The Stability and Change of Loneliness Across the Life Span: A Meta-Analysis of Longitudinal Studies

Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 2020 Feb;24(1):24-52. doi: 10.1177/1088868319850738. Epub 2019 Jun 10.


Individuals experience loneliness when they perceive a deficiency in the quality or quantity of their social relationships. In the present meta-analysis, we compiled data from 75 longitudinal studies conducted in Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America (N = 83, 679) to examine the rank-order and mean-level development of loneliness across the life span. Data were analyzed using two- and three-level meta-analyses and generalized additive mixed models. The results indicate that the rank order of loneliness is as stable as the rank order of personality traits and follows an inverted U-shaped trajectory across the life span. Regarding mean-level development, loneliness was found to decrease throughout childhood and to remain essentially stable from adolescence to oldest old age. Thus, in contrast to other personality characteristics, changes in loneliness are not generally related to age. Implications for theory are discussed.

Keywords: differential development; loneliness; mean-level development; personality development; rank-order stability.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Human Development*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Loneliness / psychology*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Personality Development
  • Personality*