19% of U.S. adults report frequently or always feeling lonely, new Yahoo/YouGov poll finds. Here's why — and which age group is affected most.

Woman alone with smartphone
Nearly 30% of adults ages 18 to 29 feel lonely, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll. (Getty Creative)

Are you feeling lonely? If so, you’re not alone. Loneliness is an American epidemic, according to the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll of 1,794 U.S. adults conducted May 10-13 found that 19% of Americans surveyed say they “always” or “frequently” experience loneliness, and 29% say they “sometimes” do, while 50% say they “rarely” or “never” feel lonely. The poll also revealed that there are certain groups that are more likely to experience loneliness.

So what is driving these feelings of isolation? And who is more likely to feel lonely? Here’s what to know.

There’s a stark difference between rates of loneliness and age, according to the poll. Younger people are more likely overall to experience loneliness, with 29% of 18-to-29-year-olds and 23% of 30-to-44-year-olds reporting they “always” or “frequently” feel lonely, compared to 16% of 45-to-64-year-olds, and just 7% of those 65 and older.

Women also experience loneliness at slightly higher rates than men: 20% of women surveyed say they experience loneliness “always” or “frequently,” while 17% of men say the same.

When asked which factors they struggle with the most, 13% say “not living close to loved ones” has the biggest impact. That was closely followed by 12% saying “not having a romantic relationship” and 11% reporting “difficulty in making friends” as the driving force. Meanwhile, 11% attributed “spending too much time online” as the cause of their loneliness. For 8% of people, it’s their “unsatisfying romantic relationship” that leaves them the most lonely, while another 8% say it’s the “not having enough time to socialize” that’s the biggest factor.

Men are most likely to cite “not having a romantic relationship” as a reason for their loneliness (15%) as well as spending too much time online (13%). Women, on the other hand, are more likely to attribute loneliness to “not living close to loved ones” (16%) and “difficulty making friends” (14%).

Hannah Rose, founder of Rose Wellness, tells Yahoo Life that she is surprised more people did not report feeling lonely, as this has been a major problem for her patients. “More participants identified that they never or rarely feel loneliness as opposed to always or frequently feel it,” she says. “In my experience as a therapist and a human, I constantly see loneliness.”

She is not surprised, however, by who experiences the most loneliness: Gen Z. Rose notes that social media may be the culprit, as it “can foster loneliness and create a massive barrier between a person and true connection.” According to the data, 17% of 18-to-29-year-olds surveyed (a combination of Gen Z-ers and millennials) say that “spending too much time online” is their biggest contributor to loneliness.

“Commonly, I see social media driving this unattainable perfection complex as we endlessly scroll through the highlight reel of others,” Rose says. “I'm a firm believer that loneliness ultimately stems from a lack of a relationship with ourselves. The real work lies not in creating meaningful relationships with others, but starting with creating or building a healthy relationship with ourselves.”

Laura Erickson-Schroth, a psychiatrist and chief medical officer at the Jed Foundation, tells Yahoo Life that young people’s lives have changed radically since the introduction of smartphones, as they now spend much more time in virtual spaces. While these spaces can be important to build connections people (especially LGBTQ youth and youth of color) might not find where they live, “they don’t replace in-person community.”

Saba Harouni Lurie, a family therapist in Los Angeles, tells Yahoo Life that while social media may give us a peek into each other’s lives, it also means “we use a handful of photos and posts to compare” others’ experiences to our own. We may assume that those around us have better relationships than we do, or more vibrant social lives — when in reality, there may be little difference between our lives and theirs. “Social media is designed to make us feel like we are lacking, so exposure to this type of content might even lead us to convince ourselves that we have less love and support in our lives than we actually do,” she explains.

Loneliness — no matter what your reason for experiencing it — can be addressed by getting out of your comfort zone and meeting up with other people in person, say experts. Instead of connecting with people online, Erickson-Schroth suggests “seeking out community and connection” through events and activities in your community, even if you don’t yet know anyone participating. “Join clubs with people who have similar interests,” she says. “Research shows that there are lots of people who are feeling lonely, and they’re looking to meet new people too.”