Many of us feel lonely at some point in our lives. But, how much do you really know about loneliness? From physical health to public spending, we’ve rounded up some of the most shocking statistics about loneliness.
1. Lockdown loneliness for 7.4 million people
In 2020, the Office for National Statistics published research on lockdown loneliness. Its statistician’s summary gives an insight into results, stating that “during that first month [of lockdown], the equivalent of 7.4 million people said their well-being was affected through feeling lonely.”
However, about 5% of survey respondents replied that they felt lonely “often or always”, which is about the same as 2017 statistics. This suggests that, although people were affected in lockdown, feelings of loneliness may not be as extreme as we might think.
2. Disconnected communities may be costing £32 billion per year
In 2017, The Eden Project commissioned research into community life. The research they funded through found that disconnected communities could be costing the UK economy £32 billion every year. They say this is split across several areas of public services, including:
- Demand on health services: £5.2 billion
- Demand on policing: £205 million
- Productivity loss: £12 billion
On the other hand, neighbourliness appears to be beneficial to the UK economy, already saving as much as £23.8 billion each year. This comes from reduced demands in health and social care, as well as the environment and increased productivity due to a happier workforce.
Researchers also found that people make an average of 20 connections when participating in community projects. One in eight of these people will then continue to socialise with some of these connections outside of the project.
The Eden Project’s largest initiative is the Big Lunch, an annual gathering designed to bring communities together, get to know each other, and spread fun. The Big Lunch happens every year across the country.
Recently, the event has become virtual to accommodate social distancing. The Eden Project’s ideas for getting involved include having a digital dinner date, making a street banner for passers-by to sign, and standing on the doorstep at the same time as your neighbours to raise a cup of tea. See their website for more details.
3. 45% of UK people feel lonely at least sometimes
In 2017, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published research on loneliness in the UK. The organisation surveyed adults aged 16 and over, examining who feels lonely and why.
The study found that, while only 5% of us feel lonely often/always, “16% of adults reported feeling lonely sometimes and 24% occasionally”. Many factors contribute to these feelings. For example, renters generally said they felt lonelier than homeowners, as did widowed people, and those in poor health.
4. Women report stronger feelings of loneliness than men
The Office for National Statistics report mentioned above also analyses feelings of loneliness across genders. They found that women are more likely to report feelings of loneliness than men. This might mean that women are lonelier than men. But it could be that men are more reluctant to admit feelings of loneliness.
5. Holland and Norway have the lowest share of lonely people
A 2018 report published by the European Commission looked at loneliness in Europe. They found that just 3% of people reported feeling frequently lonely in the Netherlands and Denmark, the lowest in Europe. These countries were followed closely by Sweden at 4%.
Although social isolation and loneliness are not the same, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden also reported the lowest social isolation levels at 8%. The authors of the study suggest that the difference between the statistics for loneliness and isolation could be related to the quality of relationships. Just because we see people regularly, it doesn’t mean we count them as close friends.
6. 2 million older people in England live alone
Loneliness and being socially isolated aren’t the same. Experts believe that we feel lonely when we aren't happy with the amount or strength of our relationships. This is why you can live alone and be perfectly happy or surrounded by people but still feel lonely.
7. Loneliness may increase the risk of death for heart disease patients
Researchers examined the impact of loneliness on 13,463 people with ischaemic heart disease. Their 2013-2014 study found that feeling lonely was linked to poor outcomes for all patients, including lower quality of life and premature death. The study also found that feelings of loneliness were a better predictor of these outcomes than living alone.
Although this is a shocking statistic, we should reiterate that all these patients already had heart disease. If you’re concerned about your physical or mental health, contact your GP or see the NHS website.
8. 16-24 year olds are the loneliest age group
Many would assume that older people are the loneliest age group in the UK. According to the Office for National Statistics, this isn’t true. Their 2017 report found that 16 to 24-year-olds were significantly more likely to report feeling lonely often or always than any other age group. They were also more likely to report feeling lonely sometimes.
This statistic is echoed by BBC Radio 4's 2018 research into loneliness. Their results found that 40% of respondents aged 16-24 reported feeling lonely often or very often, compared with only 29% of 65 to 74-year-olds and 27% of the over 75s. It should be noted that this survey used a self-selecting sample, meaning “people experiencing loneliness might have been more attracted to take part, inflating reported levels of loneliness.”
These two study findings seem to indicate that younger age groups feel lonelier. However, it could mean that they are more open to admitting feelings of loneliness, which would be a step in the right direction towards understanding the problem and getting help for those that need it.
What can I do if I feel lonely?
If you feel lonely, there’s help available. This might be through your GP, a mental health professional, a friend or family member, or a charity. The NHS website also offers excellent advice for older people who feel lonely, including ways of working out why you feel lonely and ways to get help.