Loneliness is a complex and often misunderstood subject. This page looks in depth at what loneliness is and how it impacts different people.
The definition of loneliness that we use is:
Loneliness is a subjective, unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship, which happens when there is a mismatch between the quantity and quality of the social relationships that we have, and those that we want (Perlman and Peplau, 1981)
This definition refers to the cognitive discrepancy theory, where loneliness is regarded as a discrepancy between the desired and achieved levels in the quality and quantity of social relations.
Different types of loneliness
There are different types of loneliness: emotional, and social and existential loneliness.
According to the ONS, women reported feeling lonely more frequently than men. They were significantly more likely than men to report feeling lonely “often/always”, “some of the time” and “occasionally” and were much less likely than men to say they “never” felt lonely 
While higher percentages of older women report loneliness compared to men, a greater number of older men (50+) report moderate to high levels of social isolation
14% of older men experienced moderate to high social isolation compared to 11% of women₃
A qualitative study looked at men’s experiences of loneliness and singled out a list of qualities that men value in groups. They were:
Men valued groups that tried to increase social opportunities and interaction.
Groups of mixed ages were strongly preferred by both heterosexual and gay men, as they did not want to be siloed in groups for ‘older people’. Mixed-generational groups that included younger adults were preferred.
Men valued groups that facilitated emotional and social ties with other men.
For straight men this was commonly associated with male companionship and the enjoyment of male banter and opportunities.
For gay men this was often associated with a sense of belonging gained from being in the company of other gay men with similar life-experiences.
Loneliness and BAME people
Much of the data available about loneliness comes from a white British context. There is less information available about ways minority populations experience loneliness.
To help fill the gap, the British Red Cross produced research into loneliness in the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic community (BAME) communities. Three of its main findings include:
Belonging to your community, that is by ‘feeling valued, included, safe and able to join in community activities’ helps people to feel less lonely. Their research showed that ‘sixty-seven per cent of all respondents who felt they did not belong in their community said they were always or often lonely, compared with just 16 per cent who felt they did belong.’
The report claims that additional triggers of loneliness can include : racism, discrimination and xenophobia. It reported that ‘almost half of people (49 per cent) who had experienced discrimination at work or in their local neighbourhood reported being always or often lonely, compared with just over a quarter (28 per cent) of people who hadn’t.’
People from BAME backgrounds also more frequently report feeling they are less able to access community activities and support.
 Beach, B. and Bamford, S.M., 2014. Isolation: The emerging crisis for older men. A Report Exploring Experiences of Social Isolation and Loneliness Among Older Men in England, Independent Age, London
Willis et al. ‘Addressing older men’s experiences of loneliness and social isolation in later life.’ Policy Report 51: April 2019. University of Bristol.
 Barriers to Belonging: An exploration among people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. British Red Cross 2019 https://www.redcross.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/we-speak-up-for-change/barriers-to-belonging
The Campaign to End Loneliness is hosted by the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, a registered Community Interest Company. CIC 9461422.
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