Noreena Hertz: The Crisis of Loneliness [The Knowledge Project Ep. #114]

Acclaimed economist and author Noreena Hertz breaks down the world’s loneliness crisis, and what it means for the well-being of our minds, bodies, economies and democratic institutions. In this episode we define loneliness and how to recognize it, it’s mental and physical health implications, the shame around admitting you’re lonely, and what we can do to help alleviate the crisis for ourselves and our kids.

Hertz has been an Honorary Professor at the Institute for Global Prosperity at University College London since 2014 and she’s the author of five books, including the 2020 release The Lonely Century: Coming Together in a World that’s Pulling Apart.

Here are a few highlights from the conversation:

My students are so lonely because when we think of loneliness, we often think of it as being something that’s mainly happening to the elderly. But three in five 18 to 34-year-olds feel lonely often or always. Three in five. One in five millennials doesn’t have a single friend. Loneliness is a real epidemic amongst the young.

Loneliness for me is about feeling disconnected in a much more existential state; about feeling that you’re not cared for; that you’re not supported, whether it is by those closest to you, but also whether it’s by your government or your workplace.

There’s something that feels quite shameful about feeling like no one wants to be your friend. So I think there is a stigma. I do think one of the positives that has come out of our shared COVID experience is that we are talking about loneliness much more today than we were in the past. And we should be because the scale at which it’s affecting us collectively is immense. Rich, poor, young, old, male, female, all people experience loneliness.

I think we have come to see the family as the all-important support network in our lives. I would argue that we need to redefine support networks for the 21st century so that friendship networks are viewed as meaningful as ones where we have blood ties.

One of the reasons that democracy is being challenged in today’s lonely century is because we’re just doing less with other people, especially with people who are different from us. And so we’re not also practicing things like respecting others’ ideas when they’re different from ours, which is really important for inclusive democracy, of course.

We can also do a much better job at actively reaching out to those in our networks who we think might be lonely. Really think about it, especially in these more challenging times. Is there someone who might be feeling lonely? Prioritize them on your call sheet, pick up the phone. Do give them a call or at least a text.

And so much more. It’s time to listen and learn.


Get transcripts, early access, ad-free episodes, and so much more. Learn more or sign up now:

Looking for your Members Only transcript? Click Membership at the top of the screen to find all your membership content.