People in the 16-24 age group are three times more likely to say they feel lonely than those in the 65-74 age group
“The extent of loneliness in younger adults can be linked to social media, frequent life changes and transition, or moving into cities where people often live alone or in a room in a shared house." Tracey Robbins, head of UK programme delivery, Eden Project Communities
People between the ages of 16 and 24, part of the group typically referred to as Generation Z, are the loneliest generation, according to new research.
The survey, commissioned by the charity Eden Project Communities as part of its Big Lunch initiative, showed that 19% of 16-24 year olds, “often” or “always” feel lonely. This is three times higher than the 65-74 age group, where the figure was 6%. Only 14% of 16-24 year olds surveyed said they had never felt lonely.
The data also showed that people living in cities were more likely to feel lonely, with 17% of city-dwellers saying they experienced chronic loneliness. Analysis of 2021 census data shows that the highest proportion of young people live in cities.
The findings tie in with other research, including a 2019 study by YouGov, which found that young people in Britain find it hard to make friends.
Tracey Robbins, head of UK programme delivery at the Eden Project Communities, said: “The extent of loneliness in younger adults can be linked to social media, frequent life changes and transition, or moving into cities where people often live alone or in a room in a shared house. Pandemic social restrictions left a legacy leading to reduced confidence in connecting with others. Now rising living costs are limiting social opportunities. The good news is that feeling part of a community can help, so that’s brilliant motivation for everyone to reach out and start connecting.”
The Eden Project’s aim is to create healthier and more resilient communities by bringing people together. Its Big Lunch at Christmas campaign encourages people to invite others in their neighbourhood to share a meal, or even just to take mince pies to a neighbour.
Other charities are also trying to tackle loneliness among young people. Project Zero, based in London, hosts a community hub with a cafe, radio station and event hall to enable young people enjoy real-life activities rather than stay home. It also delivers youth engagement projects to promote social inclusion and reduce offending and anti-social behaviour.
Steve Barnabis, who founded Project Zero, told the Metro: “There are phones and technology these kids have to keep in touch with each other but in a way, it’s harder for young people to connect with each other. After Covid many are struggling to get out and socialise again. There was a period of time when kids were more reliant on phones and urged to rely on technology – so moving away from that mindset will be hard.”
The Eden Project survey data was collected by PHAR Partnerships using a nationally representative sample of 4,000 UK respondents aged 16 and above.
These survey findings add weight to previous studies showing an increase in mental health problems among young people, and our own research shows that, since the pandemic, far more people have been using digital tools to access mental health support. The current generation of young people is experiencing a particular set of challenges that were unknown to previous generations, such as being exposed to harmful content on social media. They also find it hard to access affordable housing, and many are forced to share cramped accommodation with strangers. There are no easy solutions, but the Eden Project is right to put an emphasis on encouraging people to meet neighbours and participate in community activities as a way to reduce loneliness and find more meaning and enjoyment in life. Through our research we’ve seen a range of digital solutions designed to help mental health in young people, although this area needs more thorough mapping.