Loneliness Research Survey: initial results

In September 2020, I carried out a survey for the loneliness research: the “Connection Inventory”

The full data analysis and associated report is still in production.  Having said that, we can start to take a look at the initial results.  As often happens in research, we are left with more questions that we started with, and I wanted to explore further what might be underpinning some of the results.

My approach is to invite various people to discuss the initial results which are recorded and can be found on the YouTube channel.

To help out, I approached NTU as part of their employability programme and recruited one of their undergrads, Georgia Lidster, to join Jade Brindley (Koa Consulting) and I on the project.

As well as creating the info-graphic (see below), when Georgia saw that young adults are the loneliest, and when I showed her the differences between the results for men compared to women, she wanted to find out more.  See what she discovered here.

Read on for more about the survey, who took part and what seems to be driving loneliness…

Infographic for loneliness research

A bit more about the survey

I used the 20 UCLA loneliness scale questions.  The questions relate to topics that can contribute to loneliness, whilst the words lonely or loneliness are absent.

Examples are “how often do you feel left out?” and “how often do you feel shy?”, and respondents choose from 4 options: Always, Sometimes, Rarely, Never.

Whilst we tend to connect loneliness with feelings of sadness and emptiness, loneliness can manifest in myriad ways including anger, excessive alcohol consumption, anxiety, to name just 3.  Therefore, the UCLA questions are an excellent way of identifying and naming unwanted feelings as the loneliness they represent.

Also, loneliness and connection have a number of aspects, which I have previously described as 4 “Dimensions”: feeling part of something bigger than ourselves, groups of friends, our intimate partner or best friend, and our connection to self.  The UCLA questions explore each of these dimensions, and are an excellent tool to understand the source of our loneliness, allowing us to take targeted action.

Who took the survey?  And what did they say?

I was delighted to receive 906 responses to the survey.  

Responses were anonymous, although I asked participants to indicate where they live and their gender.

I promoted it via Facebook to adults of all ages living in Nottinghamshire (a surprisingly high proportion of the population access the platform regularly), although 15% of responses were from outside the county.

I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the 16 people who responded as neither male or female, that whilst there were too few responses to do separate analysis, you are part of our combined data.

More women took the survey than men, a ratio of 2.7:1, with the men that responded more lonely than women (a total score of 56 out of 80 compared to 54 out of 80).  I sat down (virtually) with my friend Mike to discuss what he thought of these results, and is available to watch here in our “men and loneliness” video.

Of course, some people are more inclined to take surveys.  Inviting participants, rather than asking a random sample, means we can’t conclude that the results represent the whole of Notts.  It’s probably a reasonable guess that the responses are from people trying to understand themselves better, and more likely to be struggling, so trying to find help.

But never fear, this doesn’t mean the results are meaningless!

What it means is, when interpreting the results, rather than taking the data as a broad-brush reflection of how everyone in the county is feeling, instead we examine individual questions to understand what is driving loneliness in those seeking help.  This gives us clues to how we can help reduce loneliness.

So what’s driving loneliness?

Each question has a score of 1 to 4, where the higher scores contribute most to loneliness.

The average score was 2.7, which when compared back to the answers on offer, would suggest those responding felt somewhere between “rarely” and “sometimes” lonely.  Which really surprised me.  I thought it would be higher.

However, the 3 questions with the highest average score were all over 3, indicating somewhere between “sometimes” and “always”.   So those aspects contributing most to loneliness were:

How often do you feel that no one really knows you well?    
average score = 3.2, and 39% responded “Always”

How often do you feel that people are around you but not with you?
average score = 3.1, and 27% responded “Always”

How often do you feel left out?
average score = 3.0, and 26% responded “Always”

When you read those questions, how do you feel?  Are you surprised by the result?  Why do you think they contribute most to loneliness?  What can be done about it?

I got together with some friends of various ages, to discuss the question that most contributes to loneliness: learn more and watch the video here.

And the results relating to younger people, with a focus on contrasts between men and women, can be found here.

Pandemic perspectives?

Of course this survey was taking during the Covid-19 restrictions, although the pattern of loneliness observed is consistent with surveys conducted nationally in 2019 and prior.  It will be interesting to re-run the survey post-pandemic.

Interested in taking the survey?

Although this research is closed, you can still take the survey, get your loneliness score, and you’ll find some questions for reflection: