Millennials are the loneliest generation, according to a new survey of US adults.

The YouGov poll found 30% of millennials said they always or often feel lonely, compared to 20% of Generation X and just 15% of baby boomers.

Image: YouGov

YouGov, which polled 1,254 US adults, didn’t explore why millennials are feeling so lonely. But it noted previous studies indicate that social media and internet addiction can be a contributing factor.

It highlighted a study from the University of Pennsylvania that identified a link between social media use and decreased wellbeing.

Worryingly, just over one in five (22%) millennials surveyed by YouGov said they had no friends. By contrast, just 16% of Gen Xers and 9% of baby boomers said the same.

Image: YouGov

Loneliness epidemic

The YouGov poll is the latest piece of research to show worryingly high levels of loneliness, particularly among younger generations.

A 2018 study by the health insurance company Cigna exposed the extent of the loneliness epidemic in the US – nearly half of 20,000 adults surveyed reported sometimes or always feeling alone or left out, with young people most affected.

Research from other countries, including the UK, Canada, Australia and Japan, lays bare the pervasiveness of the problem.

In 2018 British broadcaster the BBC conducted an online survey of 55,000 people from around the world. It found levels of loneliness were highest among 16- to 24-year-olds.

In Japan the government conducted a survey on hikikomori (people who withdraw from social contact and don’t leave their homes). It found the number of hikikomori aged 15 to 39 had doubled to 541,000 since its last study in 2010.

Loneliness affects mental and physical health. Research suggests being socially isolated for prolonged periods poses a similar risk of premature death to obesity, air pollution or smoking 15 cigarettes per day.

No wonder policy-makers are increasingly talking about loneliness as a public health problem, and launching national campaigns to combat it.

Last year the British government appointed a minister for loneliness. Meanwhile scientists in the US have been working on a pill to treat the effects of loneliness on the body and brain.