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3 in 5 American adults report feeling lonely, and younger adults feel it the most, survey finds

Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash
In recent years, loneliness has become recognized as a major — and growing — health concern.

Loneliness appears to be on the rise in the United States, particularly among younger adults, according to a new survey.

Three in five American adults, or 61 percent, say they sometimes feel lonely, up from 54 percent in 2018, the survey found.

Men are slightly more likely than women to report being lonely (46.1 percent versus 45.3 percent), as are lower-income individuals and those living in rural areas.

But the biggest demographic difference in loneliness appears to be related to age. Almost 79 percent of the survey’s respondents from the Gen Z generation and 71 percent of millennials reported feeling lonely, compared to just half (50 percent) of the baby boomers.

The survey — the Cigna 2020 Loneliness Index — was conducted last summer and involved a representative national sample of more than 10,400 adults. This is the second year the health insurance company has conducted the survey.

For the survey, researchers used the UCLA Loneliness Scale, which is a widely accepted tool for assessing feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Scores on the scale range from 20 to 80, and the Cigna survey considered individuals who scored 43 or above to be lonely.

The average loneliness score among the 2019 survey takers was 45.7, up from 44 in 2018  — a finding that suggests feelings of loneliness are common and trending upward.

It’s a worrisome trend. In recent years, loneliness has become recognized as a major — and growing — health concern. It has been linked to a weakened immune system, greater inflammation, higher levels of stress hormones and disrupted sleep. In 2016, researchers reported that chronic feelings of loneliness and social isolation are associated with about a 30 percent increased risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke.

How ‘Minneapolis’ compares

The survey has some relatively good news for people living in the Twin Cities. According to the survey’s regional data, only 53 percent of “Minneapolis” residents (a group that also included some people in St. Paul and Bloomington) were lonely in 2019 — 12 percentage points below the national average.

But the data on “Minneapolis” did reveal some worrisome changes in loneliness sentiments between 2018 and 2019:

  • A drop of 12 points in the percentage of people who say they sometimes or always feel that they have a lot in common with the people around them (from 84 percent to 72 percent)
  • An increase of 10 points in the percentage of people who say they sometimes or always feel as if they are no longer close to anyone (from 35 percent to 45 percent)
  • An increase of 10 points in the percentage of people who say they sometimes or always feel left out (from 42 percent to 52 percent)

Those sentiments worsened nationally as well, but only by 3 to 6 percentage points.

Feeling lonely at work

This year, Cigna’s researchers took a particularly close look at loneliness in the workplace. They found that people who report not having good relationships with their co-workers average 10 points higher (lonelier) on the UCLA Loneliness Scale than those who say they do (53.7 versus 43.7). On the other hand, people who say they share goals with their work colleagues average about eight points lower (less lonely) on the scale than those who don’t feel that way (43.7 vs. 51.6).

Loneliness can affect people’s productivity, the survey also found. Lonely workers are two times more likely to call in sick and five times more likely to miss work due to stress than their non-lonely colleagues.

Lonely people also consider quitting their jobs twice as often during any given month as their non-lonely co-workers.

Working people in Minneapolis (and St. Paul and Bloomington), however, appear to feel more connected with their co-workers — and thus less lonely — than do workers nationally. For example:

  • Minneapolis residents are less likely than other Americans to say that they are withdrawing from the people they work with (21% in Minneapolis, 36% nationally).
  • They are also less likely to say they feel disconnected from others at work (26% in Minneapolis, 37% nationally).
  • More Minneapolis residents agree that they have social companionship or fellowship at work (82% in Minneapolis, 74% nationally).

  Cigna has published the full report on its website, but you’ll have to submit your email to the company to have it sent to you.


Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by ian wade on 02/01/2020 - 04:15 am.

    Put your phone down and start talking to actual people.

  2. Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 02/01/2020 - 03:04 pm.

    Such lonliness is part and parcel of economic trends, the neoliberal arrangement ascendant since the early 80’s, the destruction of unions and the expectation ingrained in us, that we are all individual economic entities fighting against everyone else to survive. Systemic toxicity, species extinction, stagnant wages, income inequality: much resultant of the taking of power from the people, giving it to a few elite who then dictate terms of the social arrangement. Isolated, alienated from each other, we feel helpless in the face of such overwhelming powers, such trends we believe are beyond our control.

    Divided, we are easily controlled. United, coming together, we dictate term of how we will live.

    • Submitted by lisa miller on 02/02/2020 - 07:17 pm.

      All times have had their challenges. Embrace that life is not perfect, waddle into the deep muddy and fight for those changes you believe in. We need to stop comparing ourselves to images on social media and as Prince taught us embrace our uniqueness. And yes put the phones down.

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