Objectives: Most researchers have examined forms of loneliness as discrete and emotional distress. The approach proposed in this study captures the reality that many persons experience more than one dimension of loneliness-varying degrees coupled with their psychological well-being in a family context. This study explores the latent structure of loneliness during young adulthood and its association with psychological well-being, as well as how these are related to their family characteristics in adolescence.
Methods: Data are from 2,748 young people, a cohort sample from the Taiwan Youth Project (TYP). Loneliness was assessed by a 6-item de Jong-Gierveld short scale with emotional and social loneliness domains. We describe the clustering between loneliness domains and psychological well-being, namely depressive symptoms, self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, and alcohol use using latent class cluster analysis. In addition to incorporating the Taiwanese family context, multivariate multinomial logistic regression models included data on family cohesion and parental guan (parental control) in adolescence. This might be associated with choices in partnership and childbearing, and influence loneliness in young adulthood.
Results: Our results demonstrate a three-cluster model of loneliness involving emotional loners, serious emotional loners, and severe emotional/social loners. We also found that a feeling of serious emotional loneliness and severe emotional/social loneliness were significantly associated with psychological well-being, even adjusting for individual characteristics. Among young adults who had a partner, the married adults were significantly less likely to feel serious emotional loneliness than those who were living alone. Furthermore, young adults with stronger family cohesion during early adolescence were less likely to suffer from serious emotional loneliness (Relative risk ratios [RRR] 0.77, 95% CI 0.65-0.91) and severe emotional/social loneliness (RRR 0.54, 95% CI 0.34-0.85) in young adulthood.
Discussion: This measurement strategy provides a foundation for future research into how experts can address loneliness clusters in order to better understand psychological well-being during young adulthood and family context in adolescence. This is important because our results suggest that the various loneliness domains do not occur independently, but rather are embedded in patterns and are associated with family characteristics.