Margaux Duvall, Lillian Lema, and Lynette Ban (left to right) have all spent money in the search of new connections.
Margaux Duvall, Lillian Lema, Lynette Ban
Americans aged 18 to 25 reported feeling lonelier than any other demographic in a recent study.
In search of connection, young people are spending on gym memberships, social clubs, and art classes.
Insider spoke to 23 Gen Zers. Most said they spend more on social activities than pre-pandemic.
Lynette Ban moved from New York to Austin during the pandemic to save money. But now, three years into working remotely, she’s racked up a new expense: friendships.
Ban estimates she spends at least $500 a month on various memberships and events aimed at making friends and maintaining connections. That includes a $2,500 annual membership to the social club Soho House and a $500 annual fee for the gym program ClassPass. That’s on top of hundreds a month on lunches and dinners out.
“I started prioritizing, post-pandemic, more of these clubs and joining these organizations where I can meet new people and build a network that way,” Ban said.
Ban, 26, is like many young Americans who have spent an important chunk of their adult lives outside the classrooms, offices, and other shared spaces where offline relationships are so often formed. This has led, in part, to what the US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has called an “epidemic of loneliness.”
The problem is particularly acute among young people. Over a third of Americans aged 18 to 25 reported feeling lonely frequently, almost all the time, or all the time in the 30 days preceding a December 2022 survey conducted by the Harvard Graduate School of Education that was shared with Insider.
Richard Weissbourd, a child and family psychologist who worked on the study, told Insider that people between the ages of 18 and 25 reported loneliness more than any other demographic.
“This is the time where young people are making some of the hardest and most difficult decisions of their lives, and they really need support,” Weissbourd said.
Loneliness isn’t only a mental-health concern. Social isolation can be as dangerous as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day and contributes to health issues including cardiovascular disease, stroke, and dementia, Murthy wrote in a recent report.
Insider interviewed 23 young adults between the ages of 21 and 27 about their experiences with loneliness. All but three said they’re spending more money now than they were before the pandemic on social activities such as art classes and gym memberships to make friends. In turn, many said that they are spending less on personal expenses like solo trips or TV subscriptions.
Lynette Ban, right, and her friend Rachael went to a pasta-making class during a trip to Italy.
Money can’t buy Gen Zers happiness, but they do hope it can buy them friends
Many young adults, especially remote workers, are trying to combat loneliness by picking up new hobbies and activities to meet new people.
“Not having that social experience at the office shrinks your social circle, and especially when you’re young, it’s so important to have that group,” Matt Schulz, the chief credit analyst for LendingTree, told Insider.
William Cabell, 24, doles out $70 a month for a membership at a rock-climbing gym and another $161 at a jujitsu gym in Richmond, Virginia. Cabell’s goal with both memberships is to meet new people.
“In order to make friends, you need regularity, and I have found that an investment stake is a good way to elicit that from both myself and others,” Cabell told Insider. “If you pay for something, you’ll show up to it.”
The software engineer said he’s increased his investment in social activities after struggling to make friends at work.
“These types of activities ease the process of making friends more so than free activities because they tend to be more structured,” Cabell said. “Basically, you’re stuck together with everyone else there and forced into new social situations.”
Cabell isn’t alone in joining a gym to make friends. The boutique fitness franchise Orangetheory Fitness’ Gen Z member base grew 200% from the beginning of 2019 to August 1, 2023 — faster than the member base of any other generation, Ameen Kazerouni, the chief technology officer at Orangetheory Fitness, told Insider.
“An increased focus on health and wellness and the strong desire for IRL connection are two large factors that are driving the demand and our membership growth with this generation,” Kelly Lohr, Orangetheory’s chief marketing officer, said.
Soho House — a club whose stated purpose is for “like-minded creative thinkers to meet, relax, have fun and grow” — said in its annual earnings report filed with the SEC that Gen Zers and millennials constitute the club’s “fastest-growing cohorts.”
Membership to Soho House’s New York flagship location costs about $1,300 a year for people under the age of 27. A membership to all locations can cost as much as $3,575 for people under 27, with the exact price dependent on the location they use most often.
Art studios have also seen an uptick in Gen Z attendees. Barley Vogel, the owner and director of Studio Arts Dallas, said there’s been an increase in younger adults attending the studio’s classes.
Young adults have been attending art classes, like those at The Art Studio NY, in order “to fulfill the need for community.”
The Art Studio NY
Rebecca Schweiger, the founder of The Art Studio NY, told Insider that Gen Zers are “attending classes regularly to fulfill the need for community and connection.” Frequently, younger adults are coming alone seeking comradery in addition to personal fulfillment, she said.
“It’s quite typical for students, adult students, to make friends, to socialize together, to first get to know each other in the class setting and then to get together outside of classes,” Schweiger said.
Noureen Shallwani, 27, who works for a beauty-tech startup, said she felt like she had to restart socially after moving from Austin to Philadelphia for an in-person job last year.
Shallwani joined Facebook groups to find people willing to see movies or go out to dinner with her. She regularly attends Pilates classes to meet people, and saves up to afford domestic and international vacations with friends about four times a year.
“It’s made life a little easier to be in an environment where everyone feels like you’ve done a workout together, everyone has gone through an experience together,” Shallwani said. “You talk afterwards, and everyone’s like, ‘Should we get drinks this time?’ or ‘There’s an event going on in the city, do we all want to go to it?'”
Shallwani said she’s been anxious about financial stability, though she said spending on social experiences has been well worth it.
Gen Zers are also finding cheaper ways to solve loneliness
Some Gen Zers don’t have the funds — or the will — to spend thousands of dollars a year on activities and memberships aimed at making friends.
Fortunately, there are other options. Lillian Lema, 27, said she spent a Sunday in August eating and enjoying music with friends on Peaks Island in Maine. The social gathering included three people she met last year through Bumble BFF — an app meant to encourage platonic relationships.
Lillian Lema, center, has gone on trips with friends she met on Bumble BFF.
Lema, now a graduate student based in Portland, Maine, tried out the free version of Bumble BFF in the summer of 2022. She was feeling lonely from a breakup, working a hybrid job for a retail company, and living at home.
“To look back at where I was a year ago and to where I am now, the fact that I’m still in contact with this person I met through an app a year ago, then I’m introducing her to new people and she’s introducing me to new people — it just felt very like a beautiful scene,” she said, scrolling through photos from that day on Peaks Island.
She’s also participated in City Girls Who Walk, a free walking club that brings together women to exercise and bond.
Other Gen Zers told Insider they made connections through free gallery events, volunteering, and joining book clubs.
Margaux Duvall, 23, an Ohio native who moved to Denver last year for work, discovered that running and biking has helped her bond with others, and a $10 lifetime membership to a local mini golf course has kept social costs down.
“If you just take the leap and go find something to do, you’ll end up making some friends,” Duvall said. “Odds are there’s probably hundreds of other people that are in a similar position to you that are also looking for friends.”
Alexandra York contributed reporting to this story.