Background It is reported that about 28.3% of rural children estimated at 58 million were left behind in China when their parents migrated to cities to find work. These children may encounter critical situations of psychological well-being. We conducted a cross-sectional study to explore whether left-behind children are lonelier than the non-left-behind and to highlight subpopulations that are particular at risk.
Methods We conducted a community-based cross-sectional study on a representative sample in rural China. Semi-structured questionnaires were applied to 324 left-behind and 282 non-left-behind children. Logistic regression analysis was used to find out risk factors associated with loneliness.
Results We found that whether children were left behind or not influenced their likelihood of being lonely. Compared with non-left-behind children, the left-behind were 2.5 times (95% CI 1.7, 3.5) more likely to suffer from loneliness and 6.4 times (95% CI 4.2, 9.7) more likely to be very lonely. Left-behind children who were brought up by grandparents, or having poor economic status, bad relationship and low frequency of communication with parents were prone to encounter more as well as more severe loneliness. In particular, children who had a bad relationship with parents were at highest risk for severe loneliness (OR 14.5; 95% CI 2.1, 99.5).
Conclusions Left-behind children are at significant risk for loneliness. More specific investigations targeted towards the psychological well-being of these children are needed to identify the underlying preventable risk factors.