Why are Millennials so Lonely?

In an article entitled “22 percent of millennials say they have “no friends” from Vox, a recent poll conducted by YouGov that found that 30 percent of millennials identify with feeling lonely. This finding is significant because that was the largest percentage amongst the subsequent generations (baby boomers – 15 percent, and generation X – 20 percent). Additionally 22 percent of millennials in that poll said that they had no friends (Resnick 2019).

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The research on this is inconclusive on as to why. Most of which pointing out age as the main contributing factor; 30s and 80s being peaks for loneliness (Resnick, 2019). In addition to, the natural progression of life (career upward mobility, increased familial responsibilities, family and friends being further in proximity), and the idea that loneliness ebbs and flows; the idea that there are just points in our lives where we are more socially isolated than other times (Resnick 2019). Once we include contributing factors to this information we can gain a clearer picture on as to why. So what is going on in the life of a millennial in 2019?

I can only speak for myself and reference data that is already accessible, that being said, a good case on as to why millennials are so lonely can be made based on what we already know about this generation.

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Lets start with the elephant in the room, social media. The idea that social media is making us less social is an idea that is trending downward. Social media is prevailing at its intend purpose of making us more connected. The draw back of this is the way in which we are more connected, and what we value as contentedness. I’m going to go out on a limp and say that millennials are more comfortable with indirect relationships. Who among us actually seeks irl (in real life) connection in 2019? I as a lot of millennials, get my social connection fix by looking at a friend’s snapchat story/instagram, or seeing what people in my echo chamber are talking about on twitter that day. If something significant is happening with my friend group/family I’ll know it because it will have been Facebook status update worthy.

There is no perceived need/desire to meet new people.

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This is also impacting our romantic relationships. Millennials are less romantically inclined. According to the CDC (center for disease control), young adults are having far less sex than their baby boomer and gen X counterparts, and are trending downward for the average number of sex partners. I’m bringing this up not as a promotion for promiscuity but rather, to make the argument that a millennial’s ability to make real social connections have diminished over time and the advent of social media is a contributing factor to that.

From a financial perspective, millennials are just broke. The one sure fire way to battle social isolation, is to get up, get out and get active. Now someone please explain to me how I am going to do that with no money?

I’m not too proud to say that I’ve been the person to go to a bar just for the “atmosphere”, and only order water. And by no means am I implying that a person needs money to be social or that socializing is predicated on one’s financial ability to do so (the suggestion that there is a positive correlation between money and socializing), but it sure does help. I’ve had more fun with money or at lease access to it (parents/familial financial support), than I’ve had without it.

The federal reserve found that millennials have less money than baby boomers and gen X’ers did at our age, contrastly we also have more debt. Main contributors of this are the increased cost of living and student debt. The millennial generation was deemed the “brokest generation” by Slate. Millennials are also projected to be lesser off longitudinally than those of other generations. The contributing factors of this vary but what it boils down to is that millennials are not spending money in socially stimulating ways.

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Why does this matter? Millennials are sad (47 percent of millennials being diagnosed with depression), lonely, and friendless so what?

It matters because we as a group of people matter. What we do with this world that we are inheriting will be indicative of our contentedness to one another. With social issues like climate change, reproductive rights, self sustainability, and general human rights on the top of the agenda for millennials, we have to be in tune with the plights of those around us. Not to mention millennials are the new role models. baby boomers are aging out, and gen X’ers quite frankly are to a degree disconnected literally and metaphorically. None of us are meant to be alone, we do not function well in loneliness; that’s why one of the cruelest forms of punishment in prison is solitary confinement. We do better together, as a country, as a generation, and as individuals (iron sharpens iron as does a friend sharpen a friend).

So what do we do about this, how do we change this trend? One of my general perspectives or how I approach most things is “how can I make the given circumstance work out in my favor?” (see My Black Perspective). As it relates to social isolation its simple, get social. One of the great things about this day and age is while we may not interact irl, its not difficult to do so. Back when I use to work in insurance I would always be networking with people, yes I was doing it to stimulate my business, but on the other hand, the sheer amount of what there was to do, a lot of it being free, was astounding to me (try utilizing tools like eventme, eventbrite and meetup). We can also lean into social connections that already exist around us. Whether that’s visiting family/friends that are close or having them over, extending that one minute water cooler conversation at work to a two minute water cooler conversation, or just being open to a random conversation that may spark up. These are ways of getting uncomfortable (growing) and being intentional in our social lives in a practical way that can and will go a long way if we are open to them.

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2 Comments

  1. You bring up a lot of good issues here. I would like to offer some helpful additional perspective some of the questions that you raise here.

    When I was in my teens and 20s, I was still fairly shy. I later learned that many others, especially in their 20s, are suffering from similar difficulties. Here are some examples: Worrying a lot about how to keep an in-person conversation going. Here is an example. Sometimes my husband and I would invite another couple over for dinner. I recall feeling thankful I had quite a bit of work to do in the kitchen, and left my husband (a better conversationalist than me, at that age) to carry the conversation, while I was able to get a break from it, in the kitchen.

