Risk factors for loneliness: The high relative importance of age versus other factors

PLoS One. 2020 Feb 11;15(2):e0229087. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0229087. eCollection 2020.


Loneliness is a potent predictor of negative health outcomes, making it important to identify risk factors for loneliness. Though extant studies have identified characteristics associated with loneliness, less is known about the cumulative and relative importance of these factors, and how their interaction may impact loneliness. Here, 4,885 individuals ages 10-97 years from the US completed the three-item UCLA Loneliness Survey on TestMyBrain.org. Using census data, we calculated the population and community household income of participants' census area, and the proportion of individuals in the participant's census area that shared the participant's demographic characteristics (i.e., sociodemographic density). We evaluated the relative importance of three classes of variables for loneliness risk: those related to the person (e.g., age), place (e.g., community household income), and the interaction of person X place (sociodemographic density). We find that loneliness is highly prevalent and best explained by person (age) and place (community household income) characteristics. Of the variance in loneliness accounted for, the overwhelming majority was explained by age with loneliness peaking at 19 years and declining thereafter. The congruence between one's sociodemographic characteristics and that of one's neighborhood had no impact on loneliness. These data may have important implications for public health interventions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Loneliness / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Residence Characteristics / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires / statistics & numerical data
  • United States
  • Young Adult