Only the lonely…

According to the Office for National Statistics, loneliness is a problem, specifically for certain groups:

 

  • In 2016 to 2017, there were 5% of adults in England who reported feeling lonely “often” or “always”.
  • Younger adults aged 16 to 24 years reported feeling lonely more often than those in older age groups.
  • Women reported feeling lonely more often than men.
  • Those single or widowed were at particular risk of experiencing loneliness more often.
  • People in poor health or who have conditions they describe as “limiting” were also at particular risk of feeling lonely more often.
  • Renters reported feeling lonely more often than homeowners.
  • People who feel that they belong less strongly to their neighbourhood reported feeling lonely more often.
  • People who have little trust of others in their local area reported feeling lonely more often.

Three profiles of people at particular risk from loneliness were identified:

  • Widowed older homeowners living alone with long-term health conditions.
  • Unmarried, middle-agers with long-term health conditions.
  • Younger renters with little trust and sense of belonging to their area.

Women reported feeling lonely more frequently than men. They were significantly more likely than men to report feeling lonely “often/always”, “some of the time” and “occasionally” and were much less likely than men to say they “never” felt lonely.

It is possible that this may reflect in part differences in how men and women reflect on their personal experiences of loneliness or respond to the question. Some research suggests that men may be more reluctant than women to report undesirable feelings such as loneliness.

Compared with all other age groups except the 25 to 34 years group, those aged 16 to 24 years were significantly more likely to report feeling lonely “often/always”. Those aged 16 to 24 years were also significantly more likely to report feeling lonely “some of the time” compared with all other groups except for the 25 to 34 years and 75 years and over age groups. They were also least likely of all age groups to report “never” experiencing loneliness.

Those who were widowed were significantly more likely to report feeling lonely “some of the time” and least likely to report “never” experiencing loneliness compared with other marital groups.

By contrast, people who were married or in a civil partnership were significantly less likely to report experiencing loneliness “often/always”, “some of the time” or “occasionally”. Consistent with this, those married or in a civil partnership were found to be significantly more likely to report feeling lonely “hardly ever” and “never”.

Those who reported their general health to be “very bad” or “bad” were significantly more likely to report feeling lonely “often/always” and significantly less likely to say they “hardly ever” felt lonely compared with all other groups.

People who said their general health was “very good” or “good” were significantly less likely to report feeling lonely “often/always” or “some of the time” and significantly more likely to report “hardly ever” or “never” feeling lonely compared with all other groups.

People who were unemployed (and seeking work) were significantly more likely to report loneliness “often/always” than those in employment or self-employment. Those in employment were significantly more likely to say they “hardly ever” feel lonely than those who were economically inactive (Figure 7). People who are considered “economically inactive” include those not in employment or seeking work, including retirees.

People who were not living as part of a couple were significantly more likely to report experiencing loneliness “often/always”, “some of the time” or “occasionally” than those who reported living as part of a couple. People who reported living as a couple were significantly more likely to report feeling lonely “hardly ever” or “never”.

Those who felt a sense of belonging to their neighbourhood “not very strongly” or “not at all strongly” were significantly more likely than those with a stronger sense of belonging to report experiencing loneliness “often/always”. This suggests those who feel they belong to their neighbourhood less strongly are at greater risk of loneliness.

Those who reported being “neither satisfied nor dissatisfied” or “fairly/very dissatisfied” with their local area as a place to live were significantly more likely to report feeling lonely “often/always”. Consistent with this, those who reported feeling “very satisfied” with their local area were significantly more likely to report “never” feeling lonely.

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