Research Article: Loneliness in young adulthood: Its intersecting forms and its association with psychological well-being and family characteristics in Northern Taiwan

Date Published: May 31, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Chi Chiao, Yu-Hua Chen, Chin-Chun Yi, Geilson Lima Santana.


Most researchers have examined forms of loneliness as discrete and emotional distress. The approach proposed in this study captures the reality that many persons experience more than one dimension of loneliness—varying degrees coupled with their psychological well-being in a family context. This study explores the latent structure of loneliness during young adulthood and its association with psychological well-being, as well as how these are related to their family characteristics in adolescence.

Data are from 2,748 young people, a cohort sample from the Taiwan Youth Project (TYP). Loneliness was assessed by a 6-item de Jong-Gierveld short scale with emotional and social loneliness domains. We describe the clustering between loneliness domains and psychological well-being, namely depressive symptoms, self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, and alcohol use using latent class cluster analysis. In addition to incorporating the Taiwanese family context, multivariate multinomial logistic regression models included data on family cohesion and parental guan (parental control) in adolescence. This might be associated with choices in partnership and childbearing, and influence loneliness in young adulthood.

Our results demonstrate a three-cluster model of loneliness involving emotional loners, serious emotional loners, and severe emotional/social loners. We also found that a feeling of serious emotional loneliness and severe emotional/social loneliness were significantly associated with psychological well-being, even adjusting for individual characteristics. Among young adults who had a partner, the married adults were significantly less likely to feel serious emotional loneliness than those who were living alone. Furthermore, young adults with stronger family cohesion during early adolescence were less likely to suffer from serious emotional loneliness (Relative risk ratios [RRR] 0.77, 95% CI 0.65–0.91) and severe emotional/social loneliness (RRR 0.54, 95% CI 0.34–0.85) in young adulthood.

This measurement strategy provides a foundation for future research into how experts can address loneliness clusters in order to better understand psychological well-being during young adulthood and family context in adolescence. This is important because our results suggest that the various loneliness domains do not occur independently, but rather are embedded in patterns and are associated with family characteristics.

Partial Text

Despite international support aimed at improving mental health that has been introduced over the past few decades, loneliness remains a concern [1], particularly when it affects young adults in general [2], and those living in non-Western countries in particular [3,4]. McWhirter (1990) defines loneliness as an enduring condition of emotional distress that arises when a person feels estranged from misunderstood or rejected by others, and/or lacks appropriate social partners for desired activities, particularly for activities that provide a sense of social integration and opportunities for emotional intimacy [5]. Some of the recent interest in loneliness has targeted the emotional domain, and much of this analysis has not been linked to social relationships.

Table 1 presents descriptive statistics for the study sample. Ages within the sample ranged from 27 to 32 years old, and 47% were female, while 53% were male. Less than half (47%) of the sample currently lived with their siblings. 41% of the sample reported being single without a partner, while 33% reported having a non-cohabiting partner, 20% reported being married, and 6% indicated they were cohabiting. The mean score for depressive symptoms was 12.31 with a standard deviation of 4.37 and a range between 8 and 37. About one-fifth (24%) abstained from alcohol consumption, while 8% reported binge drinking during young adulthood. Among the young adults investigated in this study, only 3% reported ever having had suicidal thoughts. Overall, 32% of the participants had had a first dating experience by the age of 18.

The purpose of this study was to explore loneliness clusters using a large community sample of young persons. We examined whether domains of loneliness, or loneliness clusters, form during young adulthood. Are these clusters associated with psychological well-being? Are choices regarding partnership and childbearing, as well as family context during early adolescence, associated with specific loneliness clusters in early adulthood? To explore these questions, we assumed that some indicators of loneliness are interlinked, forming loneliness domains. Furthermore, we proposed that other indicators are in competition with one another, and are thus less likely to cluster into loneliness domains. To explore these possibilities, we examined data from the TYP survey and employed LCA to identify various latent classes of loneliness. We also used multinomial logistic regression techniques to investigate how the identified clusters were associated with psychological well-being and family characteristics.




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