the shape of leadership

Lonely in America

Survey points to an epidemic of loneliness

Hannah Quick on June 1, 2018

Just over half (54 percent) of the American population is lonely, according to a recent survey conducted by Cigna health insurance company and Ipsos, a market research firm.

Researchers measured loneliness using the UCLA Loneliness Scale — a questionnaire-based score from 20 to 80 that determines how lonely a person is, with a higher score indicating a greater degree of loneliness.

Although people often blame social media for our society’s growing disconnectedness, the online survey of more than 20,000 U.S. adults found no significant correlation between frequency of social media use and loneliness. Nonetheless, in an increasingly digital world, in-person interactions are as critical as ever.

The loneliness score for those who have daily in-person interactions with others is a full 20 points lower than for those who “never” interact in-person (39.6 and 59.6, respectively). Even those who have only monthly interactions with others have an almost 9-point lower loneliness score (50.8) than those who never interact face-to-face. For reference, the average loneliness score of the American population as a whole is 44.

Loneliness is even deadlier than obesity, and has the same effect on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Loneliness can take a serious toll on both mental and physical health. Only 12 percent of those who have daily in-person interactions with others report having fair to poor mental health, compared to just over half (51 percent) of those who claim never to have in-person interactions with others. According to the report, loneliness is even deadlier than obesity, and has the same effect on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Although there is a stereotype of older people being lonely, feelings of isolation actually decrease from younger to older generations. The average loneliness score is 48.3 for Gen Z; 45.3 for millennials; 45.1 for Generation X; 42.4 for boomers; and only 38.6 among those 72 or older — nearly 10 points lower than the score for the youngest adults.

In terms of working status, students and the unemployed are the loneliest groups, with about 60 percent saying they feel isolated. Loneliness scores for students and the unemployed (47.9 and 49.1, respectively) are significantly higher than scores for retirees (41.2), the least lonely group.

Homemakers and the employed fall somewhere in the middle, with scores of 44.9 and 43.7, respectively. Finally, those who say their work-life balance is “just right” have lower scores than those who say they work either more or less than desired.

Living arrangements and family circumstances can also influence feelings of loneliness. While those who live with others report a lower degree of loneliness (average score of 43.5) than those living alone (46.4), adults in single-parent homes are the loneliest (48.2).

The rise of what the report calls America’s “loneliness epidemic” represents a significant opportunity to minister to those who long for a more meaningful sense of connection. In a society where loneliness is the new norm, it is crucial that churches remain places of community.

By reaching the lost with Christ’s love and fostering fellowship among Christians, the local church can help draw isolated individuals into a purposeful network of relationships.

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