Loneliness is reaching ‘epidemic’ levels in America

May 2, 2018

Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46%) or left out (47%), based on findings of a national survey of 2,000 U.S. adults sponsored by Cigna and conducted by Ipsos.

The new report, released on May 1, evaluated the subjective feelings of loneliness experienced by respondents using the UCLA Loneliness Scale—a 20-point questionnaire.

Indeed, UCLA researchers estimate that some 60 million Americans suffer from loneliness. And with millions of Baby Boomers now facing a radically shrinking social world as they retire from the workplace, see their children disperse, lose friends and family members to illness and death, the rising tide of loneliness has all the hallmarks of a widespread and costly epidemic.

Among the more alarming features of this epidemic, as identified by the Cigna/Ipsos survey are the following:

  • One in four Americans (27%) rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them;
  • Two in five respondents sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43%) and that they are isolated from others (43%);
    One in fiveS. adults rarely or never feel close to people (20%) or feel like there are people they can talk to (18%);
  • Only slightly more than one-half of Americans (53%) have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis;
  • Generation Z (age 18-22) is the loneliest   claims to be in worse health than older generations; and
    Very heavy users of social media have a loneliness score (43.5) that is not markedly different from the score of those who never use social media (41.7).

Americans who live with others are less likely to be lonely (average loneliness score of 43.5) compared to those who live alone (46.4). However, this does not apply to single parents/guardians (average loneliness score of 48.2). Although they live with children, they are more likely to be lonely.

“We view a person’s physical, mental and social health as being entirely connected,” said Cigna CEO David Cordani adding, “In analyzing this closely, we’re seeing a lack of human connection, which ultimately leads to a lack of vitality—or a disconnect between mind and body. We must change this trend by re-framing the conversation to be about ‘mental wellness’ and ‘vitality’ to speak to our mental-physical connection. When the mind and body are treated as one, we see powerful results.”

The survey also revealed several important bright spots. The findings reinforce the social nature of humans and the importance of having communities. People who are less lonely are more likely to have regular, meaningful, in-person interactions; are likely to exercise regularly; have achieved balance in daily activities; and are employed and have good relationships with their coworkers.

Research contact: elinor.polack@cigna.com