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Loneliness and Social Isolation

- August 3, 2018
Do they pose a growing health epidemic?
Featured Report

Loneliness afflicts millions of Americans of all ages, and some experts think the problem is getting worse, driven by an aging population, changes in family structure, reliance on technology in place of face-to-face discourse and other forces. Medical studies have associated loneliness with costly physical and psychological ills, and social scientists say it can erode community cohesion and even undermine the nation's commitment to shared values and democratic ideals. Countries such as Japan, China and South Korea report similar problems, and in January British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed the world's first “minister of loneliness” to address the issue there. Some researchers contend that Americans are no lonelier than in past generations, and they say technology can bring people closer together as well as drive them apart. But others argue that psychologists, social workers, medical practitioners and policymakers should treat loneliness and isolation with the same urgency as drug abuse or other major social ills.

Potential Solutions

Organizations are trying to increase the level of community engagement.

Overseas Efforts

The United Kingdom appointed its first “minister of loneliness” in January.

1830s–1940sStrong community, family ties begin to weaken.
1950s–1970sResearchers find a rise in loneliness and say it threatens health.
1980s–1990sNumber of Americans living alone continues to increase.
2000-PresentResearchers link loneliness to physical and mental illnesses.

Is today's society making Americans lonelier than in the past?


George Sigel M.D.
Program Director, South Boston Behavioral Health Clinic, and Clinical Professor, Tufts University School of Medicine.


Claude S. Fischer
Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley, and Author, Still Connected.


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