There is a great diversity in the available strategies for coping with loneliness. The present study examined the influence of age and gender on coping with loneliness. Seven hundred and eleven participants from all walks of life volunteered to answer an 86 item yes/no questionnaire, reflecting on the beneficial coping strategies, which they have used to deal with the pain of loneliness. Four age groups were compared: youth (13-18 years old), young adults (19-30 years old), adults (31-58 years old) and seniors (60-80 years old). Within and between gender comparisons were also done. Results revealed that loneliness is approached and dealt with more effectively by the adult group, and that women appear to cope better than men do with loneliness.
Being alone does not necessarily mean being lonely. Loneliness may entail geographical aloneness or social isolation, but more than that it reflects the aversive and painful experience of not belonging, not feeling connected to others, or valued by them (Russell, et al., 1984; West, Kellner & Moore-West, 1986). Aloneness, if it is planned, wanted or welcomed could result in solitude which may enhance one's knowledge of one's self, and be a path to greater meaning (Andre, 1991). Loneliness, in contrast, is a painful experience that is commonly not embraced and which has consequences that are detrimental to one's emotional, physical, and spiritual well being (Ernst & Cacioppo, 1998; McWhirter, 1990).
Recent studies suggest that a large proportion of the population feel lonely frequently (Rokach & Brock 1995). Ornish (1998) stated at the very beginning of his book Love & Survival: "Our survival depends on the healing power of love, intimacy, and relationships. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. As individuals. As communities. As a culture. Perhaps even as a species." (p. 1). And indeed, loneliness has been linked to depression, anxiety, and interpersonal hostility (Hansson et al., 1986), to an increased vulnerability to health problems (Jones et al., 1990), and even to suicide (Cutrona, 1982).
Rook (1988) observed that loneliness results from the interaction of person factors and situational constrains. That interaction is closely associated with the changing circumstances, which one encounters growing up--from cradle to grave.
Adolescence has been described as a period of "storm and stress" (Arnett, 1999). It is a difficult period of life (Buchanan et al., 1990) characterized by conflicts with parents (Lawson, Coy & Collins, 1998), mood disruption including extreme emotions (Larson & Richards, 1994), increased substance abuse (Johnston, O'Malley & Bachman, 1994), heavy reliance on peers and vulnerability to peer pressure (Arnett, 1999) and risky behavior (Arnett, 1999) which was described by Hall (1904) as "a period of semicriminality" (Vol. 1, p. 404).
Young adulthood is a period, which in some way accentuates the changes that the adolescent has encountered (Hatcher, Trussell, Stewart & Stewart, 1994) but it lacks the sharp mood swings and frequent conflicts which are characteristics of the youth. During their 20's young adults in the Western culture break away from their family and prepare themselves for life vocationally, academically, and socially (Coon, 1992). Around the age of 30 many people experience a minor life crisis (Coon, 1992). Questions about the essence of life and the wavering assurance about previous choices are at the heart of that crisis. Adults during their third to fifth decades often strive to reach the height of their vocational experience (Coon, 1992), attend to their nuclear family as well as family of origin and experience the birth, growth, and striving for independence of their offspring (Steinberg & Levine, 1997; Smetana, 1988) as well as deal with "the daily hassles of life" (Arnett, 1999). Middle age is characterized by declining vigor, strength, and youthfulness (Coon, 1992), as well as letting go of one's unrealistic dreams and aspirations. While women experience menopause, men pass through a climacteric, and so both genders experience physiological changes (Coon, 1992). The elderly frequently suffer from a variety of chronic ailments (Roy, 1986), death of friends or a spouse (Rabasca, 1999), and social isolation to varying degrees (Delisle, 1988).
Those changing circumstances, life events, and opportunities undoubtedly effect the manner in which people experience, evaluate, and cope with life's demands. It therefore stands to reason that the essence of the experience of loneliness [as well as the manner in which different age groups approach and cope with it] would differ at various stages in life (Rokach & Brock, 1998).
The present study is, in essence, a phemomenologically based study. Rather than be diagnostic in nature and attempt to measure levels and intensity of coping with loneliness (as others have done), it aims at understanding, explaining, and highlighting the strategies used to cope with loneliness in the different stages of the lifecycle.
Seven hundred and eleven participants volunteered to answer the loneliness questionnaire. Seventy percent of the sample were men and 30% were women. The sample was recruited in urban Canadian centres. In an attempt to overcome the methodological difficulty of other studies which relied solely on college students (see Vincenzi & Grabosky, 1987), participants were recruited from all walks of life (see Procedure for a more detailed description).
The average age of all participants was 32.26 years with ages ranging between 13 to 80. The mean level of education (i.e., last grade completed) was 11.56 with a range of formal education reported to be of 1 to 20. Fifty-six percent of the participants were single, 23% married, and 21% have had a relationship but were no longer in it due to separation, divorce, or death of a spouse. Table 1 provides a more detailed breakdown of gender, age, education, and marital status within each age group.
TABLE 1 Demographics Population [N.sup.11] Single Youth 106 98 (93%) men 43 37 (40%)(11) women 63 61 (60%) Young Adult 255 181 (71%) men 191 129 (75%) women 64 52 (25%) Adults 314 113 (36%) men 248 99 (79%) women 66 14 (21%) Seniors 36 3 (8%) men 19 1 (53%) women 17 2 (47%) Total 711 395 (56%) men 501 (70%) women 210 (30%) Population Martial Status Divorced/ Married Separated Widowed Youth 1 4 (0.9%) (4%) men 1 2 women 0 2 [MATHEMATICAL EXPRESSION NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Young Adult 53 20 (21%) (8%) men 43 18 women 10 2 [MATHEMATICAL EXPRESSION NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Adults 96 105 (31%) (33%) men 68 81 women 28 24 [MATHEMATICAL EXPRESSION NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Seniors 12 21 (33%) (59%) men 10 8 women 2 13 [MATHEMATICAL EXPRESSION NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Total 162 150 (23%) (21%) men [MATHEMATICAL EXPRESSION NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] women [MATHEMATICAL EXPRESSION NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Population Education M SD …