Study reveals loneliness peaks in the mid-40s, lowest in 60s

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Loneliness initially peaks in the 20s

Feeling lonely can occur at any age, but a recent study found it peaks at two points in people’s lives and takes a dive as people get older.

Acknowledging that loneliness is a widespread and pressing public health issue that affects well-being, longevity and health, researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine have sought to create useful interventions. To do so, they studied the psychological and environmental aspects that lead to patterns of loneliness among varying decades.

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Researchers discovered that that people in their 20s had the highest rates of loneliness and another peak occurred in the 40s while people in their 60s had the lowest loneliness levels.

“What we found was a range of predictors of loneliness across the lifespan,” said corresponding senior author Dr. Dilip V. Jeste, senior associate dean for Healthy Aging and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at UC San Diego School of Medicine in a statement.

Using an online survey of 2,843 participants, researchers found some consistencies in people ages 20 to 69 around the United States. It was found that less empathy and compassion, smaller social circles, lack of a partner or spouse and more sleep disturbances were constant predictors of loneliness across all age groups. In all decades except the 60s, lower social self-efficacy and greater anxiety were linked to worse loneliness. In the 50s, loneliness was tied to more indecisiveness.

“Compassion seems to reduce the level of loneliness at all ages, probably by enabling individuals to accurately perceive and interpret others' emotions along with helpful behavior toward others, and thereby increasing their own social self-efficacy and social networks,” Jeste said.

The struggle for companionship reflected highly on people in their 20s as people also grappled with their career paths.

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“A lot of people in this decade are also constantly comparing themselves on social media and are concerned about how many likes and followers they have,” said Tanya Nguyen, Ph.D., first author of the study and assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “The lower level of self-efficacy may lead to greater loneliness.”

The 40s brings other issues as life changes occur with children leaving home and health concerns arising for individuals and the people around them.

“Individuals may start to lose loved ones close to them and their children are growing up and are becoming more independent," Nguyen said. "This greatly impacts self-purpose and may cause a shift in self-identify, resulting in increased loneliness.”

Noting that the findings are especially relevant during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has led to social distancing as one of the methods of helping to slow the spread of the novel virus, Ngyun said “we want to understand what strategies may be effective in reducing loneliness during this challenging time.”