A recent study of loneliness across the average lifespan found that the decade spanning one’s 60s may be the least lonely period for many adults, while 20-somethings tend to be the most lonely.
The study also included a look at personality traits and life circumstances that make feelings of isolation and loneliness more likely for certain people, regardless of their age.
Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine surveyed about 2,800 adults, ages 20 to 69, from throughout the United States. They discovered two general “peaks” of loneliness in that broad age group, the highest during the late 20s and the other starting in about the mid-40s.
The survey results suggest that people in their 20s are facing a period of high stress and pressure as they attempt to establish a career, find a life partner and grow into full adulthood. Many young adults also find themselves constantly comparing their lives to others on social media, which can lead to even greater loneliness, according to Tanya Nguyen, Ph.D., a professor at UC San Diego and a study first author.
By around age 45, many adults start to experience physical challenges and health issues, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, that can be isolating and lead to loneliness. In addition, “Individuals may start to lose loved ones close to them, and their children are (also) growing up and are becoming more independent … This greatly impacts self-purpose and may cause a shift in self-identify, resulting in increased loneliness,” said Nguyen.
Older adults in their 60s, on the other hand, often feel less lonely due to having achieved a greater sense of control over their lives, she added. Most either have retired or have shifted more of their time and energy away from work. Many also limit their use of technology and social media to simply maintaining connections with others.
Decades of life experiences good and bad have also led to greater wisdom for many people by the time they reach their 60s – and greater wisdom was found in the study to be a significant predictor of less loneliness throughout life.
This inverse relationship between loneliness and wisdom was “surprising and interesting and actually positive – an optimistic finding,” Nguyen said. The study measured six components of wisdom in each participant: general knowledge of life; emotion management; empathy, compassion, altruism and a sense of fairness; insight; acceptance of divergent values; and decisiveness.