- Nearly 8 out of 10 respondents felt lonely
- 50.7% of millennials, and 47% of baby boomers would get the Covid-19 vaccine right now to feel less lonely.
- Millennials felt the loneliest since Covid-19 started.
- More than 1 in 5 respondents felt that zoom calls made them feel more lonely.
Alone Together: A Deep Dive Into COVID’s Impact on Loneliness
It’s been over a year since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the U.S. Since then, many restrictions have been put in place, including lockdowns across the nation. With isolation comes loneliness, and people have certainly been feeling the effects. Whether it was last January or last week, a survey of over 1,000 people following social distancing and quarantining guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined that they had experienced loneliness on some level. This sample size indicates that a mutual feeling exists on a much greater scale.
We’ll break down how loneliness affects different generations; its specific impact on people’s lives; strategies to keep it at bay; and how technology factors into the equation. As we experience isolation on a global scale, we are all alone, together.
Loneliness Among the Generations
Many people have experienced loneliness this year, and the fact that just under 80% of respondents have dealt with it goes to show how severely this pandemic has affected our social lives. The majority of all three surveyed generations (millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers) claimed to have experienced some level of loneliness. Breaking down who didn’t feel lonely – 17.2% of millenials, 26.9% of Gen Xers, and 23% of baby boomers – there seems to be a slight difference age to age, with millennials being the least likely to feel this way.
The highest number of respondents had already started feeling lonely before 2020, but there were other surges in March and April of 2020. President Trump declared COVID-19 a national emergency on March 13, 2020, which may have instilled enough fear in people to heavily limit social interactions, leading to an uptick in loneliness. Baby boomers, in particular, seemed to have started to feel lonely more in March 2020.
Before the pandemic, baby boomers were quite social – 31.2% of them interacted with people outside of their homes six times a week. Now, although some do socialize at a lower rate, 12.9% of them have opted to not interact with anyone outside of their household at all.
Slightly over half of millennials and 47% of baby boomers agreed that they would get the vaccine now to feel less lonely– something the two differing generations can finally agree on. In the meantime, baby boomers (83.9%) had made the most effort to stay in touch with relatives and friends since the pandemic started. The main culprit of loneliness, according to 59% of respondents, was the general practice of social distancing and quarantining – almost all of the other listed factors arose due to it, such as the inability to see friends and missing birthdays or music events.
Compared to millennials and Gen Xers, baby boomers were especially affected by dealing with the passing of a loved one as well as not being able to meet someone’s newborn child. The elderly are more susceptible to getting coronavirus – 8 out of 10 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are people over the age of 65. Unfortunately, many baby boomers have died as a result of the virus, and the grieving process of a loved one surely leads to indescribable levels of loneliness.
Before reentering social spheres, 29% of baby boomer respondents wanted to wait until they have been vaccinated; 26.9% won’t see family and friends until they too are vaccinated; and 31.2% will stay put until the majority of the population has been vaccinated. Just under 13% of these respondents said they won’t consider getting the vaccine at all.
By a slight margin, baby boomers felt more isolated than younger people most of the time. This could be due to the fact that baby boomers are less used to using modern technologies to stay in touch with their friends. Surprisingly, introverts generally felt the same way, compared to the majority of ambiverts, those with characteristics of both introverts and extroverts, who felt isolated only some of the time. This could be due to the uncertainty of the pandemic and introverts’ tendency toward the internalization of emotions, which can lead to feelings of nervousness and fear, contributing to negative emotions like loneliness. Meanwhile, ambiverts’ ability to tap into positive extroverted traits like optimism and the introverted trait of drawing energy from time alone has given them a mental advantage throughout their isolation experience.
Since the start of the pandemic, 72.7% of baby boomers had felt a lack of companionship, and 62.6% generally felt left out. For some semblance of community and belonging, 1 in 3 respondents attended virtual meetings and/or clubs at some point. For example, COVID-19 has allowed for the emergence of online book clubs. Reading has become an especially popular pastime during lockdown, and the shift toward online platforms has allowed people to congregate online to continue reading and discussing literature together.
By a margin of almost 8%, the most popular activity to combat loneliness has been watching TV, followed by watching movies. During lockdown, 12 million people signed up to streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+. Aside from television and movies, top strategies that baby boomers used to combat loneliness were going for walks and working out or getting exercise.
Virtual interactions don’t exactly cut it in terms of filling the void of missing loved ones, however, in times like these it’s important to find the best form of communication that works for you and those closest to you. The two most popular methods of communication during the pandemic had generally been via text messaging and phone calls. Baby boomers, being a little more old-fashioned, resorted to using email more than younger respondents. Another way people stayed in touch was through handwritten letters. Snail mail has been on the rise since the pandemic started, and they offer a personal alternative to only communicating through screens.
The emergence of Zoom has been critical in maintaining virtual connections, but baby boomers are using it about 15% less than millennials and Gen Xers. This is likely due to the fact that older generations are more likely to struggle with new technology. Loved ones are urged to be patient and accommodating when helping their elderly family and friends navigate videoconferencing applications. The difference between a phone call and a video call can make a world of difference for those struggling with isolation.
When asked which methods of communication combat loneliness, baby boomers believed phone calls and, perhaps surprisingly, social media helped them the most. When associating generation with social media usage, baby boomers aren’t usually the first to come to mind. According to a survey of over 2,700 Americans aimed at determining the link between digital habits and general satisfaction, many baby boomers reported using social media daily. Moreover, 84% of them believed the practice was improving their life. They are using it far less than millennials and are having more positive experiences as a result. Their intentions are seemingly purer too – instead of being caught up with the popularity and clout-chasing that many millennials get sucked into, boomers are using it for other purposes like reconnecting with friends and getting family-related updates.
Whatever Happens Next …
Feelings of loneliness are not specific toward one generation or group of people. Finally, there seems to be something millennials, baby boomers, and Gen Xers alike have in common. Everyone has been affected in different ways, some more harshly than others. Even with the rollout of vaccines, it is still too hard to determine exactly when some semblance of normalcy will return to our lives.
The World Health Organization specifically suggests older adults keep in contact with loved ones, maintain regular routines, perform simple exercises, and not shy away from asking for practical help (e.g. having food delivered, calling a taxi). In trying times like these, it is important to maximize comfort and security in isolation – Stannah is a name you can trust, and their stairlifts are of unmatched quality – allow them to help you maintain your routine by navigating your home safely and securely today.
Methodology and Limitations
This study used data from a survey of 1,001 people located in the U.S. who had followed the CDC guidelines on quarantining and social distancing during the pandemic.
Survey respondents were gathered through the Amazon Mechanical Turk survey platform where they were presented with a series of questions, including attention-check and disqualification questions. 47.8% of respondents identified as male, while 52.2% identified as female. The average age of respondents was 45 years old with a standard deviation of 12 years. 50% of respondents were baby boomers, while 20% each were millennials and Gen Xers, the remaining 10% were Gen Zers who were eliminated due to low sample size. Any participant incorrectly answering any attention check-question had their answers disqualified.
Please note that survey responses are self-reported and are subject to issues, such as exaggeration, recency bias, and telescoping.
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