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Loneliness, Stress, and Social Support in Young Adulthood: Does the Source of Support Matter?

Abstract

Social support protects individuals against adversity throughout the lifespan, and is especially salient during times of intense social change, such as during the transition to adulthood. Focusing on three relationship-specific sources of social support (family, friends, and romantic partners), the current study examined the stress-buffering function of social support against loneliness and whether the association between social support and loneliness with stress held constant would vary by its source. The role of gender in these associations was also considered. The sample consisted of 636 ethnically diverse college youth (age range 18–25; 80 % female). The results suggest that the stress-buffering role of social support against loneliness varies by its source. Only support from friends buffered the association between stress and loneliness. Further, when stress was held constant, the association between social support and loneliness differed by the sources, in that support from friends or romantic partners (but not from family) was negatively associated with loneliness. Regarding gender differences, the adverse impact of lower levels of familial or friends’ support on loneliness was greater in females than in males. This research advances our understanding of social support among college-aged youth; implications of the findings and directions for future research are discussed.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Jose Miguel Rodas for help with data collection.

Author Contributions

C.Y.S.L. conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination, performed the measurement and statistical analysis, interpreted the data, and drafted the manuscript; S.G. participated in the design, performed the measurement, interpreted the data, and helped to draft the manuscript. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Chih-Yuan Steven Lee.

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Lee, CY.S., Goldstein, S.E. Loneliness, Stress, and Social Support in Young Adulthood: Does the Source of Support Matter?. J Youth Adolescence 45, 568–580 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-015-0395-9

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Keywords

  • Gender differences
  • Loneliness
  • Multiple additive moderation
  • Social support
  • Stress
  • Young adulthood