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Feeling lonely? Maybe it's middle age

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Levels of loneliness are 14% higher among 35-64 year olds, than any other age group, new research reveals.

Researchers looked at how often people said they felt lonely, how long the feeling lasted and how deep it was.

The 38,000 people in the UK who took part in the BBC’s Loneliness Experiment were asked to rate each aspect of their loneliness on a scale between one and five.

Unveiled at the European Sociological Association conference in Manchester, the study showed 7% of people are often or always lonely.

“The message here is that loneliness is experienced at all ages,” said study leader, Professor Christina Victor from Brunel University London.

“But when we look at frequency, duration and intensity combined, middle aged people are the loneliest.”

About 7% of 16-24 years olds were lonely according to the scale, falling to 5% among 25-34 year olds. That then rises to 8% in 35-64 year olds, then drops to 6% in people aged 65 and over. When asked what age they felt most intensely lonely, most people said their age now or slightly younger.

But being lonely is sometimes or always a positive experience, according to half of people aged 75 and over. It was less so for younger people.

The team’s new way of analysing loneliness helps pinpoint different types of loneliness, for example, very intense, short or patchy. It may help identify those types likely to get the most out of support. “There is some suggestion different age groups experience these different dimensions differently with young adults scoring very highly on intensity,” said Prof Victor.

But Prof Victor, who worked with the University of Manchester and the University of Exeter wants people to stop thinking about loneliness in terms of age. “Rather we are looking at how loneliness may be experienced differently across the life course.”

“To understand loneliness in later life, we need to know about people's prior experience.”