Some Western societies, it has been claimed, are experiencing an unparalleled downward trend in participation with manifold grave consequences predicted. In the UK, for instance, politicians and commentators, arguably influenced by Robert Putnam’s warnings of a collapse in community, have spoken of Britain’s broken society and disintegrating social ties with opting out, or nonparticipation, presented as a pressing social problem. Set against this background, and engaging directly with Putnam’s thesis, we explore the scale, characteristics and causes of an ‘extreme’ variant of nonparticipation - lifelong nonparticipation – amongst members of a national birth cohort, the UK’s National Child Development Study (NCDS) (1958). Joining structured survey data collected over the lifecourse, with biographical interview data collected from cohort members at age 50, we identify lifelong nonparticipation as a minority disposition associated with distinctive demographic traits being, for example, highly gendered and related to lower educational attainment. In terms of causes, time pressures arising from work and caring duties or, more precisely, the feeling of being ‘pressed for time’, appeared critical. The implications for policy and practice are considered.