Loneliness, social support, and social networks: urban–rural variation and links to wellbeing in Scotland

Emily Long*, Meigan Thomson, Jelena Milicev, Claire Goodfellow, Srebrenka Letina, Sara Bradley, Mark McCann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aim: Social relationships are key public health priorities, with their relevance to wellbeing amplified in recent years. Relationships are embedded within the wider environment in which they occur; however, we lack understanding of whether, and how, places may affect social relationships. This study utilises an urban vs rural framework to examine variation in three specific aspects of relationships (loneliness, social support, and social networks), and their links to wellbeing. 

Subjects and method: Cross-sectional social network data, collected in Scotland in 2021 (N = 191), was used. Bivariate comparisons tested for differences in loneliness, social support, and social networks between urban and rural participants. Multivariable regression tested for associations between each construct and wellbeing, and interaction effects assessed differences in associations between the urban and rural locations. 

Results: Urban participants had higher levels of loneliness and poorer wellbeing, even though reported levels of social support didn’t differ. After adjusting for sociodemographic characteristics, loneliness, social support, and perceived emotional closeness of social networks were all associated with levels of wellbeing. There was no evidence that these associations differed between participants in urban and rural areas. 

Conclusion: Overall, findings highlight key place-based differences that inform the design of efforts to promote social connectivity and enhance wellbeing. Given that urban residents had lower wellbeing and higher levels of loneliness, coupled with evidence demonstrating the importance of close, supportive social relationships, intervention efforts that promote social connectivity in urban environments are particularly needed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number02236
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Public Health: From Theory to Practice
Issue number00
Early online date25 Mar 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Mar 2024


  • Rural
  • Social network
  • Urban
  • Wellbeing


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