Young People Are Lonelier and More Suspicious of Others

Survey finds that one in four Millennials have no friends.

Posted Jun 01, 2020

Flickr/Kxl6
Source: Flickr/Kxl6

In a YouGov survey last year, pollsters asked more than 1,200 Americans, “How many friends do you have?”

Some 22 percent of Millennials said they had zero friends. Baby boomers: 9 percent.

Also in the report: “Millennials are more likely than older generations to report that they have no acquaintances (25 percent), no close friends (27 percent), and no best friends (30 percent).”

I was dismayed at these results. I decided to run a poll on Twitter, to see how my results would compare.

More than 1,100 people responded to my poll. Results: 24 percent of women and 21 percent of men replied that they had zero close friends. 
 
Beyond the lack of social relationships, there are other worrying trends about how young people think about others. Some findings from a Pew survey:
 
Adults under age 30 vs. over 65 who believe:
 

  • People just look out for themselves most of the time: 73 percent (under 30) vs. 48 percent (over 65)
  • Most people would try to take advantage of you if they got a chance: 71 percent (under 30) vs. 39 percent (over 65)
  • Most people can’t be trusted: 60 percent (under 30) vs. 29 percent (over 65)

In September of last year, the Navy reported that three different crew members aboard the USS George H.W. Bush committed suicide within a week.

Asked about these deaths, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper replied, “I wish I could tell you we have an answer to prevent further, future suicides in the armed services. We don’t. We are caught up in what some call a national epidemic of suicide among our youth.”

A Department of Defense study found that “Service members who died by suicide were primarily enlisted, less than 30 years of age, male, and died by firearm... After controlling for differences in age and sex between these populations, suicide rates in the military were roughly equivalent to the U.S. population rates.

Young people, especially young men, are killing themselves more than in the past.

This study on suicide rates among adolescents and young adults found: “The suicide rate at ages 15 to 19 years and 20 to 24 years increased in 2017 to its highest point since 2000, with a recent increase especially in males and in ages 15 to 19 years.”

And: “In 2017, 6241 suicides occurred in individuals aged 15 to 24 years, of which 5016 were male and 1225 were female.”

In other words, among 15 to 24-year olds, 80 percent of the suicides are male.

What’s going on?

In their fascinating book Virtuous Violence, the UCLA anthropologist Alan Fiske and MIT researcher Tage Rai write: “except under the most desperate circumstances—and sometimes even then—the principle meaning and function of goods and money are to constitute social relationships... People want and use money and goods primarily to share, give, exchange, flaunt, conspicuously consume, or measure success and achievement.” 

Put differently, money is often a means to social ends rather than an end in itself. Given the choice between A. Minimal material sustenance and loving relationships with people who respect you and B. Vast riches and permanently empty relationships, most would choose A.

I’m reading a book called How Will You Measure Your Life? by the late Clayton M. Christensen. He was a Professor at Harvard Business School and perhaps best known for his book The Innovator's Dilemma

Christensen writes about how we overlook personal relationships in our quest for success. This can leave us unhappy and alone when we finally reach professional milestones.

A quote caught my eye:

"For the first time in modern economics, unemployment among young men is higher than almost any group in America and indeed, this is true of many developed countries around the world.” 

Young people are lonelier, more suspicious, and more likely to be unemployed relative to older people. And even among those who are fortunate enough to be college graduates, there is widespread underemployment. 

This article from Forbes reports: "44 percent of college graduates ages 22 to 27 work in jobs that do not require a college degree."

One in four Millennials say they have no close friends. The majority of people under 30 seem to believe people are selfish, will take advantage of them, and can’t be trusted. Nearly half of young college graduates are employed in jobs that do not require a college degree.

Such trends may be related to the spike in suicides among young people. And might have something to do with why there is so much social unrest.

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