A study has found that people in their 20s are more likely to feel lonely than their elders due to a variety of societal pressures.
It also revealed that individuals in their 60s and approaching retirement are the least at-risk of loneliness.
Researchers say high stress and the pressure of building a career as well as finding a life partner can make young people feel isolated.
First author Dr Tanya Nguyen said: ‘A lot of people in this decade are also constantly comparing themselves on social media and are concerned about how many likes and followers they have.
‘The lower level of self-efficacy may lead to greater loneliness.’
A web-based survey of 2,843 people aged 20 to 69 from across the US tracked loneliness through various stages of life.
It found a peak in likeliness in the 20s, followed by a drop in the 30s, and another mini spike in a person’s 40s, potentially due to a mid-life crisis as well as physical challenges and health issues, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
The team at the University of California, San Diego, analysed psychological and environmental factors that lead to contrasting patterns in different groups.
Dr Nguyen said: ‘Individuals may start to lose loved ones close to them and their children are growing up and are becoming more independent.
‘This greatly impacts self-purpose and may cause a shift in self identity, resulting in increased loneliness.’
Irrespective of age, some factors were found to increase the chance of feeling lonely, such as lacking empathy, having a small social group, not having a spouse or partner and poor sleep.
Corresponding senior author Professor Dilip Jeste said: ‘What we found was a range of predictors of loneliness across the lifespan.’
Lower social self-efficacy and higher anxiety were associated with worse loneliness in all age decades, except the 60s. It was also linked to less decisiveness in the 50s.’
The findings published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry are especially relevant during the Covid-19 global pandemic.
Professor Jeste said: ‘We want to understand what strategies may be effective in reducing loneliness during this challenging time.
‘Loneliness is worsened by the physical distancing that is necessary to stop the spread of the pandemic.’
Dr Nguyen said intervention and prevention efforts should consider stage-of-life issues.
She added: ‘There is a need for a personalised and nuanced prioritising of prevention targets in different groups of people.’
Previous research has found loneliness is worse for your health than smoking. It has been linked to a host of diseases, including Alzheimer’s.
It renders people more likely to drink excessively, have unhealthier diets or take less exercise.
There is also evidence loneliness harms the immune and cardiovascular systems. It is closely associated with depression, which the World Health Organisation has identified as the foremost disability.