The Effect of Age and Culture on the Causes of Loneliness

Article excerpt

This study examined the influence of age and cultural background on the causes of loneliness. A total of 194 Canadians and 209 participants from the Czech Republic formed the participant pool. Rather than comparing the two populations and disregarding within and between the age differences the cultural groups were divided into age subgroups. These were young adults (18-30 years old), adults (31-59), and seniors (60-89). Participants answered a 29-item yes/ no questionnaire composed of 5 subscales, namely: Personal Inadequacies, Developmental Deficits, Unfulfilling Intimate Relationships, Relocation/Significant Separations, and Social Marginality. The age groups within and between cultures also differed significantly.

Keywords: loneliness, age, culture, personal inadequacies, developmental deficits, unfulfilling intimate relationships, relocation/significant separations, social marginality.

Current research points out the pervasiveness of loneliness and its debilitating effects (Jones, Rose, & Russell, 1990: Rokach & Brock, 1997). The present pervasiveness of loneliness is evident in its identification as a frequent presenting complaint to telephone hot-lines, college psychological clinics, and youth and marriage counselling services (Jones et al., 1990). The social importance of loneliness is also indicated by the vast amount of research investigating its effects on emotional, physical, and behavioral problems (Jones et al.).

Recent studies have suggested that a large proportion of the population feel lonely frequently (Rokach & Brock, 1997). Loneliness has been linked to depression, anxiety and interpersonal hostility (Hansson, Jones, Carpenter, & Remondet, 1986), to an increased vulnerability to health problems (Jones et al., 1990), and even to suicide (Cutrona, 1982; Medora, Woodward, & Larson, 1987). Further, it was concluded in two carefully controlled studies (Berkman & Syme, 1979; House, Landis, & Umberson, 1988) that increased mortality has been linked to social isolation. Rook (1988) observed that loneliness results from the interaction of personal factors and situational constraints. That interaction is closely associated with the changing circumstances which one encounters.

AGE AND LONELINESS

Adolescence has been described as a period of "storm and stress" (Amett, 1999). It is a difficult period of life (Buchanan et al., 1990) characterized by conflicts with parents (Laursen, Coy, & Collins, 1998), mood disruption or extreme emotions, increased substance abuse (Johnston, O' Malley, & Bachman, 1994), heavy reliance on peers, and vulnerability to peer pressure (Arnett). It was also said to include risky behavior (Arnett) which was described by Hall (1904) as "a period of semi-criminality" (Vol. 1, p. 404).

Young adulthood lacks the sharp mood swings and frequent conflicts which are characteristic of adolescence (Hatcher, Trussell, Stewart, & Stewart, 1994). During their twenties, young adults in the Western culture break away from then-families and prepare themselves for life vocationally, academically and socially (Coon, 1992). Around the age of thirty many people experience a minor life crisis. Questions about the essence of life, and the wavering assurance about previous choices are at the heart of that crisis (Coon).

Adults during their third to fifth decades often strive to reach the height of their vocational experience (Coon, 1992). They attend to their nuclear family as well as family of origin and experience the birth, growth and striving for independence of their offspring (Smetana, 1988; Steinberg & Levine, 1997.) while also dealing with the "daily hassles of life" (Arnett, 1999). Middle age is characterized by declining vigor, strength, and youthfulness (Coon) and letting go of one's unrealistic dreams and aspirations. While women experience menopause, men pass through a climacteric and so both genders experience physiological changes (Coon). …