Resolving the cultural loneliness paradox of choice: The role of cultural norms about individual choice regarding relationships in explaining loneliness in four European countries

Luzia Heu*, Nina Hansen, Martijn van Zomeren

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
31 Downloads (Pure)


Do cultural norms that allow individuals to choose their social relationships put them at risk for, or protect them from, loneliness? After all, more freedom to choose whom to relate to may promote that individuals can choose higher-quality relationships (which protects from loneliness), but it may also imply a higher risk of social isolation (which puts at risk for loneliness). We propose that the solution to this cultural loneliness paradox of choice is to distinguish whether more individual choice flows from cultural norms that provide more opportunities for new relationships (as implied by higher relational mobility; higher RMn), or from cultural norms that allow to leave established relationships (as implied by lower relational stability; lower RSn). Specifically, we suggest that more individual choice protects from loneliness when emerging from higher RMn (which allows to establish new higher-quality relationships), but puts at risk for loneliness when emerging from lower RSn (which increases the risk of social isolation by undermining the stability of established relationships). Findings from two cross-sectional survey studies in four European countries (Study 1: Finland, N = 237; Portugal, N = 261; Study 2: Poland, N = 242; Austria, N = 2 41) supported this line of thought: Higher RMn was consistently related to lower loneliness across all samples, and lower RSn was related to higher loneliness in two out of four samples (and either non-significantly related to higher loneliness or unrelated to it in the other two samples). We discuss the importance and implications of differentiating RMn and RSn to resolve the cultural loneliness paradox of choice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2053-2072
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Social and Personal Relationships
Issue number7
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - 1-Jul-2021

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