Over Half of Americans Report Feeling Like No One Knows Them Well

Fifty-four percent of Americans report feeling as though no one knows them well at least sometimes, if not always. Additionally, at least two in five also say they sometimes/always feel as though they lack companionship, that their relationships are not meaningful, that they are isolated from others, and/or that they are no longer close to anyone.

Over Half of Americans Report Feeling Like No One Knows Them Well

The author(s)

  • Chris Jackson Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Negar Ballard Senior Account Manager, US, Ipsos Public Affairs
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Washington, DC, May 1, 2018 — According to a recent online survey conducted by Ipsos on behalf of Cigna, many Americans experience feelings of loneliness. This includes more than half (54%) who say they always/sometimes feel as though no one knows them well, just under half who report sometimes or always feeling alone (46%) and/or feeling left out (47%), and about two in five who say they lack companionship (43%), that their relationships are not meaningful (43%), that they are isolated from others (43%), and/or that they are no longer close to anyone (39%).

The survey was fielded among more than 20,000 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. The formula behind the index involves deriving a score for each respondent based on their answers to a series of twenty statements and from there calculating a total mean score for everyone who completed the survey to obtain a national score. The index stipulates that the higher the score, the lonelier people are. Possible loneliness scores range from 20 to 80, with the total average national loneliness score in America reaching 44. Total average loneliness scores were also analyzed across different  demographic groups of interest to gauge which populations are most susceptible to experiencing feelings of loneliness.

There are consistent traits that distinguish lonely and less lonely individuals

When comparing results for those who are lonelier versus those who are less lonely, consistent traits begin to emerge that can be connected to one’s level of loneliness. It was found that lonelier people are more likely to have infrequent in-person interactions, disagree that their “social  skills” /relationship statuses are good, be in fair/poor overall, physical, and mental health, and have less balance in their lives – all of which are interconnected and come with repercussions of their own. Some interesting points that arise here include:

  • Of those respondents who never have in-person interactions, half (50%) are in fair/poor overall health, whereas just 12% of those who have daily in-person interactions are in fair/poor overall health. The majority of those who never have in-person interactions also report being in fair/poor physical health (52%, vs. 23% of those who have daily interactions) and mental health (51% vs. 12%).
    • Those who never have in-person interactions are also less likely to have “balance” in their lives, with only 36% saying they get the right amount of sleep (vs. 50% of those who have daily in-person interactions) and 37% saying they get the right amount of family time (vs. 65%).
  • Directly connected with this, we see that daily interactions are less common among those in fair/poor health, with 31% of respondents in fair/poor overall health experiencing daily in-person interactions (vs.58% of those in good, very good or excellent overall health) and 41% of those in fair/poor physical health saying they interact with others daily (vs. 58% of those in good, very good or excellent physical health). A similar pattern is seen when it comes to mental health, with those reporting fair/poor mental health much less likely to experience in-person interactions versus those in good, very good or excellent health (32% vs. 58%).
  • Those respondents in fair/poor health also report greater difficulties in achieving balance in their lives,including:
    • Only a third (33%) of those in fair/poor overall health are getting the right amount of sleep (vs. 51% of those in good, very good or excellent overall health), while 38% of those in fair/poor overall health report working for the right amount of time (vs. 57% of those in good, very good or excellent overall health).
  • Additionally, we see that those respondents who are not content with their relationships have a loneliness score of 54.3 – more than 13 points higher than those who agree they are content with their relationships (40.7). These adults who are not content with their relationships are also more likely to report being in fair/poor overall health (42% vs. 12% of those who are content with their relationships).

Importantly, the opposite holds true for those respondents who are less lonely, with this group more likely to have frequent meaningful in-person interactions, agree their “social skills”/relationship statuses are good, be in good health overall (including physical and mental health), and display greater balance in their lives.

Gen Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and solitude is seen to lessen with age

Loneliness scores differ when analyzed across age/generations. Gen Zers (adults ages 18-22) surveyed have a total average loneliness score of 48.3 – granting them the title of the loneliest generation – while scores gradually drop as respondents continue to age, culminating in a total average loneliness score of 38.6 for the least lonely group, the Greatest Generation (adults ages 72+).

Generation Zers are significantly more likely than any other generation to say they experience the feelings described in the statements associated with loneliness (e.g., feeling alone, isolated, left out, that there is no one they can talk to, etc.). In fact, more than half of Gen Zers identify with 10 of the 11 feelings associated with loneliness. Feeling like people around them are not really with them (69%), feeling shy (69%), and feeling like no one really knows them well (68%) are among the most common feelings experienced by those in the Generation Z .

