The prevalence of loneliness has more than tripled between 2016 and 2022, according to a recent study from the University of Turku. The sharpest increase has been observed among those under 30 years old.
In 2022, one in five Finns reported feeling lonely. The experience of loneliness alarmingly intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting restrictive measures, and the trend seems to have persisted even after the lifting of the restrictions.
"Between 2020 and 2022, the proportion of lonely individuals increased by 8 percentage points," says Markus Laaninen, a doctoral researcher at the University of Turku.
Prior to the pandemic, the percentage of people experiencing loneliness in Finland ranged from approximately 4% to 10%. In 2016, the figure was 6%.
Young adults and students are becoming increasingly lonely
The experience of loneliness has increased across all demographic groups between 2016 and 2022. However, the steepest growth was observed among the age groups of 18-29 and 30-49.
Students and unemployed individuals reported higher levels of loneliness compared to those who were employed or retired, particularly in 2022. People living alone or single parents experienced higher levels of loneliness than those living with a partner. However, there was no significant difference between men and women in their experiences of loneliness.
"The disparities between different population groups appear to have become more pronounced in 2022. In 2016 and 2020, the differences were relatively small," says Laaninen.
Regarding young adults, these results can be partly explained by the fact that remote learning continued for a longer period in many educational institutions compared to workplaces. For instance, full in-person instruction at universities was not resumed until the autumn semester of 2022.
Addressing the phenomenon urgently
According to Markus Laaninen, it is not surprising that loneliness has increased despite the reopening of society.
"The recovery from societal crises happens slowly, and the social consequences often manifest with a delay. Additionally, the general increase in living costs may have affected people's ability to afford hobbies and leisure activities," he explains.
The lack of social connections is a serious problem that can also lead to the accumulation of other difficulties.
"We need to address loneliness in political decision-making with much greater determination. Combating loneliness requires national guidance and collaboration between the public sector and organizations. It is also crucial to strengthen emotional and communication skills, for example, in early childhood education and schools," emphasizes Laaninen.
The study is based on three Finnish survey datasets collected in 2016, late 2020, and late 2022. The respondents were between 18 and 79 years old.