A society’s success is gauged not just by economics but by the strength of human relationships. By that measure the United States is slipping dangerously. Bringing Americans together again will take a vigorous effort at every level of society, and public policy will have a role to play.

On paper, the U.S. is still one of the world’s richest nations, even after accounting for inequality. But it has many problems not fully captured in income and output statistics, but which reduce quality of life for its people. One of these is a high rate of violent crime; the U.S. has more than four times as many murders per capita as the United Kingdom, and more than 25 times as many as Japan. Another is poor health; obesity, opiate drugs and other problems have combined to push U.S. life expectancy below that of its rich-world peers.

But on top of these problems, there’s growing evidence the U.S. suffers from an epidemic of social isolation. Research consistently finds close personal relationships are key factors in determining human happiness. So when we ask why Americans have grown unhappier in recent years, a breakdown of relationships is a natural place to look.