Posts Tagged ‘loneliness’

I hate to beat a dead horse. Well, maybe this horse I do want to beat, because it never actually gives up the ghost.

Over the last few years, I have complained about a meme propagated in the popular media, abetted by a few academics, that Americans are suffering an “epidemic” of loneliness. Repeatedly since at least 2011, if not earlier, I have argued that there is no reliable evidence for any real trend in loneliness–nor in social isolation (which is not the same thing)–over the last 40-plus years. But what can this little blog do when The New York Times and The Atlantic keep flogging the loneliness horse for all the clicks it can deliver?

Two comprehensive reports on the “loneliness epidemic” have just come out. Perhaps they will finally put down that nag. Probably not.



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(Disclosure: I am tired of writing about this topic over and over again, and I suspect that regular readers of this blog are tired of reading about it over and over again – here and here and here and here and…. Yet one keeps getting provoked by media obliviousness. It’s dirty work, but someone has to…..)headbang


The trope that Americans have gotten more isolated and lonely over the last generation or so is irresistible to pundits and editors, no matter what academics say (and there are always one or two of us to provide journalists some cover). The latest, loudest declamation was by David Brooks in The New York Times of April 16, 2018, about the “epidemic of loneliness”–consistent with his recent psychologizing of what ails America. Yes, loneliness is a social problem, but no, there is no “epidemic of loneliness.” (If it’s epidemics of loneliness you want, check out the reports on farm women a century ago [1].)

Fortunately, others have responded to the latest wave. Notably, sociologist David Weakliem tracked down the one data link behind Brooks’s claim that loneliness rates doubled between the 1980s and 2000 and found that “the report of that survey didn’t say anything about changes in loneliness.” (Of course, the Times rarely publishes letters pointing out their mistakes.)

Below, I add a bit more to the fact base.


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Maybe you noticed the well-publicized, bathetic Atlantic Monthly cover story on whether Facebook is making us lonely — wait, let me check, uh, no— although economic distress may be.

Or perhaps you saw Sherry Turkle’s N.Y. Times essay publicizing her book, Alone Together, which argues that our mini-screens are stopping us from really talking to each other anymore (no systematic evidence on this either).

It looks like we are having a small resurgence this month of the old meme that communications technology — indeed, modern life — is making us lonely. It’s back to ’80s, back to ’50s, back to ….  Anyway, the folks at Boston Review asked me to discuss the loneliness scare. And I do, at this link.

If you find that essay interesting, come back to the blog for a bonus: a special, short report on new findings that make us rethink the claim that more Americans became friendless in the last couple of decades.


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