It’s not unusual for a professional 50 year old man to have 5,000 connections on LinkedIn, but no friends in real life.

“Fifty and Friendless” is a relatively new phenomenon, but it’s an epidemic spreading through our suburbs, towns and cities. Social isolation is a frightening consequence of low density car orientated suburban sprawl and sky-rise ‘hotel style’ apartment blocks. And it’s now a global concern.

According to a September 2019 YouGov poll one in five Britons aged over 55 say they haven’t made a new friend in the last six years. Nearly one in ten of all Brits say they simply have no friends at all. Men, in particular, are increasingly leading isolated solitary lives.

  • One in five of men have no close friends and 32% of males had no one they counted as a best friend.
  • These figures are significantly higher than those for women.
  • 12 per cent of women said that they did not have any close friends and 24 per cent say they lacked a best friend.

In Australia one in four adults are lonely, with the highest rates experienced by those aged 50 to 65.

  • More than half of all Australians feel lonely for at least one day a week, while almost a third feel lonely more than three days a week.

Is less social interaction leading to a greater risk of social isolation?

Yes. I believe it is. There are many reasons, one of which is that Australians rarely talk to their neighbours.

  • A third of Australians don’t see, speak or hear from their neighbours on a regular basis.
  • Nearly half of Australians have no neighbours they can call on for help.
  • 70% of people say they don’t have neighbours they would talk to about private matters.

The Great Australian – and American – Suburban Dream has changed. Years ago we had close and trusted relationships with our neighbours. Life has changed: Longer working hours, ‘Fly In Fly Out’ working arrangements, geographically inconsistent contract work, constantly changing jobs, car orientated developments, car dependency, long commutes and the ‘school run’. These days only 14% of us see our neighbours on a weekly basis and only 2% on a daily basis.

So what can we do?

Think Macro.

On a Macro scale we need to plan cities, suburbs and places for people. Our planning of new communities, suburbs and streets needs to enable connection not isolation. For example, designing more social interaction spaces into public spaces and high-rise apartment buildings or redesigning supermarkets and shopping centres to make them places for people to visit and linger on a Sunday morning or Saturday night.

Act Micro

On a micro – or individual – level some of best ways to ease isolation is by meeting people in the wider community.

  • Join a Men’s Shed or a book club
  • Sign up for volunteering opportunities or participate in charity events; walks, runs or bike rides
  • Connect with colleagues or your neighbours or reconnect with old friends using social media
  • Strike up spontaneous conversations with people on the bus or train

Of course, this is often easier said than done, especially for 40 and 50 year old men. Robin Hewings, Director of research at the Campaign to End Loneliness, said: ‘Women spend more time cultivating their existing friendships and meeting more people.’

Loneliness is a sign that something needs to change. It’s a reality of modern life, a growing urban and social issue and, as research has shown, it’s become considerably worse in the past decade and likely to get even worse in years to come. Politicians, policy-makers and urban planners, like us, are faced with a new challenge – to create a less lonely future by planning and designed spaces and places for people, so that ‘Dad’ – and everyone – has got plenty of friends.

Do you agree?