Adolescent Loneliness and Health in Early Adulthood


  • This research uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and funded by grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health data files is available on the Add Health website ( No direct support was received from grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis. This article is part of a larger study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (K01 HD 064537; Bridget Goosby, PI). All opinions and errors are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of either the helpful commentators or funding agencies sponsoring Add Health.


The health consequence of loneliness in the early life course is an understudied topic in the sociological literature. Using data from Waves 1–3 of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, we examine pre-disease pathways in the relationship between adolescent loneliness and early adult health. Our results indicate that loneliness during adolescence is associated with diagnosed depression, poorer adult self-rated health, and metabolic risk factors related to cardiovascular disease. High depressive symptoms and parent support are important pathways through which the health consequences of loneliness are exacerbated or offset. There is also evidence that lonely youth remain at higher risk for experiencing adult depression and poor self-rated health even in the presence of equivalent levels of parental support relative to non-lonely adolescents. Furthermore, lonely adolescent females are more vulnerable to reporting poor adult self-rated health and being overweight or obese in adulthood. In sum, our study demonstrates the importance of adolescent loneliness for elevating the risk of poor health outcomes in adulthood.