Loneliness NZ

The economics of loneliness


Philip S. Morrison

Author affiliation

Victoria University of Wellington


RSAI-BIS. 46th annual conference, Crown Hotel, Harrogate. Aug 22-24th, 2017


There is little research on the economics of loneliness. The study used the New Zealand General Social Survey 2012 to examine the relationship between standard of living and loneliness. Survey respondents were asked the question: "In the past four weeks, how often have you felt isolated from others?" They were considered lonely if they answered either some, most, or all of the time. The standard of living of survey respondents was measured using the Economic Living Standards Index (ELSI). Statistical analysis was used to determine the relationship between ELSI and loneliness.


The estimated probability of being lonely was, in general, inversely proportional (see graph below) to ELSI.
A similar inverse relationship existed when ELSI was replaced by: (i) personal income, (ii) household income, (iii) subjective appraisal of standard of living, or (iv) satisfaction with standard of living.


Poor people are more likely to be lonely; richer people are less likely to be lonely. Health differences contribute more to loneliness when living standards are low.

Relationship between probability of being lonely and standard of living

The analysis showed that the probability of being lonely some/most/all of the time was, in general, inversely proportional to the standard of living score (ELSI).

A limitation of the research was that the 2012 NZ General Social Survey used a single question to assess loneliness.  In the 2012 General Social Survey the question was expressed in terms of ‘feeling isolated’, which is not the same as ‘feeling lonely’.