June 2023

Social isolation and loneliness across the life course

Changes to social isolation, loneliness and wellbeing over time and between generations

Social isolation and loneliness across the life course
In partnership with

The research project, led by Dr Praveetha Patalay at University College London, aims to examine the links between social isolation, loneliness and wellbeing. It looks at different cohorts, following the lives of people born in 1946, 1958, 1970, 1989-90 and 2000-01.

The work is a secondary data analysis initiative (SDAI) which uses data from five British longitudinal cohort studies. It looks at whether levels of social connectedness and loneliness, and their relationship to subjective wellbeing, change over people’s lives and between generations.

Despite an increase in policy interest, there is little evidence documenting the associations between social isolation, loneliness and subjective wellbeing across our lives and between generations. This research project aims to address this gap, while also generating a range of comparable measures of social isolation for future research.

The concepts

Social isolation is an objective condition. It can be quantifiably assessed by the number and frequency of social connections and interactions, for example how often someone meets up with their friends, or how many people they live with.

Loneliness is a negative subjective feeling when we feel a discrepancy between our actual and desired social network, perceiving the quantity or quality of social
relationships to be inadequate. It is assessed through self-report questionnaires.

The two concepts are related but distinct dimensions of social relationships. It is possible to feel lonely despite being socially connected, and to feel content in solitude.

Trends in social isolation

The project’s first report was published in Spring 2023.

Using data from five British longitudinal generations studies, the research explored social isolation and connectedness:

  1. within different contexts (household; partnership, family and friends outside the household; education and employment networks; community engagement)
  2. over the course of people’s lives between five successive generations

Our briefing, below, synthesise findings and recommendations from the report.

Investigating social isolation is a necessary first step in identifying concrete policy, community and societal actions we can take to reduce isolation and loneliness.


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In this project

Blog - June 2023
Exploring social isolation: insights from five British longitudinal studies
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Briefing - June 2023
Trends in social isolation
Read more
Full report
Lifecourse Trajectories and Cross-generation Trends in Social Isolation
Read more
Loneliness Awareness Week Blog - June 2023
Tackling loneliness - our working growing the evidence base 2018-2023
Read more
Related project
Loneliness and wellbeing in young people
Read more
Loneliness evidence gaps and data needs
Read more