Is Loneliness Driving People to Eat Out More?

Annie Holmquist | November 3, 2016

Is Loneliness Driving People to Eat Out More?

In recent years, data has shown that the money Americans spend eating out at restaurants has slowly overtaken the amount spent at grocery stores.

It’s easy to look at such numbers and quickly lay the blame at the feet of the younger generation: they’re lazy, they don’t have any basic skills, and they don’t understand the importance of frugal living.

But according to Derek Thompson at The Atlantic, it’s rather unjust to lay the blame for increased restaurant spending solely at the feet of the younger generation. In fact, the 65+ crowd is increasingly guilty of the same thing:

“The big story here is not that young people are uniquely turning away from groceries. Rather, the story is a structural shift toward eating out at restaurants, among Millennials and their parents (and perhaps even their grandparents). Between the first year of the Bill Clinton's administration and the middle of George W. Bush's presidency, senior citizens' restaurant spending rose from 27 to 38 percent of their food budget, far surpassing the increase among shoppers under 45.”

Restaurant Spending by Age

So why is restaurant eating seeing a surge not only among young people, but also among old?

It certainly could be that Americans of all ages are just getting used to the quick, service-oriented culture in which they don’t have to lift a finger. But as I thought about it, I had to wonder if the increase in eating out might also have something to do with the decline of close-knit family and community.

Think about it for a moment. Our society is increasingly alienated from one another. Sitting on the front porch after dinner and talking to the neighbors as they walk by is almost unheard of. Both the young and old are often not a part of a nuclear family support structure. When nuclear families do exist, every member is pulled in separate directions through school and work.

Statistics show that the number of frequently lonely people has increased from roughly 20 percent in the 1980s to 45 percent in current times. Is it possible that the increase in restaurant spending is simply a sign that Americans are searching for belonging and looking for a community in order to shake the loneliness they’re experiencing?


[Image Credit: Shutterstock]


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