Dec 2, 2023 - Health

Solo diners "suffer" more than social ones

Restaurant dining room

Restaurant dining room in Griffin, Georgia. Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

People in high-income countries who are considered "solo diners" rate their quality of life lower than more social diners, according to a recent study from Gallup and the Ajinomoto Group.

Why it matters: The study constitutes another piece of evidence that the "epidemic of loneliness" that was exacerbated by COVID "has real consequences," Andrew Dugan, the research director of the study, told Axios.

The big picture: Rates of loneliness surged during the pandemic and the study builds on past findings that underscore the consequences loneliness can have on health and wellbeing.

  • More than one-third of Americans are experiencing "serious loneliness," reporting that they feel lonely "frequently" or "almost all the time or all the time" a 2021 Harvard study found.
  • This includes 61% of young people between the ages of 18 and 25, and 51% of mothers with young children.

Zoom in: Solo dining appears to be on the rise in high-income countries, which tend to have higher portions of people living alone, Dugan said.

  • Wealthier countries tend to have more young people delaying marriage, more remote workers, and larger aging populations, he added.
  • Solo diners are defined as those who have not eaten lunch or dinner with someone they know in the past 7 days and also live alone.

By the numbers: About 15% of solo diners in high-income countries rated their current lives and expectations for the future so low they were considered "suffering," according to the study.

  • Only 5% of diners who shared at least one meal with someone in the past week scored so low.
  • Solo diners in high-income countries also reported lower levels of social connectedness and lower views of their own personal health.

The other side: People who regularly ate meals with someone they know were "substantially and significantly" more likely to be considered "thriving," based on their high evaluations of their current and future lives.

Zoom in: In the U.S., the study found that nearly one in 10 Americans did not eat lunch or dinner with someone they knew in the past week, Dugan told Axios.

  • Among Americans who didn't eat lunch or dinner with someone they know in the past week, only 34% were considered "thriving."]
  • That's compared to 53% of Americans who ate at least one meal with a companion.

The bottom line: Countries with large portions of people that are considered "suffering" can be more prone to social unrest, according to Dugan.

  • "It's going to make for an unhappy society, which is inherently an unpredictable thing," he said.
Go deeper