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Report: Gen Z Is the Loneliest Generation of Adults

Culture

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A new Cigna survey finds that loneliness is more widespread than ever and the youngest generations are the hardest hit.

In the famous words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

You can also miss it, or at least miss out on relationships, if you’re glued to your smartphone all day. According to a new study from Cigna and Ipsos, Gen Z is living proof. A nationwide survey of more than 20,000 Americans ages 18 and older has found that loneliness is on the rise—and that, contrary to popular belief, younger people—not the elderly—feel most alone.

Here are a few highlights of the research:

  • Roughly half of respondents said they sometimes or always feel either alone (46%) or left out (47%).
  • 54% of respondents said they always or sometimes feel that no one knows them well.
  • 56% of the adults surveyed said they sometimes or always felt like the people around them “are not necessarily with them.”
  • Only 53% of adults said that have meaningful in-person social interactions on a daily basis, including extended conversations with friends and family.
  • 40% of respondents feel like “their relationships aren’t meaningful”  and that they “are isolated from others.”

Per NPR.org, as part of the research Cigna also utilized the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Loneliness Scale to calculate a loneliness score for each generational bracket. UCLA’s scale ranges from 20 to 80, and people who score 43 and above are considered lonely. The higher the score, the greater the level of perceived loneliness and social isolation.

Per this metric, Cigna identified that the loneliest generation of adults was Generation Z. This group, born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s, received a loneliness score of 48.3. Millennials had the next highest score of 45.3. Baby Boomers scored 42.4 while those 72 and above, known as the Greatest Generation, scored 38.6 on the scale.

Collectively, what stood out from these findings is that it starkly contradicts the commonly held belief that the older you are, the lonelier and more isolated you tend to feel.

“Too often people think that this [problem] is specific to older adults. This report helps with the recognition that this can affect those at younger ages,” reiterated Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychologist at Brigham Young University, in a statement to NPR.

Yet another surprising finding included that respondents defined as “very heavy” users of social media were scored a 43.5 on the scale, not far off (41.7) from those who said they “never use social media.” While other research supports a strong correlation between social media and feelings of loneliness, Cigna finds that there are additional predictors that individuals, health care providers, and major health organizations, shouldn’t overlook. These include getting the “right amounts” of sleep, exercise, and family time. Working too much or too little, Cigna finds, is also associated with the experience of loneliness.

Moreover, whether or not you live with someone can influence whether you feel lonely. The survey found that those who live with others received loneliness scores of 43.5 compared to those who reported living alone (46.4). Single parents are also more inclined to feel lonely despite living with children, Cigna reporting the average loneliness score of these individuals as 48.2.

Interested in exploring this topic further? Throughout the year and during our global flagship conferences, we’ll be discussing the tension between community and individualism as part of our theme for 2018, “Closer.”

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