Research reveals high levels of loneliness among under-35s

THE number of people under the age of 35 who say they have just the one ‘close friend’, or even none, has tripled in the ten years, according to findings issued by a think tank.

Says Onward (here), in Age of Alienation, the number of under-35s saying they have no or one ‘close friend’ has increased from seven per cent to 22 per cent in the last decade, while the share of under-35s with four or more close friends has fallen from 64 per cent to 40 per cent.

Among other findings:

  • Compared to 20 years ago, under-35s are a third as likely to say they regularly speak to neighbours and a third less likely to borrow and exchange favours with them;
  • ‘Millennials’ (born between circa 1981 and 1996) and ‘Generation Z’ (born circa the mid-1990s to the early 2010s) are less likely to be members of a group or participate in group activities than previous generations were at similar ages.
  • The share of young people who agree that “generally speaking, most people can be trusted” has fallen twice as fast among under-35s as among over-35s in recent decades. Today just 30 per cent of under-35s say most people are generally trustworthy, versus 40 per cent for over-35s.
  • People under the age of 25 are three times more likely (48 per cent) than people over the age of 65 years-old (15 per cent) to distrust their neighbours. Only around half (54 per cent) of under-25s say they trust their family “completely”, compared to 80 per cent among over-65s.

To reverse these trends, the report makes a series of recommendations:

  • Introduce a ‘national civic service’ to revive civic participation among young people. This would create a voluntary expectation that every 18-35 year old should do ten days of unpaid social action each year, with time off work to do so, or undertake a paid ‘year of service’ instead.
  • Offer young people civic rewards to incentivise community engagement. 18-35 year-olds who have conducted ten days of volunteering each year should be eligible for a partial write-off of student loan debt, credits towards digital or vocational training, or a national insurance rebate.
  • Democratise public spaces and high streets to give communities places to come together. In 2020, nearly one in 25 vacant high street shops had been vacant for three or more years and councils owned 100,000 empty garages. Ministers should create automatic rights for communities to take over underutilised spaces for enterprise hubs, sports clubs and charities.
  • Give young people greater security by creating 500,000 new reduced-rent homes. This would create a new class of housing – Homes for Young People – available to working tenants under the age of 40. They would have discounted rent by ten-to-20 per cent below market rates for up to ten years, allowing young people to put down roots and save up towards home ownership.