‘Epidemic of Loneliness’: One-Fifth of UK Under-35s Have Just One or No Close Friends

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More than one-fifth of Britons aged under 35 say that they have just one or no close friends, according to a poll which is said to reveal that young people are “suffering an epidemic of loneliness”.

The report Age of Alienation conducted by the British think tank Onward and published on Thursday found that the proportion of those aged 18 to 34 who say they have no or just one close friend had tripled in a decade from seven per cent to 22 per cent. In that time, those who claim to have four or more close friends had fallen from 64 per cent to 40 per cent.

The study also found that under-35s were more isolated from their neighbours and are less likely to trust other people than the age bracket did in previous decades and less likely than over-35s in 2021.

Millennials (born between 1980 and 1994) and Generation Z (born between 1995 and 2012) are also less likely to belong to groups, further suggesting generations in isolation.

The director of Onward, Will Tanner, said the problem of young people being isolated was exasperated by the coronavirus restrictions and lockdowns, saying: “Young people are suffering an epidemic of loneliness that, if left unattended, will erode the glue that holds our society together.

“After decades of community decline and fifteen months of rolling lockdowns, young people have fewer friends, trust people less, and are more alienated from their communities than ever before. And it is getting worse with every generation.”

Lord James O’Shaughnessy, chairman of the Repairing Our Social Fabric programme, said that the findings are “profoundly worrying” as “strong social attachments are the foundation of democratic society”.

“This report reveals that Britain’s fraying social fabric is not just geographic in nature but generational, with each new cohort of young people less interwoven with, and supported by, wider society than the one before it,” Lord James said.

The findings may be a sign of the times. At the beginning of 2018, the Conservative government announced the appointment of a Minister for Loneliness to combat the effects of Britain’s atomising society, with the government citing research at the time that more than nine million people — in a country of 66 million — saying that they “always or often feel lonely”.

The ministerial position was established after a 2017 commission on loneliness found that nearly three-quarters of older people said they were lonely, with half of those saying they had never spoken to anyone about how they feel.

Earlier this year, amidst reports of an increase in children self-harming, record-high deaths by alcoholism, and rising numbers of people feeling suicidal, the government announced the founding of an Ambassador for Mental Health.

Likewise, Onward has called for more government intervention to cure Lonely Britain, proposing a “national civic service” which the body hopes could “encourage a new culture of connection”.

Another poll from 2019 found that 89 per cent of 16- to 29-year-olds thought that their lives had no meaning. Meanwhile, faith — a major source of sense of purpose — has seen a decline amongst the young, with just one per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds saying they belong to the Church of England.

While in terms of young people building their own communities by starting families, statistics from 2020 revealed that the fertility rate for women under 30 in England was at its lowest level since 1938 and that marriage rates had fallen to their lowest recorded level.

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