Teens have fewer friends, but are also feeling less lonely

It’s a study I overlooked but found indirect via a line in the blog of Dennis Hoogervorst, but a study that seems to contradict what a lot of people think about youth in these (a)social media times:

Loneliness declined over time. Although the decline in loneliness is small, it contrasts sharply with expectations of large increases in loneliness, expectations found both in the public discourse (Fountain, 2006) and in the scientific literature (Kanai et al., 2012).

Still there was at the same time an increase of social network isolation:

These items indicated high school students reported declines in having someone to turn to and having friends with whom to interact.

The report also shows that high school students have fewer friends with whom to “get together with” but at the same time the data shows declines in their desire for more friends. The research suggests that while teenagers might have fewer friends these days, they feel more secure in their friendships and experience less desire to form new ones.

Abstract of the study:

We examined changes in loneliness over time. Study 1 was a cross-temporal meta-analysis of 48 samples of American college students who completed the Revised UCLA Loneliness Scale (total N = 13,041). In Study 1, loneliness declined from 1978 to 2009 (d = −0.26). Study 2 used a representative sample of high school students from the Monitoring the Future project (total N = 385,153). In Study 2, loneliness declined from 1991 to 2012. Declines were similar among White students (d = −0.14), Black students (d = −0.17), male students (d = −0.11), and female students (d = −0.11). Different loneliness factors showed diverging trends. Subjective isolation declined (d = −0.20), whereas social network isolation increased (d = 0.06). We discuss the declines in loneliness within the context of other cultural changes, including changes to group membership and personality.

2 thoughts on “Teens have fewer friends, but are also feeling less lonely

  1. Pedro,
    Could it also possibly be the case that since the scale was developed and validated (1978), the concept of loneliness and constructs associated with it have changed? Take the item “I have nobody to talk to” or “It is difficult for me to make friends”. Talking in 1978 was to someone in your direct environment f2f or to someone on the telephone (usually your parent’s phone so you had to be selective). Now we “talk” via skype, FB (how hard is it to ‘make’ friends there?), chat, What’s App, Instagram, et cetera. I question, thus, whether a scale developed in a time period so different from the present, as well as results of research using it comparing 1978 results with 2012 results can actually be made.

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