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Aging Ment Health. 2019 Feb;23(2):196-204. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2017.1399345. Epub 2017 Nov 24.

Loneliness and social isolation among young and late middle-age adults: Associations with personal networks and social participation.

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a Berkeley Population Center , University of California , Berkeley.



Associations between social networks and loneliness or social isolation are well established among older adults. Yet, limited research examines personal networks and participation on perceived loneliness and social isolation as distinct experiences among younger adults. Accordingly, we explore relationships among objective and subjective measures of personal networks with loneliness and isolation, comparing a younger and older cohort.


The UC Berkeley Social Networks Study offers unique cohort data on young (21-30 years old, n = 472) and late middle-age adults' (50-70 years old, n = 637) personal network characteristics, social participation, network satisfaction, relationship status, and days lonely and isolated via online survey or in-person interview. Negative binomial regression models were used to examine associations between social network characteristics, loneliness, and isolation by age group.


Young adults reported twice as many days lonely and isolated than late middle-age adults, despite, paradoxically, having larger networks. For young adults, informal social participation and weekly religious attendance were associated with fewer days isolated. Among late middle-age adults, number of close kin and relationship status were associated with loneliness. Network satisfaction was associated with fewer days lonely or isolated among both age groups.


Distinct network characteristics were associated with either loneliness or isolation for each cohort, suggesting network factors are independently associated with each outcome, and may fluctuate over time. Network satisfaction was associated with either loneliness or isolation among both cohorts, suggesting perceptions of social networks may be equally important as objective measures, and remain salient for loneliness and isolation throughout the life course.


Personal networks; life course; loneliness; social isolation

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