Millennials (adults ages 23-37) and Gen Xers (adults ages 38-51) surveyed follow this pattern, though not quite to the same extent, with similar proportions among these two audiences saying they experience feelings associated with loneliness. We see feelings of loneliness gradually continuing to fall when looking at Boomers. Those making up the Greatest Generation (adults ages 72+) are least likely to report having feelings of loneliness, such as lacking companionship (30%), feeling alone (30%), feeling left out (28%), and feeling as though they have no one they can turn to (18%). However, fewer major differences emerge across all generations when it comes to feeling as though their interests and ideas are not shared by those around them, with a majority of Gen Zers (adults ages 18-22), Millennials (adults ages 23-37), Gen Xers (adults ages 38-51), Boomers (adults ages 52-71), and those making up the Greatest Generation (adults ages 72+) reporting they feel this way at least sometimes.

When looking at feelings that are not associated with being lonely, adults from the Greatest Generation (adults ages 72+) surveyed are most likely to feel in tune with others (92%), feel close to other people (92%), and feel like there are people they can both turn to (92%) and talk to (92%). Adults aged 72 and older are also significantly more likely to consider themselves as being friendly and outgoing (94% vs. 75% of Gen Z). Gen Zers (adults ages 18-22) fall to the bottom as the generation that is least likely to feel the ways described by the 9 statements below.

Those who engage in frequent meaningful in-person interactions have much lower loneliness scores that those who rarely interact with others face-to-face

In-person interactions play an important role in alleviating one’s feelings of loneliness, with those who experience infrequent in-person interactions typically much lonelier than those who engage in meaningful interactions regularly. When asked how frequently they have meaningful in-person social interactions (e.g., having an extended conversation with a friend, spending quality time with family), most respondents report connecting with others at least daily (53%). Twenty-nine percent report having meaningful interactions on a weekly basis, while just under one in ten (8%) report having these types of exchanges monthly. However, meaningful in-person socializing occurs even less often for the remaining one in ten (10%), including a few (2%) who say they never engage with others.

When profiling those who have daily in-person interactions, data shows that these adults are significantly more likely to say their overall health is good, very good or excellent, with 88% of those having daily in-person interactions saying their overall health is good, very good or excellent compared to 50% of those who never have in-person interactions. This group is also significantly more likely to say their mental health is good, very good or excellent (88% vs. 49% of those who never have in-person interactions) and to report having balance when it comes to different areas of their lives (sleep, work, etc.), with half (50%) of those having daily in-person interactions getting the right amount of sleep versus 36% of those who never have in-person interactions.

When looking at how loneliness scores vary across those with different levels of in-person interaction, results show that those who have daily in-person interactions have the lowest total average loneliness score (39.6), while the few who report never interacting with others have an average loneliness score that is 20 points higher (59.6). This trend illustrates that loneliness will typically decrease as in-person interaction increases.

In fact, when looking at responses to the individual statements used to calculate the overall loneliness scores, those who say they engage in meaningful social interactions multiple times a day/daily are significantly less likely to feel as though they lack companionship, that there is no one they can turn to, that they are no longer close to anyone, that no one really knows them well, and that the people around them are not actually ‘with’ them – especially when compared to those who interact with others only on a monthly/annual basis. Those who experience daily in-person interactions are also significantly less likely to report feeling isolated, alone, left out, and shy.

It is interesting to note that while feelings associated with loneliness resonate highly with those who say they never have meaningful in-person social interactions with others, they don’t always have the highest score when it comes to always/sometimes experiencing these feelings. However, those who never have in-person interactions are more likely than other segments to report feeling as though they are no longer close to anyone and that they have no one they can turn to. They are on par with those who interact with others every other month to yearly when it comes to feeling as though they lack companionship.

When it comes to feelings that are not associated with being lonely, those surveyed who experience daily meaningful in-person interactions are significantly more likely to feel as though there are people they can turn to (90%), people they can talk to (91%), and people who understand them (84%) – especially compared to those who say they never interact with others (31%, 32%, and 28%, respectively). Those who socialize with others daily are also significantly more likely to feel as though they belong to a group of friends (85% vs. 21% of those who never interact with others), have a lot in common with others (85% vs. 28%), and are close to people (90% vs. 29%). They are also most likely to describe themselves as being outgoing and friendly (90%).

Fair or poor physical health can be an indicator of increased loneliness

A person’s health is yet another factor that is seen to influence feelings of loneliness, with loneliness increasingly more prevalent as self-reported overall health drops. When asked to rate their overall health and well-being (physical, social, family, financial, work related), most respondents say they are in good health – including one in ten (12%) who report being in excellent health, a third (34%) who claim they are in very good health, and another 34% who rate their overall health as good. On the other hand, one in five (19%) claim that their health is either fair or poor.

