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Investigating factors associated with loneliness in adults in England

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Published: June 2022

This project analyses data collected in the Community Life Survey (2012/13-2019/20) and Understanding Society (Waves 9 and 10) to explore experiences of loneliness amongst adults in England.

The research was commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). It investigates:

  • The characteristics of people most at risk of loneliness;
  • Whether risk factors for loneliness have changed over time;
  • What might predict the alleviation of loneliness in the short term; and
  • The relationship between loneliness and mental wellbeing.

Findings in this report support previous research into loneliness: women, young people, people who live alone and those who were widowed are at a greater risk of loneliness. In addition, this analysis found that:

  • Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people and those who identified as an ‘other’ sexual orientation were all at a greater risk of loneliness than heterosexual people.
  • There is a unique set of risk factors for loneliness in young people. Unlike in older age groups, income and sex were key determinants of loneliness for people aged 18-34 years old.
  • Mental wellbeing and loneliness are closely associated - 4% of people without mental distress but 28% of people with mental distress experienced chronic loneliness. Similarly, 60% of people experiencing chronic loneliness experienced mental distress, compared to only 15% of those who were not chronically lonely.
  • Furthermore, mental distress played a role in the onset of chronic loneliness and the continuation of this over time. Similarly, loneliness was a predictor of the onset and, to a lesser extent, the continuation of mental distress.
  • Few factors were identified that predicted the alleviation of loneliness in the short term. People who had said they were lonely 12 months earlier were more likely to indicate that they no longer experienced loneliness if they did not have a disability or long-term illness, had good mental wellbeing or lived with a partner.
  • The risk factors for loneliness appear to have remained relatively stable over time.

Findings from this analysis highlight the need to target interventions at people from different age groups and the value of providing support to people when they first experience loneliness to reduce the risk of prolonged loneliness and, potentially, mental distress.

The reports also highlighted the need for further exploration of the role of protected characteristics in experiences of loneliness, in particular how the intersection of protected characteristics is related to loneliness, and of the relationship between mental health and loneliness over a longer time period.

Read the report here