loneliness Generation Z woman walking alone beach

Patryk Sobczak photo | Unsplash

By Lisa Cannon Green

Nobody is lonelier than Generation Z.

That’s the surprising conclusion of a new study that finds younger generations—across the board—are lonelier than older ones.

In fact, students have higher loneliness scores than retirees, and the least lonely Americans are 72 and older, health insurer Cigna found in its online survey of more than 20,000 U.S. adults.

Loneliness isn’t just an emotion—it’s a health issue, Cigna says.

“Loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even more dangerous than obesity,” wrote Douglas Nemecek, Cigna’s chief medical officer for behavioral health, in a report on the survey results.

Gen Zers apparently are feeling those ill effects: In addition to being the loneliest, they claim to be in worse health than older generations.

Among the young adults of Generation Z, who are 18 to 22 years old:

  • 69 percent say they feel people are around them but not really with them.
  • 69 percent report feeling shy.
  • 68 percent say they feel no one really knows them well.

They’re also more likely than their elders to report feeling left out, alone, and isolated from others.

“In fact, more than half of Gen Zers identify with 10 of the 11 feelings associated with loneliness,” says the report on the study, which used the well-known UCLA Loneliness Scale.

Gen Z ends up with an overall “loneliness score” well above the national average. Here’s how the generations compare:

Age range Loneliness score
Generation Z 18-22 48.3
Millennials 23-37 45.3
Generation X 38-51 45.1
National average All ages 44
Baby boomers 52-71 42.4
Greatest Generation 72 and older 38.6

A life in balance

The young adults of Generation Z may be constantly online—but their loneliness isn’t the fault of social media, Cigna’s study shows.

The study found no correlation between social media use and feelings of loneliness. Very heavy users of social media scored about the same on the loneliness scale as those who never use it.

“Levels of in-person interactions, physical and mental wellness, and life balance are more likely to predict loneliness than social media usage,” the report says.

Balance in all areas seems to be key to lessening loneliness, the researchers found.

Sleep, exercise, work, and time with family are all related to being less lonely—if they’re in the right amounts, the study says. Getting too much or too little of any of these things is linked to greater loneliness.

Good health is also important. Those who rank their health as fair or poor are more likely to be lonely than those who say they are healthier.

Despite their age, members of the Greatest Generation—those 72 and older—are the most likely to rate their health highly, while those in Generation Z are least likely to do so.

LISA CANNON GREEN (@lisacgreen) is senior editor of Facts & Trends.