Article Text

Download PDFPDF

Loneliness, social isolation and social relationships: what are we measuring? A novel framework for classifying and comparing tools
  1. Nicole K Valtorta1,
  2. Mona Kanaan1,
  3. Simon Gilbody1,
  4. Barbara Hanratty2
  1. 1Department of Health Sciences, University of York, Heslington, York, UK
  2. 2Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
  1. Correspondence to Nicole K Valtorta; nicole.valtorta{at}


Objectives We present a novel way of classifying and comparing measures of social relationships to help readers interpret the growing literature on loneliness and social isolation and to provide researchers with a starting point to guide their choice of measuring tool.

Methods Measures of social relationships used in epidemiological studies were identified from two systematic reviews—one review on the association between social relationships and health and social care service use, and a second review on the association between social relationships and health. Questions from each measure were retrieved and tabulated to derive a classification of social relationship measures.

Results We present a classification of measures according to two dimensions: (1) whether instruments cover structural or functional aspects of social relationships and (2) the degree of subjectivity asked of respondents. We explain how this classification can be used to clarify the remit of the many questionnaires used in the literature and to compare them.

Conclusions Different dimensions of social relationships are likely to have different implications for health. Our classification of social relationship measures transcends disciplinary and conceptual boundaries, allowing researchers to compare tools that developed from different theoretical perspectives. Careful choice of measures is essential to further our understanding of the links between social relationships and health, to identify people in need of help and to design appropriate prevention and intervention strategies.

  • social relationships
  • social epidemiology
  • loneliness

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt and build upon this work, for commercial use, provided the original work is properly cited. See:

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.