Today, members of the millennial generation are ages 23 to 38. These ought to be prime years of careers taking off and starting families, before joints really begin to ache. Yet as a recent poll and some corresponding research indicate, there’s something missing for many in this generation: companionship.
A recent poll from YouGov, a polling firm and market research company, found that 30 percent of millennials say they feel lonely. This is the highest percentage of all the generations surveyed.
Furthermore, 22 percent of millennials in the poll said they had zero friends. Twenty-seven percent said they had “no close friends,” 30 percent said they have “no best friends,” and 25 percent said they have no acquaintances. (I wonder if the poll respondents have differing thoughts on what “acquaintance” means; I take it to mean “people you interact with now and then.”)
In comparison, just 16 percent of Gen Xers and 9 percent of baby boomers say they have no friends.
The poll, which looked at 1,254 adults 18 and up, did not report results for the up-and-coming Gen Z (who report high levels of loneliness on other surveys), or for the oldest adults in the country. And we should note: Loneliness tends to increase markedly after age 75; social isolation among the elderly remains a huge problem that will only grow worse as baby boomers age. So perhaps it’s not the case that millennials are the loneliest of all.
Still, the findings on millennials are surprising. Why do a fifth of these 20- and 30-somethings say they lack friends? YouGov’s poll didn’t measure why.
If this generation is truly lonelier, that’s concerning for a number of reasons: Research shows that loneliness tends to increase as we get older. What will happen to millennials, who are already reporting high levels of loneliness, when they reach old age?
It also raises the question of whether everyone who’s lonely, millennials included, is more isolated from spending more time on the internet. (Though there’s also evidence that the internet can help lonely, isolated people connect with others.)
But while there may be something particular happening with millennials, it’s also possible loneliness naturally ebbs and flows throughout life. A 1990 meta-analysis (a study of studies), which included data on 25,000 people, found that “loneliness was highest among young adults, declined over midlife, and increased modestly in old age.”