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Are we ready for the approaching loneliness epidemic?

Published by Daniel Brooks Moore on

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At most points in human history, being alone meant mortal danger and was to be avoided at all costs. It is only in recent decades that our risky experiment with loneliness has become almost mainstream. A high incidence of single households is now a mark of a wealthy society. This is partly a consequence of avoiding or delaying marriage and childbirth, and of single housing becoming more affordable, but it has serious implications. When we live alone we are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviour, such as smoking or eating badly, because no one else can see. Studies show that people who live by themselves are more likely to suffer from alcoholism, high blood pressure, insomnia and weak immune systems.

In developed countries, the share of people who report having friends or relatives they can count on has been steadily dropping over the past 15 years. Older people are consistently worse affected: on average 53 percent of Americans aged over 65 spend more than eight hours of waking time on their own every day according to my analysis of data from the American Time Use Survey.