The global trends driving loneliness impact all countries in the OECD. Global trends driving loneliness include globalisation, urbanisation, individualism, falling birth rate, and longevity.
When we think of globalisation, we normally think of globalisation of markets and globalisation of products. But globalisation is also the globalisation of labour. What that means is that labour moves around the world chasing global opportunities. This increased migration dislocates family and culture. For those who move from their family and culture, they miss both. For those left behind, they miss their departed family.
With urbanisation people move from the land (rural) to the city (urban). This movement impacts both those who are moving and those left behind. For both, the ability to socially connect with each other is reduced by the tyranny of distance. For those left behind, as rural productivity increases, there is less need for people to live on the land – reducing the number of local people to connect with.
With an increasing culture of individualism where what most matters is oneself, there is less focus on family, friends and community – reducing the level of social connection. The focus on individualism creates more of an environment of competition rather than collaboration. It leads to a decrease in empathy for others’ circumstances.
A major change over the last fifty-five years has been the decrease in birth rate. The birth rate has more than halved in New Zealand from 4.13 births per women in 1960 to 1.99 births per women in 2015. This means, on average, each child has only one sibling today versus three siblings in the past. It also means every couple, on average, only has about two children supporting them in older age today, whereas in 1960 there were about four children supporting them.
We are living longer than our parents’ generation. Life expectancy in New Zealand increased by ten years over the last fifty-five years from 71.2 years in 1960 to 81.5 years in 2015. This represents a 2.7x increase in the length of time we are, on average, seniors. This can extend the length of time seniors are socially isolated, which can lead to loneliness.
To explore other societal drivers of loneliness, please click the coloured box of interest.