More than a third of adults are lonely, with people in their forties suffering the highest levels, according to a study published in the latest Journal of Clinical Nursing.
People with strong religious beliefs were less likely to be lonely and people who were unemployed reported higher levels of loneliness than people who were retired.
The study, by a team of UK and Australian researchers, showed that 35 per cent of the 1,289 people who took part in 30-minute telephone interviews in Central Queensland were lonely.
“Understanding what makes people lonely is very important as loneliness can increase the risk of health conditions, such as heart disease and depression, and other problems such as domestic violence” says Professor William Lauder from the University of Dundee, Scotland, who spent two years working in Australia.
“One of the most interesting findings of this study is that it challenges the belief that retirement is linked to diminished social contacts and that people get lonelier as they get older.”
Key findings from the research, co-authored by Professor Kerry Mummery from Central Queensland University and nursing lecturer Siobhan Sharkey from the University of Stirling in Scotland, include:
* Just under 50 per cent of the people contacted at random agreed to take part in the study. All were over 18, with an average age of just over 46 and there were almost equal numbers of males (49.9 per cent) and females.
* People didn’t necessarily get lonelier as they get older. Apart from the youngest age group (18-19 year-olds), the lowest levels of loneliness were recorded in people aged 50 and over, with loneliness levels starting to rise at 20 and peaking between 40 and 49.
* Respondents who reported having strong religious beliefs were less likely to be lonely than people who didn’t have such beliefs.
* Women were more likely to have strong religious beliefs and the researchers believe that this was reflected in the lower levels of loneliness reported by women than men.
* Retired people were less likely to be lonely than people who were unemployed.
* There was no significant link between how long the person had lived in their current community and how lonely they were.
* However, there were clears links between household income and loneliness, with people on lower incomes reporting higher levels of loneliness.
“Tackling loneliness is very important as it is a very common and potentially health-threatening phenomenon” adds Professor Lauder. “Previous research has indicated that health wise it carries a similar level of risk to obesity.
“We hope that this study will provide health professionals and others with further insight into the causes of loneliness and support efforts to reduce health issues caused by the problem.”
From Blackwell Publishing