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Loneliness Looks Different at Different Ages

Loneliness Looks Different at Different Ages

Loneliness in adults is experienced differently depending on age, according to new research.

The new study concludes that there can be no “one size fits all” approach to reducing loneliness, as factors associated with it, such as contact with friends and family, perceived health or employment, may differ across the phases of the adult life span.

“The majority of studies focusing on loneliness have thus far been performed among specific age groups, such as the elderly or teenagers, or individuals with specific health conditions,” said Thanée Franssen, the study’s corresponding author. “To our knowledge, none of these studied the factors associated with loneliness among adults and how these change as people age.”

For the study, a team of researchers at Maastricht University and in the Public Health Service South-Limburg in the Netherlands used data collected there from September to December 2016 to examine associations between demographic, social, and health-related factors and loneliness. The study included 6,143 young people between the ages of 19 and 34; 8,418 early middle-aged people between the ages of 35 and 49; and 11,758 late middle-aged adults between the ages of 50 and 65.

Overall, 10,309 people — 44.3 percent — reported experiencing loneliness. Among young adults, 2,042 (39.7 percent) reported feelings of loneliness, compared to 3,108 (43.3 percent) early-middle aged adults, and 5,159 late middle-aged adults (48.2 percent).

Some factors were found to be associated with loneliness across all age groups, the researchers discovered. These included living alone, frequency of neighbor contact, psychological distress, and psychological and emotional well-being. The strongest association with loneliness was found for those who felt excluded from society, the researchers report.

The researchers also discovered some factors associated with loneliness were found to be present in specific age groups only.

Young adults showed the strongest association between contact frequency with friends and loneliness.

Educational level was associated with loneliness among young adults only, while an association between employment status and loneliness was found solely among early middle-aged adults.

Frequency of family contact was associated with loneliness only among early and late middle-aged adults. For late middle-aged adults only, perceived health was associated with loneliness, the study discovered.

The researchers suggest that people may feel lonely if what is the norm for their age group, such as completing school, being employed, having a partner or having children, deviates from their actual situation. As different factors are perceived to be the norm for different age groups, this may explain some of the difference in factors associated with loneliness between age groups, they explained.

“The identification of the factors associated with loneliness is necessary to be able to develop and target appropriate interventions,” Franssen said.

“Unfortunately, most of the current interventions seem to be limited in their effect. A possible reason for this may be that most interventions for adults are universal. Results of this study showed that interventions should be developed for specific age groups.”

The researchers caution that some factors that may affect people’s perception of loneliness, such as relationship quality, were not included in the study, as they were not part of the original data collection. Due to the cross-sectional nature of the study, it was not possible to establish cause and effect, they added.

“Our results also suggest that during the current COVID-19 pandemic, feelings of loneliness among adults may be impacted in different ways according to the important factors of their life phase,” Franssen said. “For example, young adults are not able to interact with their friends or classmates face to face anymore. This may need to be taken into account when considering the impact on loneliness of the current pandemic.”

The study was published in the open access journal BMC Public Health.

Source: BioMed Central

Loneliness Looks Different at Different Ages

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2020). Loneliness Looks Different at Different Ages. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2020 (Originally: 8 Aug 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.