Why young people today feel more lonely

Young people today are feeling more distant from their family members and also from their close friends, according to the Index of Wellbeing from the Intergenerational Foundation.

The research looked at five wellbeing areas - relationships, economic, health, personal environment and belonging - over three snapshots in time for young people aged 20-29: 1995, 2005 and 2015.

The deterioration in the quality of family relationships – by more than 50% between 2005 and 2015 – revealed that twentysomethings were a great deal less likely to say that one of their three closest friends was also a relative in 2015 than they had been in either 2005 or 1995. Close friendships also deteriorated between 2005 and 2015, falling 6% during the period.
Overall, twentysomethings in 2015 had 10% lower overall scores for economic, health, relationship, personal environment and belonging wellbeing combined than either of the previous cohorts of twentysomethings.

Angus Hanton, IF Co-founder, comments, “For the first time we can prove that 20 years of economic stagnation has affected more than just young people’s economic wellbeing. We should all be concerned by the cracks now appearing in their closest relationships and sense of belonging.”

The Index reveals that economic wellbeing for young people has stagnated for two decades – with a decline in employment and real wages between 2005 and 2015 – in spite of slight  improvements in access to pensions and savings. While fewer young people may be working long hours and more young people are enjoying shorter commuting times, the report’s author, David Kingman, argues that this is “likely to be because of the emergence of the ‘gig’ economy with fewer work hours available and consequently less commuting time undertaken.

“Belonging” wellbeing has seen very large declines since 2005 (-32%) because of falls in volunteering, interest in politics and observing a religion – all activities that have been strongly associated with a sense of belonging and a level of trust in society.

Health wellbeing saw a sharp decline of 11% between 2015 and 1995. This change has been driven by a very significant decline in how twentysomethings assess the level of their own physical health. David Kingman reflects that “this could be due to an increase in obesity or it could be due to greater exposure to social media and anxiety over body image since younger generations are drinking less, taking drugs less, and exercising more than previous generations did at the same age.”

Angus Hanton concludes, “While we welcome government attempts to measure wellbeing, it appears that little has been done to analyse the plight of young people specifically when they are experiencing such high levels of loneliness and social isolation on top of low wages, high student debt, and poor employment prospects. Very often the media focus is on loneliness experienced by older people. This research proves that young people are also affected.

Read the Intergenerational Foundation 2018 Index.