliness are converted into scores from 1 (do not recognize) to 6 (regularly interact with). Results shown give equal weight to each of the 16 markets surveyed

Houses, Outdoor Activities, and Household Stability All Related to Neighbourliness

More Space In and Around the Home Leads to Friendlier Neighbours

Beyond hosting friends and family and inviting others into their home, there are many traits associated with middle class consumers and households that are tied to levels of neighbourliness. The first is, quite simply, type of home. Although apartment-dwellers tend to live in closer proximity to their neighbours, middle class consumers living in houses are more neighbourly than those in flats.

Several factors may explain some of the difference in neighbourliness between apartment and home-dwellers. First, middle class consumers living in apartments are less rooted than those residing in houses; they are almost twice as likely to have only lived at their current residence for two years or less and may not have had the time to meet their new neighbours. In addition, apartment-dwellers are more likely to live in highly populated areas, where overall levels of neighbourliness tend to be lower than in less-populated settings. Those living in large cities may feel less of a need to connect with their neighbours because they have more opportunities to establish relationships with colleagues, friends, and other acquaintances who are just a short ride away, whether by car or public transportation. On the other hand, those living in more rural locations have fewer nearby opportunities to socialise and may also rely on their neighbours in the case of an emergency.

Outdoor Activities, Children, and Pets Lead to More Neighbour Encounters

By going outdoors, middle class consumers are more likely to run into their neighbours, which appears to lead to the higher levels of neighbourliness reported by those who work in the garden, play with their children, or even walk their dog on a regular basis. Many of these activities are social in nature and elicit conversations with neighbours, often leading to shared activities.

Among those activities least associated with neighbourliness are virtual or online behaviours that tend to isolate the consumer in their home. These include playing video games, browsing and shopping online, and playing on a mobile phone. Additionally, and cementing commonly-held stereotypes about pet owners, middle class consumers who own a cat are not any more neighbourly than those who do not own a cat, perhaps because cat owners are less likely to venture outside of the house with their pet.

Average Neighbourliness by Typical Activities at Home

Neighbourliness Chart 3

Source:    Euromonitor International Consumer Survey; Middle Class Home, 2013
Note:        Showing average level of neighbourliness for each level of hosting at home. Responses to levels of neighbourliness are converted into scores from 1 (do not recognize) to 6 (regularly interact with). Results shown give equal weight to each of the 16 markets surveyed.

More household members and more time at home lead to more neighbourly interactions

Households with multiple generations engage more with their neighbours than single generation households, which generally consist of either single adults or childless couples. More people in the household allows for more potential contact with neighbours and more social opportunities. For example, couples who have recently had a new baby have higher levels of neighbourliness, perhaps due to both the increased attention the newborn brings as well as possible dependence on neighbours for advice and favours (eg, babysitting, running errands, etc.). Similarly, middle class consumers who spend more time at home interact more often with their neighbours. This is particularly evident among those who have retired and are no longer spending their day at work. Not only do these retirees have more time to spend at home, they are also more likely to have lived in their home for many years, giving them more time to meet and grow relationships with their neighbours.

Business Implications

Impressing One Neighbour Could Mean Many New Customers

In an age of increasing emphasis on word-of-mouth reviews and recommendations, whether given in-person or online, it is important for companies to understand the social networks of their customers so that they can more effectively reach them. In particular, companies should evaluate the likely levels of neighbourliness among their own target markets, based on the characteristics explored in this article. This can provide both insights into the life of a consumer as well as specific opportunities to increase sales.

Consumers with close ties to their neighbours likely have similar buying behaviours as those living around them. They may even feel a pull to “keep up with the Joneses,” not wanting to be the last home on the block to put in a pool or install an automatic dishwasher. And chances are the first few households to get a pool or dishwasher will share their buying experiences with neighbours, either recommending a particular brand or installation company or warning against a bad purchase. In this way, one company or retailer could secure the business of an entire neighbourhood (or lose it completely) with one or two initial transactions.


Download an extract from the full report, "The Middle Class at Home"

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