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Generation lonely: Millennials loneliest age group

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16-24 year olds feel lonely more often and more deeply than any other age group, a new survey out today reveals.

The world’s largest survey on loneliness, the BBC Loneliness Experiment, heard how 55,000 people aged 16-99 think and feel about loneliness.

Forty per cent of people aged 16-24 said they felt lonely often or very often, compared to 29% of people aged 65-74 and 27% of people aged over 75.

Brunel University London's Professor Christina Victor developed the survey, with academics at the University of Manchester and the University of Exeter, alongside R4’s All in the Mind programme and its presenter Claudia Hammond.

“We were staggered by the huge amount of people who took part in our survey,” said Professor Victor, who specialises in researching ageing and later life.

“Our results show we need to take loneliness seriously in all age groups. We know most loneliness is temporary, but we need to find ways to prevent it from becoming chronic.”

The survey paints a detailed picture of when and how people feel lonely, how loneliness ties in with age, being alone, being a carer, discrimination and job prospects. Perhaps surprisingly, it also flags up how 83% of people said they like being on their own.

Results show:

  • Higher levels of loneliness in young people, with 40% feeling lonely, against 27% of over 75s
  • 83% of people like being on their own
  • People who feel lonely have more ‘online only’ Facebook friends
  • 41% of people think loneliness can sometimes be a positive experience
  • Only a third think loneliness is about being on your own.

One reason young people might feel so deeply lonely, Professor Victor suggests, is that it is a feeling they have never had to deal with before. “Young adults might have less experience of regulating their emotions and loneliness can be something they have perhaps never experienced before. They haven’t had the chance to learn that loneliness often passes.”

Some interesting findings came out about social media and being constantly connected and switched on. While people who felt lonely didn’t use social media such as Facebook any more than anyone else, the survey finds they use it in a different way.

“Our results show that people who are lonely have fewer Facebook friends who they have a personal as well as on-line relationship. They are not people they can go and have coffee with.”

Tune into BBC Radio 4 at 8pm, Monday 1 October, to hear Professor Victor and other academics delve deeper into the results in an episode of All In The Mind, recorded in front of a live audience. It is followed by a series of three BBC programmes called the Anatomy of Loneliness which looks at the results among different age groups, starting on Tuesday 2 October at 9am, plus a series of seven All in the Mind podcasts.

Reported by:

Hayley Jarvis, Media Relations
+44 (0)1895 268176
hayley.jarvis@brunel.ac.uk