Stats NZ has a new website.

For new releases go to

www.stats.govt.nz

As we transition to our new site, you'll still find some Stats NZ information here on this archive site.

  • Share this page to Facebook
  • Share this page to Twitter
  • Share this page to Google+
Loneliness in New Zealand

In 2010, one in three adult New Zealanders (aged over 15 years) felt lonely to some degree in the last four weeks. This equates to an estimated 1.02 million people.

This 1.02 million people includes 21,700 (0.7 percent) who felt lonely all of the time, 94,500 (3 percent) who felt lonely most of the time, 374,000 (12 percent) who felt lonely some of the time, and 526,000 (16 percent) who felt lonely a little of the time. These results are consistent with those from the 2008 NZGSS.

Figure 1

Graph, figure 1, Felt lonely in the last four weeks, by frequency, 2010.

It is difficult to compare directly the prevalence of loneliness from other research because of differing methodologies. However, the 2010 New Zealand Quality of Life survey reports less than 1 percent of adults always felt lonely over the last 12 months, 1 percent felt lonely most of the time, and 16 percent felt lonely sometimes. Using the European Social Survey (ESS) Victor and Yang (2012) found that 6 percent of UK adults were lonely almost all or most of the time, 21 percent were sometimes lonely, and 73 percent were never lonely.

Baker (2012) measured loneliness using an Index of Social Support based on responses to 10 questions about social support and friendship asked in the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey. He found that the proportion of Australians experiencing loneliness in any given year was fairly consistent at around one in 10 people between 2001 and 2009.

Younger people report higher levels of loneliness

Summary statistics show that people aged 15–29 years reported higher levels of loneliness (18 percent felt lonely all, most, or some of the time), followed by those aged 30–44 years, and those aged 45–64 years (both 16 percent). People aged 65 years and over reported the lowest levels of loneliness (11 percent).

Figure 2

Graph, figure 2, Felt lonely in the last four weeks, by frequency and age group, 2010.

The use of logistic regression shows that there is a statistically significant association between the age of adult New Zealanders and their chances of feeling lonely in the last four weeks. Figure 3 shows that as people get older the chances of them feeling lonely decreases. The chances of feeling lonely were highest for young adults (15–29 years), when holding all other factors constant.

Young adults were more likely than those in midlife (30–64 years) or older people (65+) to feel lonely at all frequency levels, from all of the time through to a little of the time.

This result also suggests that the chances of feeling lonely decreases linearly with an increase in age. Other functions of age were tested in the models to look for polynomial and exponential relationships with feeling lonely. These functions were not statistically significant.

Figure 3

Graph, figure 3, Predicted probability of feeling lonely, by frequency and age, 2010.

While comparisons with other research can be difficult because of varying methods of measuring loneliness, other studies have also examined loneliness across the adult age range. The 2010 New Zealand Quality of Life survey also reports rates of loneliness are highest among adults aged 15–24 years and lowest among adults aged 65 years and over (AC Nielson, 2011). The Australian HILDA survey shows that the prevalence of loneliness is highest for those aged 15–19 years and is lowest for those aged 35–54 years, before increasing slightly for those aged 65 years and over (Flood, 2005). In the UK, Victor and Yang (2012) found a non-linear u-shaped distribution with loneliness high for those aged under 25 years and those aged 55 years and over, and lower rates for the 25–44 years age group.

We should remember there is a difference between social isolation and loneliness. It is possible that results for the objective measure of social isolation will be quite different by age group. Summary statistics from the 2010 NZGSS show that older people are more likely than younger people to have contact with non-resident family, but less likely to have contact with friends (Statistics NZ, 2011).

Mental health has a strong relationship with loneliness

There is a strong relationship between feeling lonely and a person’s self-assessed mental health status. People with poor mental health were more likely than people with good mental health to feel lonely at all frequency levels. Figure 4 shows the predicted probabilities for a selected reference group (see note under figure 4) to illustrate the relationship between mental health status and loneliness, while holding all other factors constant.

This strong association held across all three age groups. The relationship between loneliness and mental health status does not change across age. It remains similar to the overall relationship shown in figure 4.

Figure 4

Graph, figure 4:,  predicted probability of feeling lonely, by frequency and mental health status, 2010.

While there is a significant relationship between feeling lonely and physical health status for adult New Zealanders, the results of each age group showed little statistical significance in this association. Therefore the evidence is mixed that there is any difference in the chance of feeling lonely by physical health status.

Other people's economic standard of living has a strong association with loneliness

There is an association between lower economic standard of living and the chances of feeling lonely. As economic standard of living increases a person has less chance of feeling lonely.

Analysing each age group separately showed that the relationship between feeling lonely and economic standard of living differed by age. Older people living in economic hardship were more likely than younger age groups living in similar levels of hardship to feel lonely. An increase in economic standard of living also results in a larger decrease in the chance of feeling lonely for older people than it does for younger age groups. An example of this is shown in figure 5 for the predicted probability of people feeling lonely all, most or some of the time.

Figure 5

Graph, figure 5, Predicted probability of feeling lonely all/most/some of the time, by age group and economic standard of living, 2010.

Recent migrants in midlife more likely to feel lonely

People who had migrated to New Zealand in the last four years were more likely to feel lonely than those who were born in New Zealand. There were differences in this result across age groups. The likelihood of recent migrants in midlife feeling lonely was more than twice those of people of a similar age born in New Zealand. However, there was no strong association between being a recent migrant and feeling lonely for young adults and older people.

After adjusting for being a recent migrant, people who identify as Asian were still more likely to feel lonely than people who do not identify as Asian. Again there were differences across age groups, with the association only being significant for young adults. The likelihood of young Asian people feeling lonely was twice that of those young people who did not identify as Asian.

Variables for other ethnic groups were tried in the model and no significant association between feeling lonely and any other ethnic groups was found.

Other factors connected with feeling lonely

Women are more likely to feel lonely than men, holding all other factors constant. However, while being male or female was a strong factor for young adults and older people, there was no significant difference between the sexes for people in midlife.

Overall, there was a greater likelihood of people feeling lonely when they live alone, compared with people who live in households of four or more people. However among the different stages of life this holds true only for young adults and people in midlife. Among older people, those who live in a two-person household are less likely to feel lonely than other household sizes, including large households.

The results of the analysis shows that people in midlife who felt discriminated against over the past year were more likely to feel lonely than those who had not felt discriminated against. This was not the case for young adults or older people.

Finally, the results also show people who have not had face-to-face contact with their family and friends in the last week were more likely to feel lonely, compared with people who had contact with their family and friends. This was consistent across all stages of life. This finding relates to the relationship between social isolation and loneliness. The NZGSS offers the potential to look at how people experience these two concepts differently. And while this is not the focus of this report, it is an area of potential future research.

  • Share this page to Facebook
  • Share this page to Twitter
  • Share this page to Google+
Top
  • Share this page to Facebook
  • Share this page to Twitter
  • Share this page to Google+