We feel hungry when we’re deprived of food, and thirsty when we’re deprived of liquids. The feeling of loneliness is akin to the body telling us we’re deprived of social connection. Loneliness isn’t just a bummer. It’s also bad for us. Similar to food and water, when these signals go unheeded, there can be deleterious health effects.
Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, recently authored a large-scale meta-analysis on social isolation and loneliness, consisting of over 200 studies and 3.7 million participants.
Her research suggests that prolonged periods of loneliness and isolation can have serious adverse effects, including heart disease, stroke, depression, and premature death. As she describes, “There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase the risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators. Indeed, many nations around the world now suggest we are facing a ‘loneliness epidemic.’”
If loneliness is on the rise, it’s tempting to think that this is merely the result of lockdown measures during the pandemic. But Holt-Lunstad’s research shows that these loneliness trends predate COVID-19.
In the United States, loneliness has been on the rise since 2015, especially among younger demographics. YouGov reports that roughly 30 percent of American millennials report feeling lonely all or most of the time.1 Similar numbers have been found in Asia, and in Western Europe. In Germany, 70 percent believe loneliness to be a serious problem.
The U.K. has been noted to be especially lonesome. Over half of U.K. employees report feeling lonely at work, and at home, nearly 75 percent describe their neighbors as “strangers.”2 In 2016, 1 in 10 Brits reported that they did not have a single friend to rely upon. In 2020, that shot up to 1 in 8. Indeed, the issue has reached something of a political breaking point. In 2018, the prime minister went so far as to appoint a Minister for Loneliness.
This trend is having a major impact on human relationships. But what are the economic implications of the rise in loneliness? As we’ll see, when loneliness enters the picture, a pet rock can take on much greater significance
This is a multi-part series on the psychology and business of loneliness. In the next piece, we’ll explore the new business developments which have resulted from these recent trends. Stay Tuned.
This post also appeared on the consumer behavior blog PopNeuro.
Dealing with social isolation during a pandemic can be terrifying, leading to nervous thoughts and despair. You can overcome these negative feelings of loneliness by evaluating how you use your free time or reconnecting with others. Drop a comment and let us know your thoughts.
Ballard, J. (2019) Millennials are the loneliest generation, YouGov America
Elsworthy, E. (2018) “More than Half of Britons Describe Their Neighbours as ‘Strangers,’ ” The Independent, 29 May 2018,
Epley, N., A. Waytz, and J. T. Cacioppo, “On Seeing Human: A Three-Factor Theory of Anthropomorphism,” Psychological Review 114 (2007): 864–86. 7.
Holt-Lunstad, J. (2017). The potential public health relevance of social isolation and loneliness: Prevalence, epidemiology, and risk factors. Public Policy & Aging Report, 27(4), 127-130.
Nass, C., & Moon, Y. (2000). Machines and mindlessness: Social responses to computers. Journal of Social Issues, 56(1), 81–103.
“Loneliness and the Workplace: 2020 U.S. Report,” Cigna, January 2020
Topping, A. (2014) “One in 10 Do Not Have a Close Friend and Even More Feel Unloved, Survey Finds,” The Guardian
Wegner, D. M.; Gray, K. (2016) The Mind Club. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Why is loneliness increasing?
According to a new research the pandemic or unmet social needs can be triggering a loneliness epidemic, which is on the rise in many parts of the world especially among old people, teens or young adults
What are the health effects of loneliness?
Research suggests that prolonged periods of loneliness and isolation can have serious adverse effects, including heart disease, stroke, depression, and premature death in some cases.
Written by: Matt Johnson Ph.D. Originally appeared on: Psychology Today Republished with permission