Loneliness NZ

Loneliness: An overview


Philip S. Morrison & Rebekah Smith

Author affiliation

Victoria University of Wellington


Olivia Sagan and Eric Miller (eds.), Narratives of loneliness: Multidisciplinary perspectives from the 21st century, ch. 1, p. 11-25, Sept. 2017


The article provides an overview of loneliness from the perspective of the authors reading of contemporary social science literature on loneliness. Brief mention is made of their New Zealand loneliness research. Due to space constraints, the demographics of loneliness is not considered.


Loneliness is difficult to define and measure. Loneliness measurement is focused on the individual, even though there is an opportunity to understand loneliness as a characteristic of society. The dynamics of individuals entering and exiting loneliness provides a more robust picture of societal changes in loneliness.


Loneliness research has mostly addressed loneliness from the individual perspective. However, in addition to the wellbeing of the individual, there is the wellbeing of the group that the individual is interacting with. "The ability to meet group expectations has a strong bearing on loneliness." Those not meeting group expectations may be excluded, exacerbating loneliness.

“Humans are inherently social beings who possess a fundamental need to belong, and when they fail to satisfy this need, loneliness occurs.”

Key points of loneliness overview

General points

  • Loneliness is mostly invisible;
  • Loneliness is stigmatised in some cultures;
  • Loneliness is typically underreported;
  • Loneliness is multidimensional;
  • There are different forms of loneliness;
  • There is reasonable consensus around the most useful conceptual frameworks for interpreting loneliness;
  • The literature is mixed on the effect of the internet on loneliness; and
  • To understand whether loneliness is increasing requires more longitudinal studies of loneliness.

Specific points

  • There are two types of loneliness: emotional and social loneliness;
  • Emotional loneliness is missing a close partner;
  • Social loneliness is missing connection and belonging with a social network;
  • Loneliness is not only about the individual, but also about how groups collectively exclude individuals - to protect the structural integrity of the group; and
  • The lonely may be pushed to the outer edges of social groups, from which they may cut ties.

The article was an introductory chapter to a book on the narratives of loneliness.  The article is limited in length and, as its title suggests, is an overview of the field – excluding the demographics of loneliness.