The loneliest people in Britain are not the elderly but people in their late teens and early twenties, official research suggested yesterday.
Two million – a third – of the generation who built their lives around social media admit suffering loneliness some or all of the time.
Nearly ten per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds said they were often or always lonely, three times the figure for over-65s which was 3 per cent.
Nearly ten per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds, who build their lives around social media, said they were often or always lonely
And 23 per cent of young adults said they were lonely some of the time, a figure that fell to 18 per cent for the 25-34 age group and to 17 per cent among over-75s.
Loneliness has been perceived to be chiefly a problem among the elderly, but the findings mean students are more likely than over-75s to be socially isolated.
The figures, from the Office for National Statistics, are based on its Community Life Survey which questioned more than 10,000 people in England in 2016 and 2017.
The ONS report said: ‘Younger adults aged 16 to 24 reported feeling lonely more often than those in older age groups.’
The research is likely to bring demands for more investigation of the effects on the young of spending hours alone communicating with others mainly through social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The ONS analysis is the first official inquiry into who suffers from loneliness and followed a call from the Prime Minister for ways to measure the issue.
Tracey Crouch, whom Theresa May appointed as minister for loneliness in January
Theresa May appointed Tracey Crouch as minister for loneliness in January, and said then that isolation was a ‘sad reality of modern life’.
Mrs May added: ‘I want to confront this challenge and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by carers, by those who have lost loved ones, people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with.’
The ONS report said loneliness is most common among those who rent their home, single people, the disabled, the unemployed, or those who lack trust in others or have no sense of belonging to their neighbourhood.
Women were most likely to say they were lonely, but the ONS said men may just be less willing to report it.
Marriage, or a civil partnership, protects against loneliness. Only around one in seven married people said they were lonely all or some of the time.
Last month ONS research said heavy internet use has been rising fast among under-15s, and young people under 25 typically spend 14 hours a week online.
Social media appears to be linked to some positive changes in young people’s lives – teenage pregnancies as well as drug and alcohol use among the young are all dramatically down since 2008.
But the rise in isolation is likely to fuel concerns about the role of social media in cyber-bullying and the spread of fake news and extremism.
Cal Strode of the Mental Health Foundation said loneliness was ‘not necessarily down to a lack of people’.
He added: ‘This is particularly true of the digital world, where teens can have thousands of friends online and yet feel unsupported and isolated.’