S5.7 Loneliness in old age: cross-national comparative perspectives
Chair: Frederica Nyqvist
The prevalence of loneliness varies between various groups of older people in society and differs across nations. When it comes to the situation in Europe, the focus of our symposium, a north-south gradient in loneliness has been found, so that southern European countries tend to report higher levels of loneliness as compared to northern countries. Further, higher levels of loneliness have also been found in Eastern Europe as compared to West European countries. The aim of the symposium is to present research findings based on analyses of empirical cross-national data.
S5.7.1 Loneliness amongst older people in Europe: a comparative study of welfare
Fredrica Nyqvist1, Mikael Nygård1, Thomas Scharf2
1 Åbo Akademi University, Vaasa, Finland, 2 Newcastle University, UK
Aim: To assess the association between relevant sociodemographic, social and health-related factors and the absence of loneliness in five different welfare regimes. By incorporating welfare state regimes as a proxy for the impact of cultural, political and economic factors, we expand the micro-level model of loneliness suggesting that besides individual characteristics, welfare state characteristics are also important protective factors against loneliness. Methods: The data source is from the European Social Survey, ESS round 7, 2014, from which we analysed 11,389 individuals aged 60 and over from 20 countries. The association between sociodemographic, social and health variables and the absence of loneliness was analysed by using multivariate logistics regression treating the welfare regime variable as a fixed effect. Results: Our study revealed that the Nordic as well as Anglo-Saxon and Continental welfare regimes performed better than the Southern and Eastern regimes when it comes to absence of loneliness. The interaction terms in our final analyses showed that the association between welfare state regimes and absence of loneliness was not independent of the included background variables and the effects of the sociodemographic, social and a health variable varied across different social protection systems. Conclusions: We conclude that the understanding of loneliness is linked to the social policy systems of particular countries.
S5.7.2 Late-Life Loneliness in 11 European Countries: Results from the Generations
and Gender Survey
Thomas Hansen, Britt Slagsvold
NOVA, OsloMet – Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway
Aim: This study explores country differences in late-life loneliness in Europe among men and women and establishes the role of micro-level differences in socioeconomic status, health, and social variables in these patterns. Methods: We use cross-sectional, nationally representative data from the Generations and Gender Survey. The analysis comprises 33,832 Europeans aged 60–80 from 11 countries. A six-item short version of the de Jong-Gierveld Scale is used to measure loneliness, yet we employ a different method of calculating loneliness scores than in prior work. Results: Findings show considerable between-country heterogeneity in late-life loneliness, especially among women. The rate of a quite severe level of loneliness is 30–55 % among men and women in Eastern Europe, compared with 10–20 % among their peers in Western and Northern Europe. Loneliness is strongly associated with lower socioeconomic status, poorer health, and not having a partner. More than half of the country variance in loneliness is mediated by health, partnership status, and socioeconomic disparities across countries. Differences in societal wealth and welfare and cultural norms may account for some of the unexplained country variance in loneliness. Conclusions: Findings reveal a “East-West” divide in late-life loneliness in Europe. In many former socialist countries, between a third and half of the older population is lonely, many more than the 10–20% who are lonely in northwestern Europe. Inequalities in socioeconomic resources, health, and social factors explain part of this variation. Sociopolitical context and cultural norms may also play an important role.
S5.7.3 Loneliness trajectories: comparison of European countries
Christina Victor, Jitka Pikhartova
Brunel University London, UK
Aim: This study explores country level differences in loneliness trajectories in Europe and compares the importance of different loneliness predictors in explaining the range of loneliness trajectories. Methods: We use 10 countries from the SHARE portfolio, where loneliness was included in 3 consecutive waves of the study (2011-2015), and the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (2010-2014). Loneliness was measured using the 3 item UCLA scale in both data sets and respondents were categorised as being lonely (scores 7-9), on the verge of loneliness (5-6) and not lonely (3-4). 6+ defined as lonely. We defined 5 loneliness trajectories: those who were always or never lonely; those who moved into or out of loneliness and those with a ’fluctuating’ pattern. Widowhood, health status, social networks, household size and age/gender are the predictive factors used in the analysis. Results: Findings demonstrate considerable heterogeneity in loneliness trajectories. The proportion of never lonely ranges from 63% (Italy) to 90% (Denmark) and the always lonely from 8% (England) to 1% (Austria). Those developing loneliness over the follow up period ranged from 14.5 (Italy) to 1.3% (Denmark) and those recovering from loneliness from 2.4 (Switzerland) to 8% (England, Italy and Belgium. The importance of widowhood in predicting loneliness is strongest in Italy and lowest in Denmark. Across all countries health status is the most dominant predictor of loneliness. Conclusion: Longitudinal trajectories vary across Europe but do not demonstrate a classic ‘north v south’ divide. The importance of widowhood as a risk marker for loneliness varies across countries. The identification of the group who fluctuate in and out of loneliness and those on the verge of loneliness are important as these may be the groups that might be able to benefit most from interventions.
S5.7.4 Is living alone “ageing alone”? A critical examination of living arrangements and
availability of kin for old-age support
Tineke Fokkema1,2, Maja Djundeva2, Pearl A. Dykstra2
1 Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI), 2 Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Objectives: The dominant focus of policy makers and agamic research when examining vulnerability and well-being of older adults is on living alone. Previous literature consistently neglects the availability of other kin sources of support outside of the household. We investigate living arrangements by including proximity of non-coresident kin to show cross-national differences in individual resources and well-being. Cross-national differences in housing opportunities, the institutionalization of care, and life course expectations about living arrangements offer a nuanced view why in certain social contexts adults living alone fare better than in others. Method: The study documents sociodemographic characteristics (e.g. education, health, wealth), next to depression and loneliness of older adults with different living arrangements in 24 European countries using data from the Gender and Generation Survey and the Survey of Health and Retirement in Europe, supplemented with national-level information on housing, residential care, and norms of intergenerational coresidence. Results: Across countries most adults living alone have kin in close proximity, and are less disadvantaged than portrayed in previous literature. Living alone is reserved for the wealthier and healthier, those who outlived close kin, and is more prevalent in older cohorts compared to recent ones, and in North-Western compared to South-Eastern European countries. Higher availability of professional support at the national level correlates