Why are thirtysomethings lonely? Because society doesnt value friendship | Arwa Mahdawi

Social media has been made the scapegoat for millennials reporting loneliness, but the cultural primacy in adulthood of career and family has much to answer for, writes Arwa Mahdawi

Millennials arent just the poorest generation; they are also the loneliest. According to data from YouGov, 30% of millennials (those born between 1982 and 1999) say they always or often feel lonely, compared with 20% of Gen X and 15% of baby boomers. Also, 22% of millennials say they have no friends, which is a significantly higher percentage than those in older generations.

YouGov didnt examine why millennials feel more lonely than other generations, but it noted a study that found a link between social media use and decreased wellbeing. Social media has become the go-to scapegoat for all manner of modern ills, yet, while digital habits undoubtedly affect mental health, research hasnt provided conclusive answers regarding the relationship between the two. When it comes to loneliness, I have a feeling that the culprit isnt so much technology as the fact that many millennials are in their 30s, which is a natural time for friendship dynamics to change: people start focusing on advancing their careers and building families rather than socialising with pals.

It feels as if we are constantly debating whether social media makes us feel more connected or more alone. That is certainly an important discussion, but obsessing over new tech can stop us interrogating old traditions.

Our culture is based around celebrating romantic and familial milestones: engagements, weddings, christenings. We are not taught to venerate or celebrate friendship in the same way we are romantic relationships. We are not taught that friendships can be just as complex, if not more so, than romantic couplings; that losing a friend can be as heartbreaking as losing a lover. So, when we get to a point in our lives when our friendships start to change, there is no wonder it can feel so lonely.

Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist

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