Millennials and Gen Z: The loneliest generations?

The 360 features diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

What’s happening:

Loneliness has reached “epidemic” levels in recent years. The issue is especially pronounced in younger generations. Loneliness may be even more pervasive among members of Gen Z.

One in five Canadians identifies as lonely and according to a poll conducted by the Angus Reid Institute, women under 35 tend to express greater feelings of loneliness than other age groups.

It’s not just a Canadian problem. In a recent study, 30 percent of U.S. millennials said they always or often feel lonely and 22 percent said they have “no friends.” In Japan, as many as half a million people live in social isolation. The British government recently appointed a minister for loneliness to combat the issue.

The toll that loneliness takes goes beyond just emotional well-being. It is associated with higher blood pressure, heart disease and obesity. Loneliness has been shown to have a health impact similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It has also been seen as a possible cause of antisocial behaviour and even, by some, as a factor in mass shootings.

Why there’s debate:

The individual causes of something as personal as loneliness are inherently difficult to identify and likely vary from person to person. Social media is frequently pointed to as a major factor. Young people — who spend much more time communicating digitally than older generations — are missing out on valuable in-person interactions, many argue. Some believe that the curated versions of ourselves that we put online make it difficult to create real connections with others.

The influence of social media may be overstated, others argue. Loneliness among millennials and Gen Z may be driven by personal and societal challenges that are more pronounced in their generations, such as economic pressures, workplace changes and difficulty starting a family.

What’s next:

A number of remedies for the loneliness epidemic have been proposed. Some have argued for redesigning cities in ways that promote social interaction. A variety of innovations — co-working spaces, friend-finder apps, digital pets and even a loneliness pill — have been launched in an effort to curb the problem. Researchers in the U.S. are also working on a pill with the hopes of reducing heightened responses to loneliness.

Perspectives

Young people don’t learn how to be alone

“They’ve been surrounded by conversation their whole lives, so when that silence happens, they have a hard time just being in it and they take it that there’s something wrong.” — University of Delaware professor Dawn Fallik to NBC News

More and more people are living by themselves

“The 2016 census indicated that 28 per cent of households had only one person living in them, a record high. Although living alone does not necessarily lead to loneliness, studies show that people who live alone are more likely to use anti-depressants and engage in suicidal behaviours, which may due to increased feelings of isolation as well as a lack of social integration and trust.” — Victoria Carmichael, Montreal Gazette

Social media causes feelings of isolation and inadequacy

“A lot of people are obsessing over social media and filtering their life in a way that’s not allowing them to actually have a lot of vulnerability in the connections they do have.” — psychotherapist Joshua Peters to Global News

The ability to focus on in-person interaction is becoming a luxury reserved for the wealthy

“Just as skipping fast food is harder when it’s the only restaurant offering in town, separating from screens is harder for the poor and middle class. Even if someone is determined to be offline, that is often not possible.” — Nellie Bowles, New York Times

Young people are up against challenges older generations never faced

“When one takes a deeper dive into researching loneliness, it becomes obvious that it is not an isolated issue at all — it is very much interconnected with various factors at play in our modern culture.” — Peter Nieman, Calgary Herald

Economic pressures undercut young people’s ability to create deep connections

“We’re moving across the country, ripping ourselves away from social networks that can take years to construct. We’re delaying marriage and kids, or skipping them entirely. We’re working all the time, often alone, outside the confines of a traditional office and without the camaraderie of coworkers.” — Laura Entis, Vox

The issue is too complex to point to one cause

“As with most problems of noticeable impact and size, contemporary isolation arises from a structure of root causes — pervasive individualism, the dislocation effects of school and work, the fraying of communities — which is greater and more persistent than the hopeful efforts of scattered individuals.” — Elizabeth Bruenig, Washington Post

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