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October 2014 - Loneliness and social isolation - Results

In October 2014, Relationships Australia asked visitors to our website to participate in a two minute survey that asked them about loneliness and social isolation. The three questions chosen for the survey form part of the 10-item social support scale that has been collected in all 14 waves of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics of Australia Survey .

Previous research finds that…


  • While the rate of loneliness has remained steady, with around 9 per cent of Australians reporting loneliness at any one time, the number of people transitioning in and out of loneliness has increased in the last decade (Baker, 2012).
  • There are several risk factors for loneliness and social isolation, including widowhood and separation, being childless, living alone, deteriorating health, and life events (eg, loss and bereavement).  Other socio-demographic factors include age and low income, particularly for women.  Loneliness for men has been found to generally increase with ageing, while loneliness for women generally decreases as they age (Baker, 2012; Flood, 2005; Grenade & Boldy, 2008).
  • Loneliness and social isolation are associated with a range of poor mental, physical and socio‑economic outcomes for people.  Adolescents who do not have close friendships and good social networks consistently report lower levels of self-esteem, more psychological symptoms of maladjustment, and are at higher risk of suicide.  There is also a relationship between social isolation and depression (Rubin & Mills, 1998), lower levels of self-worth (Qualter & Munn, 2002) and poor physical health.   For example, people who are socially isolated, or do not have good quality social support, are also at greater risk of developing coronary heart disease.



More than 2,500 people responded to Relationships Australia’s online survey in October, 2014.  Almost 80 per cent of survey respondents identified as female, with women outnumbering men in every age group (see figure below).  Almost 90 per cent of survey respondents were aged between 20-59 years.  The peak response category relates to women aged from 30 to 39 years.

The demographic profile of survey respondents is consistent with our expectations of the groups of people that would be accessing the Relationships Australia website.



In response to questions on loneliness and social support, women were more likely to report higher levels of social support.  However, almost one in four women and one in three men reported that they did not have someone to help them out if in need.

Around 90 per cent of men and women reported positively on the benefits of talking with someone, noting that positive agreement with this question was slightly lower for men than women.

Men and women reported similarly when asked about poor mental wellbeing and feelings of loneliness.  Around three quarters of survey respondents indicated that they agreed with the statement that they often felt very lonely when feeling down (see figure below).




Baker, D. (2012). All the lonely people: loneliness in Australia, 2001-2009, The Australia Institute.

Flood, M. (2005). Mapping Loneliness in Australia. Discussion Paper Number 76. The Australia Institute.

Grenade, L. & Boldy, D. (2008). Social isolation and loneliness among older people: issues and future challenges in community and residential settings. Australian Health Review, August, Vol 32(3).

Masten, A. & Garmezy, N. (1986). Stress, competence, and resilience: Common frontiers for therapist and psychopathologist. Behaviour Therapy, Vol. 5:500–521.

Qualter, P. & Munn, P. (2002). The separateness of social isolation in childhood.  Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 43(2):233-244.

Rubin, K. H., Bukowski, W., & Parker, J. G. (1998). Peer interactions, relationships, and groups. In W. Damon & N. Eisenberg (Eds), Handbook of child psychology (5th), Vol. 3:619-700. New York: Wiley.

Werner, E. E. (1989). High-risk children in young adulthood: A longitudinal study from birth to 32 years. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, Vol. 59(1):72-81.

Relationships Australia State and Territory websites