Who is lonely in Wales?

This series of data insights on loneliness in Wales is based on bespoke analysis of the National Survey for Wales (NSW). It is designed to provide policy makers and public services with a greater understanding of who is lonely and the intersection of different ‘risk factors’ so that funding and interventions to tackle loneliness can be designed and delivered most effectively. Our analysis combines three years’ worth of data, from 2016/17, 2017/18, and 2019/20 (questions about loneliness were not asked as part of the 2018/19 NSW).

The first insight in the series reports levels of loneliness among different groups. It finds that loneliness is closely linked to structural inequalities. Levels vary according to individual characteristics such as age, gender, and ethnicity, and personal circumstances such as marital status, household composition, deprivation, and general health.

However, individuals do not experience these characteristics or circumstances in isolation, and the way they intersect to shape levels of loneliness has not been explored in detail. The second and third data insights aim to begin addressing this gap, by exploring how age and health interact with other characteristics to show which groups are especially vulnerable to loneliness.

The ‘Age and loneliness’ insight found that 23.3% of those aged 16–24 reported being lonely compared to 10.5% of those aged 75+. Furthermore, that among 16–24-year-olds with a long-term illness or disability, the proportion reporting being lonely rises to 42.2%. The ‘Health and loneliness’ insight found that 42% of those in very bad health reported being lonely compared to 23% of those in fair health. However, among those in very bad health, working aged people in single person households, single parents and two adult households with children are considerably lonelier than those in other households. Both insights highlight the acute risk of loneliness faced by people experiencing multiple forms of disadvantage and the importance of targeted policy and public service funding and interventions to support them.

The final data insight explores levels of loneliness between May and September 2020, drawing on the monthly telephone version of the NSW. Whilst not directly comparable, these findings complement our analysis of data from three waves of the full yearly survey in the other insights in the series. For example, those with a long-term illness or disability were, on average, over twice as lonely as those without. And those in material deprivation were, on average, over twice as lonely as those who were not.

A methodological appendix accompanies these data insights on loneliness, providing detail on the data and methodologies used in the analysis.

Robin Hewings & Kalpa Kharicha from the Campaign to End Loneliness provide expert commentary on these data insights in a blog that reflects on the findings, sets them in the wider context of research on loneliness, and outlines what they mean for policy making and public services in Wales.