    I think maybe even the majority of people in their 20s are still worried about the problem of what to say on a date, how to carry on a longer, and more interesting phone conversation, how to make friends as adults, how to find common interests for a conversation with people you don’t know well, as well as being worried about status, and about what the other person is thinking about YOU, or worrying about how they are judging your appearance, dress, station in life, etc.

    Interacting on line was not an option when I was young. When people complain today about “youth interacting online, and not knowing how to interact in person,” I think many of these people have forgotten how they felt, and the problems they had, when they were young, themselves. Interacting online helps young people avoid these uncomfortable feelings which one is face-to-face with during in-person interactions. There will always be people of every age who never develop social fluency and comfort interacting with people in person. But I predict that many of today’s youth who are interacting online, through their upcoming life experiences, will also be much more comfortable interacting in person by ages 35-40, just as happened with preceding generations. It takes time and life experiences to develop emotional intelligence and comfort interacting in person.

    The ways this comfort develops are through jobs in the workplace which require interacting with the public. For example, my first office job, at the age of 21, required me as a secretary in a registration office of a university to answer all the phone calls, and get up from my desk to go to the counter and speak with every person who came in requesting information, and to help them register for classes if desired. When I was first hired, I was so shy that I could barely speak to people. But within six months I had gotten over that and become much more comfortable and competent. After working there for two years, and after finishing my college degree, I was hired to be a trainee stockbroker. This required a lot of cold-calling and meeting people in person. All of us hired at that time were in our mid-20s, and we were all terribly shy about picking up the phone and calling unknown people. It was so bad I just wanted to fall through the floor. But within six months, I became decently good at it. I also became able to do public speaking. Five years later, I decided to switch careers and go into teaching. In teaching, I found my life’s true work. Without my previous experiences, I NEVER would have been able to stand in front of a class and teach.

    Other types of experiences which help one become an adult who is comfortable speaking to people person include joining an organization that has some kind of a regular activity. This can be a civic organization with speakers and attendees, which meets regularly. It could be a leisure organization doing any kind of regular activity you enjoy such as hiking, or other outdoor activities; crafts as group activities, such as sewing, stained-glass, painting, basket-making; or social activities such as bowling league, book club, writers’ group, dinner clubs; participatory sporting activities; volunteer organizations in the community such as museums, health organizations, youth groups. Participating in a regularly-organized activity lets you meet a variety of interesting people without pressure of “what to talk about,” as the activity always gives something to talk about, or something to do without having to talk. Over time, you get to know people, and talking becomes easier.

    Parenthood helps everyone mature, in every way. Raising children brings a lot of difficulties and brings you into contact with many other parents, who you may or may not have anything in common with. But there is always the activity, the children, the common situations to talk about. After some years of being a parent, you find the focus changes off worrying about what other people think of you, and becomes more about worrying about your children being successful. Conversation becomes easier, and it’s easier to ask people about THEIR experiences, and listen, and that’s truly what makes people into good conversationalists. The need to impress, or worry about what kind of impression you are making fades away sometime in the 40s, as you have enough accomplishments under your belt to not be worried about those sorts of things any more (or at least to a much lesser degree than when you were in your 20s).

    The strategies above are also good for making friends, and people with a few good friends are less likely to feel lonely. As we get older, we interact less and have to make an effort to get together with people. Part of successful aging is about developing your interests, becoming more inner-directed and inner-validated. The people who age and feel unhappy are often those who did not take time to develop their own interests, to pursue inner-directed challenges.

    Kenneth, you have some great topics on your blog, and I am pleased to follow it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Lynne, thank you for sharing a bit of your story – I’m thankful that this post inspired such a response, and that you are enjoying my blog. There is value in having the foresight from someone who has been through this. Socializing is often one of those things that is talked about but not necessarily emphasized especially as we get older. I agree that there is an aspect of being social that only life can develop. Similarly to your experience, my ability to socialize grew from me being required to be social whether that came from work or organizations that I was apart of. I think you also hit on what I mentioned, when you talked about growing in your career and having kids, that social isolation ebbs and flows with life.

      I can identify with being in a period of social isolation right now, but I wouldn’t be able to say that a couple years ago; and I might not be able to say that in a couple years from now. Younger millennials (22-30ish) may just be in the lower arc of the pendulum hence why we scored how we did. I will say however, that not being good at socializing should not be an excuse not to socialize. One thing that millennials are good at doing is placing blame where it shouldn’t be placed. That was kind of my implication in my last paragraph. As you listed, there are several ways of getting and being active and being around people, but it’s up to us to do so. We can’t say on one hand I’m lonely and have no friends but on the other hand say I’m an introvert or I don’t do well in social situations. Millennials for whom this is a problem for have to take authority over this issue and actively combat it, whatever that looks like. Some of which is as you mentioned, self satisfaction. I think self confidence and being comfortable with one’s self is also a contributing factor to feeling lonely, because if a person is insecure they may need the validation of others to feel secure.

      Liked by 1 person

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