Objective: The objective of this study was to test a conceptual model of loneliness in which social structural factors are posited to operate through proximal factors to influence perceptions of relationship quality and loneliness.
Methods: We used a population-based sample of 225 White, Black, and Hispanic men and women aged 50 through 68 from the Chicago Health, Aging, and Social Relations Study to examine the extent to which associations between sociodemographic factors and loneliness were explained by socioeconomic status, physical health, social roles, stress exposure, and, ultimately, by network size and subjective relationship quality.
Result: Education and income were negatively associated with loneliness and explained racial/ethnic differences in loneliness. Being married largely explained the association between income and loneliness, with positive marital relationships offering the greatest degree of protection against loneliness. Independent risk factors for loneliness included male gender, physical health symptoms, chronic work and/or social stress, small social network, lack of a spousal confidant, and poor-quality social relationships.
Discussion: Longitudinal research is needed to evaluate the causal role of social structural and proximal factors in explaining changes in loneliness.