The Biggest Myth About Aging You Need to Stop Believing
A new study refutes a common misconception, and finds loneliness subsides with age.
There are plenty of things you're led to believe will happen as you get older. And while some are almost certain to occur—you'll get a least a few gray hairs and you may not be able to burn the midnight oil like you used to in your younger years—many others are more myth than truth. One big one that falls into the latter category is the misconception that as you grow older, you'll also grow lonelier. In fact, according to massive new study on loneliness, you're likely to find the exact opposite is true.
Using data from the BBC's Loneliness Experiment, the world's largest study on the topic, researchers in the U.K. set out to examine if and how culture, age and gender affect loneliness, which they defined as “the discrepancy between actual and desired social relationships.” Published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, the study found that despite the popular perception that people feel more alone as the grow older, loneliness is actually much more likely to decrease with age.
“Contrary to what people may expect, loneliness is not a predicament unique to older people. In fact, younger people report greater feelings of loneliness,” Manuela Barreto, a professor of the University of Exeter in the U.K. and co-author of the study, told Medical News Today.
To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers analyzed the information and responses of 46,054 individuals between the ages of 16 and 99, representing 237 different countries, islands, and territories. They asked the participants questions, like, "Do you feel a lack of companionship?" and "Do you feel in tune with people around you?"
As to why people are more likely to experience less intense or frequent feelings of loneliness as they get older, Barreto cited changing expectations that often come with aging as a key factor.
“Since loneliness stems from the sense that one’s social connections are not as good as desired, this might be due to the different expectations younger and older people hold," she said. Barreto also noted that, "The age pattern we discovered seems to hold across many countries and cultures.”
Not only did the study find that loneliness is more likely to affect individuals in their younger years, but the issue was likely to be even more of a concern for that demographic during the recent pandemic.
“Though it is true that younger people are better able to use technology to access social relationships, it is also known than when this is done as a replacement—rather than an extension—of those relationships, it does not mitigate loneliness,” Barreto said. And to learn more about how feeling isolated can impact your well-being, check out 15 Subtle Signs Your Loneliness Is Hurting Your Health.