Why Mongolia Is the Most "Socially Connected" Place in the World

Why Mongolia Is the Most "Socially Connected" Place in the World

So, if you're feeling a bit... disconnected from your fellow humans, maybe you should take a few cues from the Mongolians.

In a new Gallup report titled "Global State of Social Connections," people in 142 countries were asked to assess their "social connectedness," defined as "how close you feel to people emotionally."

The term "people" was broadly defined to include family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, people from groups you belong to... and even strangers. So, basically... everyone.

Most countries did well. Overall, seven out of ten people worldwide stated that they feel "very" or "somewhat" connected.

But the Mongolians emerged as the most connected of all.

Mongolia surpassed Kosovo, Taiwan, and Bosnia and Herzegovina among other top contenders for the title of the country with the most social connections: 95% of Mongolians reported feeling very or somewhat connected to others. The highest rates of social connections were also seen among Mongolian men – 95% – and women – 94%.

When I reported from Mongolia in 2017, I became curious, so I reached out to some Mongolians. They were not surprised to find themselves at the top of the list.

I wondered if such a high level of social connections was linked to their living conditions. Traditionally, Mongolians lived in yurts, round felt tents covered with waterproof canvas, suitable for a nomadic way of life. (Outsiders often use the word "yurt" instead.) There are rules about ger living, from how to enter (women go to the east, men to the west) to where to sit and where the door should be (facing south, to catch the sunlight).

What's absent are internal walls. In one ger, a family of two or ten people (or even more), all sleep on the floor, using large Japanese-style bedding, with mattresses made of sheep's wool, felt mattresses, and all cooking together on one stove, burning coal, wood, or cow dung, wrote Enkhtuvshin Shiilegdamba, a wildlife disease specialist, in an online post.

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Even in the bustling Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, with its skyscrapers and cafes, entire ger districts still exist. Finding your way in one of these areas is a different story, at least it was when I tried to locate a specific ger for an article in 2017. There are no street names or grids, making maps and GPS almost useless. Instead, you'll have to rely on people directing you. Social connections over Siri.

In rural areas, ger life means interdependence, where each family member, including grandparents, is assigned their role, explained Shiilegdamba. Brothers and sisters often live in another ger just a few steps away.

"So, the coziness of the ger creates coziness in family relationships and close relationships," Shiilegdamba wrote.

This connection extends to neighbors and even entire towns and provinces. Those living in Ulaanbaatar, like Shiilegdamba, often maintain this sense of community, returning to their hometowns for most of the summer to escape the bustle of city life and visit extended family, she explained.

A 2023 report on the behavior of Mongolian yurt dwellers in China, published in the journal Buildings, takes it a step further. According to the study, Mongolians' spiritual beliefs originate from the form and atmosphere of the yurt or ger and influence behavior and values. The round and dome-like shape of the ger serves as a symbol of the union of religion and life, concentrating the spirits of people. The studied Mongolians living in yurts showed a higher level of satisfaction than those living in urban homes, a conclusion the authors attribute to Mongolians' emphasis on nature and freedom.

Grandfather and granddaughter outside a family ger — or yurt. The study of Mongolians living in yurts showed a higher level of satisfaction than those living in urban homes, a conclusion the authors attribute to Mongolians' emphasis on nature and freedom. Guillaume Payen / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images Gers allow Mongolians to maintain a close connection with nature, which in itself leads to social connections, explained Tuga Namgur, a group manager.

"To survive in the wilderness as nomads, we have to rely on each other," Namgur wrote in an online post. "Family is everything for my culture."

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Namgur is a prime example of strong family ties among Mongolians: he has led a group, owned by his brother, The Hu, for many years. The arrangement was based on family and social connections, rather than physical proximity, as Namgur has lived in Chicago for over a decade, while The Hu is based in Mongolia.

None of the Mongolians I spoke to were surprised by Gallup's findings. They know that Mongolians stick together; all you have to do is see what happens when Mongolians leave their home for a few days or even weeks. Ger residents don't install security alarms like many in the West. Instead, Shiilegdamba writes, "Mongolians leave the ger unlocked so that guests can open the door, feed themselves, and find shelter for sleep, as in remote areas, if you can't get inside, you can freeze and die."

So, it seems that survival in extreme weather conditions may also have something to do with Mongolians' social connections, which, given the changing climate worldwide, means the rest of us might soon become much closer.

In the meantime, you might be able to expand your horizons by buying a yurt tent on Amazon for $579.

Katya Cengel writes about interesting people from around the world for Smithsonian Magazine, New York Times Magazine, and others. Her latest book is "Exiled: From the Killing Fields of Cambodia to California and Back."

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