Loneliness in Older Age Associated With Childhood Circumstances, Personality Traits


Based on the data, Guthmuller observed that ill health was the primary factor correlated with loneliness in older age.

A new study has discovered that life circumstances during childhood, including having fewer friends and siblings, low-quality relationships with parents, bad health, and growing up in a poorer household, are all associated with a higher rate of loneliness in older age.

Sophie Guthmuller of Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria, used data from the large cross-national Survey on Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), which collects information from individuals across Europe 50 years of age and older on health, socioeconomic status, and social and family networks, and loneliness was measured with the R-UCLA Loneliness Scale.

Based on the data, Guthmuller observed that ill health was the primary factor correlated with loneliness in older age (43.32%). Additionally, social support in older age accounts for 27.05%, whereas personality traits (10.42%) and life circumstances during childhood (7.50%) also were found to play a role.

For people who rarely or never had close friends in childhood, the odds of loneliness at the age of 50 years or older were 1.24 times higher compared to those who had close friends in childhood. Additionally, the odds were 1.34 times higher in those who had a fair or poor relationship with their mother as a child compared to those with an excellent maternal relationship, while they were 1.21 times higher for those who grew up in a low income household versus a high income household.

Additionally, the data showed that people with neurotic personalities experienced more loneliness traits, whereas those who scored higher for conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and openness less frequently experienced loneliness in older age.

Furthermore, Guthmuller pointed out that the findings of the study confirm the importance of social networks and support in older age, in addition with the role of personality traits and childhood circumstances. In conclusion, she noted that early interventions are key to targeting later loneliness, and specifically interventions aimed at increasing social support in later life should be modified to support all personality types.

"The study finds, as expected, that health status and social support at older ages are the 2 main factors correlated with loneliness at age 50+. Interestingly, the study reveals that personality traits and life circumstances during childhood are significantly associated with loneliness later in life, after controlling for a large set of later life conditions,” Guthmuller said in the press release. “In light of the trend of increasing childhood loneliness, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children's life, the findings of this study confirm the importance of early life interventions to tackle long term effects on loneliness."


Childhood circumstances and personality traits are associated with loneliness in older age. EurekAlert! May 18, 2022. Accessed May 31, 2022.https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/05/220518140714.htm

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