Men and women experience similar levels of loneliness across the lifespan, according to new research published in the European Journal of Personality. The results indicate that people should not assume that males are more lonely than females.
“In many studies on loneliness, gender differences have been examined. Quite often I read a conclusion such as ‘We found that loneliness was higher among females, which is in line with previous research [one or two references].’ But equally often, I read the same conclusion only with the finding that loneliness was higher among males,” said study author Marlies Maes, a postdoctoral researcher at Research Foundation Flanders and KU Leuven.
“So, I wanted to know, what is the case; are men or women more lonely? Together with a great team of loneliness researchers, I set up a large meta-analysis to examine this question in a systematic and thorough way. In addition to this motive to finally come to some kind of consensus, it is of course also a question with practical implications. When we have strong prejudices about gender, this could lead to less recognition and treatment for the group we view as less lonely.”
Maes and her colleagues examined data from 399,798 individuals from 45 countries collected from studies over the past 39 years. They examined three different types of loneliness: intimate (lacking close attachments), relational (lacking a network of social relationships), and collective (lacking connections with similar others).
The researchers found a statistically significant difference between the genders, indicating that males tended to be slightly lonelier than females. This was particularly true among children, adolescents, and young adults.
But the overall difference between males and females was minuscule.
“Men and women are more alike than they are different regarding feelings of loneliness. We found very similar mean levels of loneliness for men and women, from childhood through old age, for different types of loneliness, and across a range of demographic background variables. So, we concluded that there are no substantial differences between men and women with regard to (mean levels of) loneliness,” Maes told PsyPost.
But that doesn’t mean there’s absolutely no differences. “We found that mean levels of loneliness were on average very similar for men and women. This, however, does not necessarily mean that the causes of loneliness or the needed interventions are also the same for men and women,” Maes explained.
“However, I would guess that differences within genders are much larger than the differences between men and women and that it would make most sense to look at the individual rather than at men versus women — but that is of course an issue that future research would need to dive into.”
“I think we should be more careful, or thoughtful, when comparing men and women. First of all, not all individuals identify themselves as either male or female. Moreover, differences within genders are likely large, and often larger then between genders. Overemphasizing gender differences runs the risk of (unintentionally) underscoring stereotypes,” Maes added.
The study, “Gender Differences in Loneliness Across the Lifespan: A Meta-Analysis“, was authored by Marlies Maes, Pamela Qualter, Janne Vanhalst, Wim Van den Noortgate, and Luc Goossens.