The Loneliest Generation
Dr. James Emery White
- 2018 May 03
I’ve written a fair amount about Generation Z, particularly in my book Meet Generation Z.
They have numerous characteristics that define them. For example, they are recession marked, Wi-Fi enabled, multicultural to the core and sexually fluid. But we can now add a new mark that no research I am aware of has previously uncovered.
We can now say they are the loneliest generation on the planet.
Using the UCLA Loneliness Scale, a 20-item questionnaire designed to gauge loneliness ranging from 20 on the low end to 80 on the high end, global insurer Cigna polled 20,000 Americans age 18 and older. The survey asked how often they would agree with such prompts as, “There is no one I can turn to,” and “I feel part of a group of friends.”
Perhaps counterintuitively, seniors – those age 72 and older – scored lowest, meaning they are the least lonely of all the generations. The national average was 44. Generation Z, or at least the segment that is age 18-22, was the loneliest by far, collectively scoring a high of 48.
While new information, it does confirm an old idea; namely, that the first generation raised in the context of social media is not being served socially at all. It’s not that social media is isolating them further. (Heavy social media users had only a slightly higher loneliness rating than those who never used social media.) It’s just not helping them to avoid loneliness.
But according to Jagdish Khubchandani, a health science professor at Ball State University, social media can provide a false sense of relief. They attempt socialization on computers in their homes, leading them away from face-to-face interaction. “I have students who tell me they have 500 ‘friends,’” he notes, “but when they’re in need, there’s no one.”
So why would an insurer like Cigna even conduct a study of this nature? Loneliness doesn’t just make us sad, it makes us sick. Loneliness actually has the same effect on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
So while they did not explore what is causing the epidemic of loneliness, particularly among the youngest generational cohort, it did find that they are very lonely indeed.
James Emery White
James Emery White, Meet Generation Z (Baker Books).
“Cigna’s U.S. Loneliness Index: Survey of 20,000 Americans Examining Behaviors Driving Loneliness in the United States,” Cigna, May 1, 2018, read online.
Jayne O’Donnell & Shari Rudavsky, “Young Americans Are the Loneliest, Surprising Study from Cigna Shows,” USA Today, May 1, 2018, read online.
Jamie Ducharme, “Young Americans Are the Loneliest, According to a New Study,” TIME, May 1, 2018, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.