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June 2023

Trends in social isolation

Trends in social isolation
In partnership with

The quick read

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

The research highlights:

  • How social isolation is a multi-dimensional concept, with a variety of dynamic experiences across contexts, generations and life stages.
  • The value of longitudinal data in revealing a more complete picture.
  • The need to focus on a range of social isolation indicators across contexts and generations to:
           1. understand how people compensate for specific types of isolation;
          2. understand how broader economic and social factors can affect the timing of life transition points – and trigger social isolation.

Notable insights

  • Younger generations are less likely to belong to a club or engage with religious activity, but are more likely to volunteer.
  • Younger generations are more likely to live alone than older generations, particularly in
    their 20s.
  • For the oldest three generations (b. 1946, 1958, 1970), most people experienced isolation
    in one or more contexts during midlife.
  • Fewer people in the older generations reported no isolation at all – possibly driven by
    slightly higher proportion of women experiencing isolation across two or more contexts e.g., out of education and employment during this life stage, plus another form of isolation.
  • While fewer people reported no isolation at all in the older cohorts – they were slightly less likely than the younger cohorts to report all four types of isolation.
  • Few people, including those in older generations, reported having no regular contact –
    at least monthly – with friends and family.
  • The oldest generation (b. 1946) show an increase in the likelihood of engaging in regular
    social activities around age 65. This corresponds with retirement age and being less
    likely to be in education or employment.
  • Across generations, the probability of females being neither in education nor employment aged 16-31 has decreased, indicating changing patterns of family formation and labour market participation.

This work forms part of a secondary data analysis initiative (SDAI) to address evidence gaps in our understanding.

Close The quick read


The data

What was done

What was found

Research implications

Recommendations for putting evidence into action


Find out more


You may also wish to read the blog article on this document.

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