Loneliness, Social Isolation Associated with Increased Risk for Early Mortality

March 18, 2015
Meghan Ross, Associate Editor

Living alone and feelings of isolation and loneliness were associated with an increased risk for early death in a new study, which was published in Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Living alone and feelings of isolation and loneliness were associated with an increased risk for early death in a new study, which was published in Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Social interaction, the researchers posited, may benefit not only individuals’ emotional well-being but also their physical health.

The researchers pointed to previous research that has shown social isolation and loneliness to be associated with poorer health behaviors (e.g., smoking, inactivity, bad sleep habits), worse immune functioning, and higher blood pressure.

In their own research, the study authors examined published and unpublished studies related to mortality and social relationships; they specifically looked for whether the individuals involved in the studies felt lonely or isolated, or they lived alone. The 70 studies that met their criteria encompassed almost 3.5 million individuals.

The researchers found that these 3 factors, whether measured objectively or subjectively, were associated with a higher chance of mortality. The increased likelihood of death was 32% for living alone, 29% for social isolation, and 26% for reported loneliness, after accounting for several covariates, according to the researchers.

Causation could not be proved, but the study authors found that people with these 3 factors were more likely to be deceased at a follow-up, regardless of age, wealth, and length of follow-up.

The researchers posited that there is evidence now that the risk for mortality due to a lack of social relationships may be greater than the risk due to obesity.

They found that while some individuals may prefer to live alone and find that it has its advantages, improving one’s physical health would not be one of those advantages.

“[T]he field now has much stronger evidence that lacking social connections is detrimental to physical health,” the study authors concluded.