Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 45, Issue 7, pp 1350–1365 | Cite as

Loneliness and Ethnic Composition of the School Class: A Nationally Random Sample of Adolescents

  • Katrine Rich Madsen
  • Mogens Trab Damsgaard
  • Mark Rubin
  • Signe Smith Jervelund
  • Mathias Lasgaard
  • Sophie Walsh
  • Gonneke G.W.J.M. Stevens
  • Bjørn E. Holstein
Empirical Research


Loneliness is a public health concern that increases the risk for several health, behavioral and academic problems among adolescents. Some studies have suggested that adolescents with an ethnic minority background have a higher risk for loneliness than adolescents from the majority population. The increasing numbers of migrant youth around the world mean growing numbers of heterogeneous school environments in many countries. Even though adolescents spend a substantial amount of time at school, there is currently very little non-U.S. research that has examined the importance of the ethnic composition of school classes for loneliness in adolescence. The present research aimed to address this gap by exploring the association between loneliness and three dimensions of the ethnic composition in the school class: (1) membership of ethnic majority in the school class, (2) the size of own ethnic group in the school class, and (3) the ethnic diversity of the school class. We used data from the Danish 2014 Health Behaviour in School-aged Children survey: a nationally representative sample of 4383 (51.2 % girls) 11–15-year-olds. Multilevel logistic regression analyses revealed that adolescents who did not belong to the ethnic majority in the school class had increased odds for loneliness compared to adolescents that belonged to the ethnic majority. Furthermore, having more same-ethnic classmates lowered the odds for loneliness. We did not find any statistically significant association between the ethnic diversity of the school classes and loneliness. The study adds novel and important findings to how ethnicity in a school class context, as opposed to ethnicity per se, influences adolescents’ loneliness.


Loneliness Adolescents Ethnic composition Diversity Multilevel analyses School class 



The authors thank Dr. Pernille Due from the National Institute of Public Health, University of Southern Denmark, for access to the data set.

Authors’ Contributions

KRM conceived the study, its design, the statistical analyses, the interpretation of data, coordination and drafted the manuscript; MTD participated in the design, the statistical analyses and the interpretation of data; MR, SSJ, SW and GS participated in the interpretation of the data, revised it critically for important intellectual content and helped to draft the manuscript. BH participated in acquisition of data, the study design, interpretation of data, in revising it critically for important intellectual content and in drafting the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


This work was supported by the Nordea Foundation under Grant 02-2011-0122. The funders have had no influence on study design, data collection, analyses, interpretation of results, or writing of the manuscript.

Conflicts of interest

The authors report no conflict of interests.

Ethical Approval

The study complies with national guidelines regarding ethical standards and data protection and is registered at the Danish Data Protection Agency (J. No. 2013-54-0576). There is no agency for ethical approval of population-based survey studies in Denmark.

Informed Consent

There is no official request for formal consent from parents in anonymous surveys. Therefore, we did not obtain written informed consent from parents or schoolchildren. Instead, we asked the school principal, the school board representing the parents, and the board of schoolchildren representing the schoolchildren in each of the participating schools for approval of the study. We informed the participants orally and in writing that the data collection was anonymous and voluntary. We did not collect information about name or other personal identification of the schoolchildren.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katrine Rich Madsen
    • 1
  • Mogens Trab Damsgaard
    • 1
  • Mark Rubin
    • 2
  • Signe Smith Jervelund
    • 3
  • Mathias Lasgaard
    • 4
    • 5
  • Sophie Walsh
    • 6
  • Gonneke G.W.J.M. Stevens
    • 7
  • Bjørn E. Holstein
    • 1
  1. 1.National Institute of Public HealthUniversity of Southern DenmarkCopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.School of PsychologyThe University of NewcastleNewcastleAustralia
  3. 3.Department of Public Health, Section for Health Services ResearchUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  4. 4.Public Health and Quality ImprovementCentral Denmark RegionÅrhusDenmark
  5. 5.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Southern DenmarkOdenseDenmark
  6. 6.Department of CriminologyBar Ilan UniversityRamat GanIsrael
  7. 7.Utrecht Centre for Child and Adolescent StudiesUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands

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