When looking at loneliness scores across health ratings, results show that those who rate their health as fair/poor have a loneliness score that is nearly 11 points higher than those who rate their health as being    good/very good/excellent (52.8 and 41.9, respectively). This gap grows to 13.5 points when comparing those who rank their health as being fair/poor against those who fall into the top two health brackets (39.3, excellent/very good).

Looking specifically at physical health, a similar pattern emerges with those in good/very good/excellent physical health obtaining a loneliness score of 41.6, 8 points lower than those in fair/poor health (49.6). This trend holds true when it comes to mental health, with those who feel good, very good or excellent about their mental health (41.6) obtaining a loneliness score that is nearly 13 points lower than those who rate their mental health as fair or poor (54.5). It was also found that fewer respondents in fair/poor overall health have daily in-person interactions (31%) compared to the 58% of those in good, very good or excellent overall health that have daily in-person interactions.

The Greatest Generation (adults ages 72+) is most likely to say their overall (84%), physical (77%), and mental health (94%) is good, very good or excellent. Gen Z (adults ages 18-22), the loneliest generation, is least likely to say the same about their own overall (76%), physical (65%) and mental health (65%).

Respondents who rate their overall health as being fair/poor are up to twice as likely to say they experience emotions associated with loneliness, such as feeling left out, alone, or isolated compared to those in excellent/very good health who say the same thing.

Though the differences identified across each segment are not as pronounced when it comes to feelings that are not associated with being lonely, these statements are significantly more likely to resonate with those in better health. This includes a greater proportion of those who rate their health as being excellent/very good that describe themselves as being outgoing and friendly (90% vs. 70% of those with fair/poor health) and a substantially greater proportion of healthy adults who also report feeling that there are people they can talk to (90% vs. 62%) or turn to (89% vs. 62%). Healthy adults are also much more likely to report feeling close to other people (89% vs. 59%).

To view the full report, please see download the U.S. Loneliness Index Report.

About the Study

These are the findings from an Ipsos poll conducted February 21 – March 6, 2018 on behalf of Cigna. For the survey, a sample of 20,096 adults ages 18 and over from the continental U.S., Alaska and Hawaii was interviewed online, in English. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll has a credibility interval of ±0.8 percentage points for all respondents surveyed.

The study’s questionnaire is based on the UCLA Loneliness Scale, a 20-item questionnaire developed to assess subjective feelings of loneliness or social isolation. An index was created based on these 20 statements, which include a balanced mix of positive (e.g., How often do you feel outgoing and friendly?) and negative (e.g., How often do you feel alone?) statements, and respondents were assigned a loneliness score based on their responses to these questions. Higher scores indicate increased loneliness. Individual respondent scores were combined to obtain a total average loneliness score both nationally and across different cities throughout the U.S., allowing Ipsos to determine different levels of loneliness across America. To qualify as being lonely, respondents had to obtain a score of 43 or higher on the UCLA Loneliness Scale.

The sample for this study was randomly drawn from Ipsos’s online panel (see link below for more info on “Access Panels and Recruitment”), partner online panel sources, and “river” sampling (see link below for more info on the Ipsos “Ampario Overview” sample method) and does not rely on a population frame in the traditional sense. Ipsos uses fixed sample targets, unique to each study, in drawing sample. After a sample has been obtained from the Ipsos panel, Ipsos calibrates respondent characteristics to be representative of the U.S. Population using standard procedures such as raking-ratio adjustments. The source of these population targets is U.S. Census 2016 American Community Survey data. The sample drawn for this study reflects fixed sample targets on demographics. Post-hoc weights were made to the population characteristics on gender, age, region, race/ethnicity and income.

Statistical margins of error are not applicable to online nonprobability sampling polls. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error and measurement error. Where figures do not sum to 100, this is due to the effects of rounding. Ipsos calculates a design effect (DEFF) for each study based on the variation of the weights, following the formula of Kish (1965). This study had a credibility interval adjusted for design effect of the following (n=20,096, DEFF=1.5, adjusted Confidence Interval=2.3).

For more information about conducting research intended for public release or Ipsos’ online polling methodology, please visit our Public Opinion Polling and Communication page where you can download our brochure, see our public release protocol, or contact us.

For more information on this news release, please contact:
Chris Jackson
Vice President, U.S.
Ipsos Public Affairs
+1 202 420-2025
chris.jackson@ipsos.com

Negar Ballard
Senior Account Manager, U.S.
Ipsos Public Affairs
+1 312 292-8366
negar.ballard@ipsos.com

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The author(s)

  • Chris Jackson Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Negar Ballard Senior Account Manager, US, Ipsos Public Affairs

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