Women and Men Are About Equally Lonely

a statue that appears to be one person holding another in their arms. The angle is such that the statue is pictured distantly in the midst of a large empty room.
Image by Nikolay Gromin / CC BY

Sometimes it’s wild to me how much people try to place on gender. From a very early age — typically at birth — human beings are put into one of two categories, assigned male or female, and once this is done, it starts to be used as a shortcut for who we are. How we’re supposed to behave. What our life is supposed to be like.

Setting aside the fact that this idea of two discrete teams with no middle ground whatsoever oversimplifies biodiversity (as some individuals are born intersex, for example), as well as the fact that birth gender assignation can be wrong for other reasons, assigning a person’s entire personality based on their gender identity is… well… it’s kind of weird.

And it’s weird that it’s “normal” among certain portions of the population. Normal to say things like “boys are like this,” “girls are like that.”

Umm… that is sloppy at best. Totally inaccurate. There aren’t only two personality profiles. And you can’t trace them to someone’s genitalia.

Anyway, that’s a pet peeve of mine. I think men and women share a lot in common. We’re all people. And that public perception of gender differences are often exaggerated (which the research also consistently supports; men and women being more alike than they are different).

Today’s study is just another example of that. A demonstration that men and women really aren’t so different after all.

Women and Men Are About Equally Lonely

In an extremely large meta-analysis of all the research available on gender differences in loneliness, a team studied a group of nearly 400,000 people from 45 countries over the past 39 years. In their research, they looked at 3 types of loneliness:

  1. Intimate loneliness, in which people lack a significant other.
  2. Relational loneliness, in which people lack a social network of relationships (friends, family, etc.).
  3. Collective loneliness, in which people do not feel like they belong or have things in common with others.

When the entirety of the data was considered, researchers found only a tiny difference between the genders. Males in the study were slightly lonelier than women, but only just. The difference was incredibly tiny. When looking at the age breakdown, they found that the years where this loneliness gap was greatest was during childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.

However, the difference was truly tiny, suggesting that gender might not be as helpful or as demonstrative when addressing loneliness as earlier research thought. And that it’s more helpful to consider people’s personalities and other characteristics when addressing loneliness, rather than considering their gender to be an overarching and meaningful variable for interventions.

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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