Loneliness is a feeling that is nearly universal, yet some people are more vulnerable to prolonged exposures of the experience of loneliness. Due to the subjective nature of loneliness, there is minimal literature on loneliness without the variable of social isolation (Hawkley et al. 2008, Ryan et al. 2008, Kearns et al. 2015, Lee and Ishii-Kuntz 1987) or social capital (Benner and Wang 2014, Andersson 1998, Ryan et al. 2008, Kearns et al. 2015) involved. There are numerous variables that impact loneliness. One must consider age — there has been solid gerontology research that reveals that elderly people are less mobile and therefore experience higher levels of loneliness (Lee and Ishii-Kuntz 1987, Hawkley et al. 2008) , — race, gender, social capital, employment, etc. while studying loneliness. Within this broad field, I focused on socioeconomic status as an independent variable. There is virtually no research depicting how socioeconomic status impacts the experience of loneliness in academic literature. There is research that ties socioeconomic status to social capital (Hawkley et al. 2008,) and thereon social capital impacting the experience of loneliness (Lee and Ishii-Kuntz 1987). One limitation of this research is that all the research took place in the Western world, loneliness may manifest differently across the world and have different impacts. As Andersson (1998) said: the “condition we are studying is so disturbing that we surely have some responsibility to do what we can to be helpful to those who experience it (264),” loneliness has detrimental health effects. By studying the mechanisms behind loneliness and determining who is vulnerable, more interventions can be determined and put in place to fight inequality and inequity as a cause of loneliness, and to mitigate the health consequences of loneliness.

One of the largest limitations to this study was a small sample size. With only 15 people interviewed and all people being from the same location, the sample size was not enough to gain a deeper understanding of the mechanismsthat cause loneliness nor completely understand nor observethe patterns of who is the most vulnerable to loneliness. Another limitation in this study was that, in order to understand the difference between why people of middle socioeconomic status have a larger support network than people of lower socioeconomic status yet experience higher degrees of loneliness, was that I did not ask about the frequencies of interactions within the interviews.

There is a disconnect between the empirical data and the perception of who is lonely, in my research I could not find a reason why this is and literature doesn’t address why this is. Given these findings, future research should address the question of why that disconnect exists, frequencies of interactions, and the deeper meaning behind why people of higher socioeconomic status have a lower support network yet also lower amounts of loneliness. Given these limitations, future research should conduct a wider-ranging study and interview people from a variety of places across the United States.

Access to health, healthcare, and ways of life that are considered to promote well-being are often dictated by one’s socioeconomic status. Having lower socioeconomic status can cause serious health issues based on environmental justice issues, transportation fumes, or not being able to rest one’s body because the survival of one’s family depends on attending work. This drastic inequality to accessing what should be a basic right – health – is in play because of the way society functions in the United States. One reason that this happens in the United States is because of the individualistic mindset that encapsulates and runs nearly everything including the healthcare industry. The United States lacks interdependence and collective care and survival, which further isolates people from access to health based on their socioeconomic status. This individualistic mindset that is so valued in the United States creates isolation and inability of being there for each other. Both researchers and pop journals have claimed the Western world is experiencing a loneliness epidemic (Agnew 1980, Andersson 1998, Cacioppo et al. 2009, Hawkley 2008, Lee and Ishii-Kuntz 1988, Ryan et al. 2008).

With the continued emphasis on individuality, loneliness is causing health problems. Due to physical isolation and a widespread unwillingness to help others, many people’s health problems deteriorate due to loneliness as well as many health problems are caused by extensive exposure to loneliness. Humans are a social species, which was originally a survival mechanism(Cacioppo et al. 2009). The feeling of loneliness was meant to force community and collective care for survival, and cause feelings of physical pain, sadness, and discomfort when pulling away from their community (Cacioppo et al. 2009). In a time where physical survival is not dependent on community in the same fashion, loneliness has become widespread and perplexing (Hawkley et al. 2008). Due to the subjective nature of it, loneliness is nearly impossible to define in a way that is unanimous. The purpose of this study was to bring together a collective definition of loneliness based off of 15 individual’s definitions in an attempt to continue to pursue an understanding of what loneliness is. The main objective of the study is how socioeconomic status impacts the experience of loneliness. The study looks at both the health inequalities that socioeconomic status forces upon people while seeking to uncover who is most vulnerable to the experience of loneliness. Determining who is most vulnerable to loneliness will allow for future systems to be set in place to aid with interdependence and collective care and survival.

Publication Place

Tacoma, Washington


University of Puget Sound

First Advisor

Ben Lewin

Degree Type


Date of Award

Spring 5-19-2019


University of Puget Sound