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Loneliness in the Modern World

Updated on July 3, 2014

Statistics show that reports of loneliness in individuals all over the world are increasing in number with modernization. In the United States alone, 40% of the current population reports loneliness. Correspondingly, the average number of close friends held by an American has decreased from three to two in the last 30 years. Seniors and college students have been shown to possess the highest levels of loneliness. Although it is a complex problem, there are several discernible contributing factors to this increasing prevalence of loneliness.


Root Causes

To understand modern causes of loneliness, we must first explore its root causes. By definition, loneliness is an emotional reaction to social or physical isolation. However, loneliness can be felt even in individuals with large social networks. Loneliness stems from different factors in individuals as well. Past experiences that cause an individual to put up "emotional walls" that prevent him or her from being close to others can cause loneliness. A person can experience loneliness when he or she is unable to find others who share similar interests, characteristics, or past experiences also. Mental health problems can contribute to feelings of isolation, both from the effects of problems such as withdrawal from others in depressed or anxious people and from stigma associated with mental health problems. Even common stress can contribute to feelings of loneliness. These physical and emotional root causes tie into the many modern factors contributing to the current increase in feelings of loneliness.

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Modern Geographical Isolation

The modern world is designed around driving. This is especially true in developed countries where the highest rates of loneliness are found. Suburban areas are typically far or at least out of reasonable walking range from places of gathering, stores, places for entertainment with social aspects, and restaurants. While non-senior adults may only be minimally discouraged from social interaction because of this, seniors who cannot or prefer not to drive and adolescents who cannot drive are completely prevented from social interaction outside their neighborhoods.

Technological Impact on Communication and Entertainment

As people interact less physically and more virtually, the structures of communication and entertainment are changing. While the internet, social media, interaction related to modern entertainment, and mobile phones can bring people together and help friends and family stay in-touch, these modern forms of interaction and entertainment can also contribute to isolation and loneliness. Because people often text, instant message, interact through social networking, and even just talk on the phone because it is more convenient than face-to-face interaction, the quality and amount of social interaction in the average person's life is changing and typically decreasing. Along with that, modern entertainment is much less social than entertainment of the past. People are able to stay entertained without having to leave their homes. People can find groups that share their interests through modern entertainment and the Internet, but this form of interaction is often not substantial enough to prevent loneliness. In addition, attempting to find friends or prevent loneliness online can actually contribute to worse feelings of loneliness, and the pressure from social networking sites to find "friends" can lead to lonely feelings.

Divorce Rates

Just as rates of loneliness have increased in recent years, divorce rates have also increased. According to a study in 2011, 50% of marriages ended in divorce. In 1950 only 19% of marriages ended in divorce. Additionally, people who have been married more than once and children of divorced parents have been shown to file more divorces. Divorce and loss of other personal relationships are major contributing factors to feelings of loneliness. In today's society where as much as 19% of Americans only have one close friend (with that friend often being a spouse), divorce may be one of the most influential factors in the increase of people who feel lonely.


Stress Related to Modern Society

Everyone knows about the stress of the "daily grind." Today's society is fast paced, composed of many overworked, sleep-deprived individuals, and often involves long commutes and stressful workplaces. Even those who do not have stressful jobs are compelled to frequently check emails, Facebook, texts, tweets, and seemingly hundreds of other devices and media just to stay up to date. All this modern hustle and bustle contributes to stress, anxiety, depression, and other problems related to mental health. As explained earlier in this article, mental health issues can significantly impact a person's ability to make and keep relationships and ultimately find deep, satisfying connections with others, despite the amount of both face-to-face and virtual social interaction he or she has on a daily basis.

Other Issues with Increasing Rates

Teenagers and young people often experience feelings of being "unable to fit in" in today's society. Problems that have been becoming steadily worse over the last several decades such as bullying in schools, cyber-bullying, and increasing crime rates may contribute to adolescents' and college students' feelings of loneliness and isolation. Feelings of rejection and the impact of abuse on an individual can contribute to both short-term and chronic loneliness. Increasing crime rates force many children and young adults to "play indoors" or at least not interact with their neighbors and communities as much as young people did in the past. Additionally, the effects of bullying and/or abuse during childhood and the effects of experiencing a lonely childhood are lasting and continue to affect many people into adulthood.

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