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The midlife years – generally ages 40 to 65 – bring with them a plethora of challenges, from the health effects of aging and the financial stressors of trying to make ends meet to raising kids and caring for older family members in a time of unprecedented mental health concerns. Now, new research is documenting what many of us have been experiencing firsthand: Middle-aged Americans are lonelier than similar-aged people in countries of similar wealth, such as England and in Mediterranean Europe.

But loneliness isn’t simply an unsatisfactory condition or state of mind: Research shows that loneliness is bad for our health, with effects comparable to the dangers of smoking, explains Frank J. Infurna, an associate professor of psychology at Arizona State University. The U.S. surgeon general brought wider attention to the epidemic of loneliness and its related health effects in a 2023 report.

“The desire to belong is an innate and fundamental need,” Infurna writes. “When this is lacking, it can have downstream consequences.”

More research is needed to understand what factors are behind this trend, Infurna writes, but the high psychological cost of our individualist society and limited social safety nets in the U.S. are likely major drivers of middle-aged Americans’ loneliness.

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Amanda Mascarelli

Senior Health and Medicine Editor

The desire to belong is a fundamental human need. Oliver Rossi/Stone via Getty Images

Loneliness can kill, and new research shows middle-aged Americans are particularly vulnerable

Frank J. Infurna, Arizona State University

The need to connect is fundamental. But diminishing social ties and community support are contributing to the loneliness epidemic.

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