People of different generations are equally lonely, but for different reasons, a new study says, according to which living alone increases loneliness risk in older age whereas feeling isolated is linked to personality traits in midlife.
The study, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, noted that emotionally-resilient people, who adapt better to stressful situations, are less at risk of loneliness at any age, and outgoing middle-aged people are less likely to feel lonely.
According to the psychologists, including those from the University of Edinburgh in the UK, living alone is associated with more loneliness for those over 70 years of age, with the issue being more acute for men.
In the study, they examined data from more than 4,000 people older than 45 for loneliness, personality traits, and living circumstances.
The participants were asked to rate how lonely they felt, and their personality traits were also tested using a framework called the Five-Factor Model.
Used machine learning — which assesses data to make predictions — the scientists examined the survey information for relationships between personality traits such as emotional stability, and social variables such as living alone, as causes for loneliness.
They compared the results between people in midlife — from 45 to 69 years old — and those in their 70s, the study noted.
The findings revealed similar levels of loneliness in both groups.
According to the study, people with a strong capacity to maintain emotional balance under stressful circumstances were 60 per cent less likely to be lonely on average, regardless of their age.
Middle-aged people, who were more extroverted, were on average, 55 per cent less likely to be lonely, the researchers reported in the study.
They said social isolation was not significantly associated with loneliness in the 45 to 69 age group, and people over 70 who lived alone were more than four times more likely to feel lonely than those who lived with company.
According to the researchers, the study helps understand the origins of loneliness in different generations.
“The use of machine learning in this study allows us to identify and replicate differences in what risk factors are linked to loneliness in middle and older age people,” said study co-author Drew Altschul from the University of Edinburgh.
“Loneliness is a growing public health issue, identifying the things that precede loneliness is difficult, however, contemporary machine learning algorithms are positioned to help identify these predictors,” Altschul said.