Who is lonely in lockdown? Cross-cohort analyses of predictors of loneliness before and during the COVID-19 pandemic

Public Health. 2020 Sep;186:31-34. doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2020.06.036. Epub 2020 Aug 5.


Background: There are concerns internationally that lockdown measures taken during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic could lead to a rise in loneliness. As loneliness is recognised as a major public health concern, it is therefore vital that research considers the impact of the current COVID-19 pandemic on loneliness to provide necessary support. But it remains unclear, who is lonely in lockdown?

Methods: This study compared sociodemographic predictors of loneliness before and during the COVID-19 pandemic using cross-cohort analyses of data from UK adults captured before the pandemic (UK Household Longitudinal Study, n = 31,064) and during the pandemic (UCL (University College London) COVID-19 Social Study, n = 60,341).

Results: Risk factors for loneliness were near identical before and during the pandemic. Young adults, women, people with lower education or income, the economically inactive, people living alone and urban residents had a higher risk of being lonely. Some people who were already at risk of being lonely (e.g. young adults aged 18-30 years, people with low household income and adults living alone) experienced a heightened risk during the COVID-19 pandemic compared with people living before COVID-19 emerged. Furthermore, being a student emerged as a higher risk factor during lockdown than usual.

Conclusions: Findings suggest that interventions to reduce or prevent loneliness during COVID-19 should be targeted at those sociodemographic groups already identified as high risk in previous research. These groups are likely not just to experience loneliness during the pandemic but potentially to have an even higher risk than normal of experiencing loneliness relative to low-risk groups.

Keywords: COVID-19; Loneliness; Pandemic; Social isolation; mental health.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Loneliness*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics / prevention & control*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / prevention & control*
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Isolation / psychology*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Young Adult