More than three in five Americans are lonely, with more and more people reporting feeling like they are left out, poorly understood and lacking companionship, according to a new survey released Thursday. Workplace culture and conditions may contribute to Americans’ loneliness.
And loneliness may be on the rise. The report, led by the health insurer Cigna, found a 7% rise in loneliness since 2018, when the survey was first conducted. (Cigna is a provider of health insurance for NPR employees.)
The report surveyed over 10,000 adult workers in July and August 2019, relying on a measure of loneliness called the UCLA Loneliness Scale, used as a standard within psychology research. Respondents rated their reactions to statements such as “How often do you feel outgoing and friendly?” and “How often do you feel alone?” which were used to calculate a loneliness score on an 80-point scale.
Pervasive loneliness “has widespread effects,” says Bert Uchino, a professor at the University of Utah who studies relationships and health. It’s strongly linked to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
It’s an urgent time for the study of loneliness, Uchino adds. More and more research suggests that its impacts don’t end with mental health. “Evidence is really pointing to the fact that relationships — the kinds of bonds you have with people, how close you are, how connected you feel to others — impact physical health as well,” he says.
With only one follow-up report, it’s unclear if the year-over-year rise in loneliness is a trend or just a blip in the data, says Uchino. There are ways to sample the population and control responses that would produce more reliable results, but surveying so many people strengthens these findings, he adds.
The report found several factors that were linked to increased feelings of isolation in 2019. Loneliness appeared to be more common among men. The survey found 63% of men to be lonely, compared with 58% of women.
Social media use was tied to loneliness as well, with 72% of very heavy social media users considered lonely, as compared with 51% of light users.