The United States is becoming a lonelier place – especially for young men, according to a survey conducted by the Survey Center on American Life.
The May survey found that an increasing number of people could not identify a single person as a “close friend.” In 1990, only 3% of Americans said that they had no close friends. In 2021, that percentage had risen to 12%. This directly contrasts the opposite end of the survey: in 1990, 33% of Americans claimed to have 10 or more close friends. That percentage dropped to 13% in 2021.
And these drops are even more prevalent among men. While just 3% of men said they had no close friends in 1990, this percentage increased to 15% in 2021. In the same time span, men who said they had ten or more close friends plummeted from 40% to 15%.
Women have additionally seen a friendship decline as well, though their drop is smaller than the men’s. Ten percent of women in 2021 report having no close friends as opposed to just 1% in 1990. Women with ten or more close friends decreased from 28% to 11% between the same period.
This survey comes a couple years after a report by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) found that there was a loneliness gap between generations, with increasing rates of loneliness found in younger generations, with young men feeling the most lonely. They found that these rates of loneliness tend to dissipate the older the generation ages. But not only did they discover this gap existed, but they also found that it was “primarily driven by marriage, mobility, and religious engagement.”
In surveying millennials, the report discovered that married millennials were less likely to feel lonely compared to cohabitating couples and millennials who had never married. Thirty-nine percent of married millennials reported feeling at least “occasionally lonely” compared to 55% of both cohabitating millennials and never married millennials. This is significant, as “the marriage rate among adults has fallen from 72 to 50 percent over the past 50 years.” The study also points out that, while 37% of millennials are married, when baby boomers were their age, 56% of them were married, showing the decline of marriage throughout generations.
The report also found that Americans who attend religious services feel lonely less often than those who do not attend. Additionally, it discovered that the more frequently someone attended, the less lonely they felt. Twenty-three percent of people who attended religious services more than once a week felt lonely at least “once in a while.” This compares to 35% for those who attend services once a week, 40% for both those who occasionally attend and rarely attend and 50% for those who never attend religious services.
Because millennials and younger generations tend to attend church less frequently than older generations, this helps to explain a reason as to why younger generations feel lonelier. Regardless, the boost of this “religion effect” is consistent through all generations, and it is particularly noticeable in younger generations. The majority (54%) of millennials who don’t attend religious services feel lonely occasionally as compared to just 37% of those who attend at least weekly.
Interestingly enough, “lonely and socially active” young adults were over seven times more likely (22% vs. 3%) to volunteer for political organizations than non-lonely peers. Conversely, non-lonely socially active young adults were six times more likely (24% vs. 4%) to volunteer for faith-based organizations.
According to the report, millennials felt higher rates of loneliness than baby boomers. However, this gap disappeared with the addition of weekly religious attendance, marriage and being a long-time resident in one place.
But with younger generations tending to be more geographically mobile, more likely to marry later or not marry at all and less likely to be religious, it sounds like feelings of loneliness will continue to rise. So, how do feelings of loneliness affect us?
A national survey conducted by Cigna found that “lonely workers” had lower work quality and productivity, an increased chance of job turnover and “were twice as likely to miss a day of work due to illness, and five times as likely to miss a day of work due to stress.” Feelings of loneliness also increase cortisol levels, which can impede “cognitive performance, compromise the immune system, and increase your risk for vascular problems, inflammation and heart disease.”
The Bible often advocates for humans to have relationships with one another in order to build one another up and bear each other’s burdens (Genesis 2:18, Proverbs 27:17, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, Galatians 6:1-2). The church is a great place to form and build relationships with one another, as all have a common connection – Jesus Christ – that naturally helps foster biblical friendships (Acts 2:42, Hebrews 10:24-25). Friendships built around honoring God will not easily be broken.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
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