Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

Age and loneliness in 25 European nations

  • KEMING YANG (a1) and CHRISTINA VICTOR (a2)

Abstract

The relationship between age and loneliness is intriguing. While loneliness has been widely perceived as a problem of old age, there is evidence suggesting that adolescence is the peak age for experiencing loneliness and there are demonstrable variations between nations in reported rates of loneliness. However, comparative data for examining both the prevalence of loneliness across age groups and across nations are sparse. As the first phase of a larger project, we explore the prevalence of loneliness across different age groups in 25 European nations, with a focus on people of an advanced age. After discussing issues of comparability, we present our empirical findings employing data collected in the third round (2006–07) of the European Social Survey (total sample size 47,099, age range 15–101) which included a ‘self-rating’ loneliness scale. Our results suggest that the prevalence of loneliness does increase with age for the combined sample. However, the nation in which one lives shows a greater impact than age on reported levels of loneliness, with Russia and Eastern European nations having the highest proportions of lonely people (about 10–34% for different age groups) and Northern European nations the lowest (mostly below 6%). Possible explanatory factors are identified and discussed, which provides the groundwork of a subsequent and formal study.

Copyright

Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Keming Yang, School of Applied Social Sciences, University of Durham, Durham DH1 3HN, UK. E-mail: keming.yang@durham.ac.uk

References

Hide All
Anderson, L. 1998. Loneliness research and interventions: a review of the literature. Ageing and Mental Health, 2, 4, 264–74.
Ayis, S., Gooberman-Hill, R. and Ebrahim, S. 2003. Long-standing and limiting illness in older people: associations with chronic diseases, psychological and environmental factors. Age and Ageing, 32, 3, 265–72.
Berkman, L. F. and Syme, S. L. 1979. Social networks, host resistance, and mortality: a nine year follow-up study of Alameda County residents. American Journal of Epidemiology, 109, 2, 186204.
Billiet, J., Koch, A. and Philippens, M. 2007. Understanding and improving response rates. In Jowell, R., Roberts, C., Fitzgerald, R. and Eva, G. (eds), Measuring Attitudes Cross-nationally: Lessons from the European Social Survey. Sage, London, 113–38.
Börsch-Supan, A., Hank, K. and Jürges, H (eds)2005. A new comprehensive and international view on ageing: introducing the new ‘Survey on Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe’. European Journal of Ageing, 2, 4, 245–53.
Bowling, A. 2005. Ageing Well: Quality of Life in Old Age. Open University Press, Maidenhead, UK.
Brucan, Silviu. 1998. Social Change in Russia and Eastern Europe: From Party Hacks to Nouveaux Riches. Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut.
Burholt, V. 2010. Loneliness in rural areas. Paper presented at the British Society of Gerontology 39th Annual Conference, Brunel University, Uxbridge, UK.
Cattan, M., White, M., Bond, J. and Learmouth, A. 2005. Preventing social isolation and loneliness among older people: a systematic review of health promotion interventions. Ageing & Society, 25, 1, 4167.
Concannon, L. 2009. Developing inclusive health and social care policies for older LGB citizens. British Journal of Social Work, 39, 3, 403–17.
Daatland, S. O. 2007. The comparative ambition. European Journal of Ageing, 4, 2, 93–5.
de Jong Gierveld, J. 1987. Developing and testing a model of loneliness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 1, 119–28.
de Jong Gierveld, J. 1998. A review of loneliness: concepts and definitions, causes and consequences. Reviews in Clinical Gerontology, 8, 1, 7380.
de Jong Gierveld, J. 2006. Societal trends and lifecourse events affecting diversity in later life. In Daatland, S. O. and Biggs, S. (eds), Ageing and Diversity: Multiple Pathways and Cultural Migrations. The Policy Press, Bristol, UK, 175–88.
ElSadr, C. B., Noureddine, S. and Kelley, J. 2009. Concept analysis of loneliness with implications for nursing diagnosis. International Journal of Nursing Terminologies and Classifications, 20, 1, 2533.
Ernst, J. M. and Cacioppo, J. T. 1999. Lonely hearts: psychological perspectives on loneliness. Applied and Preventive Psychology, 8, 1, 122.
Fernández-Ballesteros, R. 2007. Methodological and theoretical cultivation in cross- European research on ageing. European Journal of Ageing, 4, 2, 97–100.
Grundy, E. 2006. Ageing and vulnerable elderly people: European perspectives. Ageing & Society, 26, 1, 105–34.
Häder, S. and Lynn, P. 2007. How representative can a multi-nation survey be? In Jowell, R., Roberts, C., Fitzgerald, R. and Eva, G. (eds), Measuring Attitudes Cross-nationally: Lessons from the European Social Survey. Sage, London, 3351.
Harkness, J. 2002. Questionnaire translation. In Harkness, J. A., van de Vijver, F. J. R. and Mohler, P. P. (eds), Cross-cultural Survey Methods. WileyBlackwell, Oxford, 3556.
Harkness, J. 2007. Improving the comparability of translations. In Jowell, R., Roberts, C., Fitzgerald, R. and Eva, G. (eds), Measuring Attitudes Cross-nationally: Lessons from the European Social Survey. Sage, London, 7993.
Hawkley, L. C. and Cacioppo, J. T. 2010. Loneliness matters: a theoretical and empirical review of consequences and mechanisms. Annals of Behavioural Medicine, 40, 2, 218–27.
Hedström, P. and Swedberg, R. 1998. Social Mechanisms: An Analytical Approach to Social Theory. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Heikkinen, R.-L. 1999. Mood problems and changes in an eight-year follow-up study among elderly persons living in Jyväskylä, Finland. In Suutama, T., Ruoppila, I. and Laukkanen, P. (eds), Changes in Functional Abilities Among Elderly People: Findings from an Eight-year Follow-up Study by the Evergreen Project. KELA (Sosiaali-ja terveysturvan tutkimuksia 42), Helsinki, 117–32.
Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B. and Layton, J. B. 2010. Social relationships and mortality risk: a meta-analytic review. PLoS Med, 7, 7, e1000316. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316.
Hopkins, D. and King, G. 2010. Improving anchoring vignettes: designing surveys to improve interpersonal incomparability. Public Opinion Quarterly, 74, 2, 201–22.
Johnson, D. P. and Mullins, L. C. 1987. Growing old and lonely in different societies: toward a comparative perspective. Journal of Cross-cultural Gerontology, 2, 3, 257–75.
Jylhä, M. 2004. Old age and loneliness: cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses in the Tampere Longitudinal Study on Aging. Canadian Journal on Aging, 23, 1, 157–68.
Jylhä, M. and Jokela, J. 1990. Individual experience as cultural – a cross-cultural study on loneliness among the elderly. Ageing & Society, 10, 3, 295315.
King, G., Murry, C., Salomon, J. and Tandon, A. 2004. Enhancing the validity and cross- cultural comparability of measurements in survey research. American Political Science Review, 98, 1, 191207.
Luanaigh, C. O. and Lawlor, B. A. 2008. Loneliness and the health of older people. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 23, 12, 1213–21.
Mental Health Foundation 2010. The Lonely Society. The Mental Health Foundation, London.
National Council on Aging 2006. Summary of the Survey on Attitudes to Age (March, 2000). Available online at http://www.ncoa.org/content.cfm?sectionID=105&detail=43.
Patterson, A. C. and Veenstra, G. 2010. Loneliness and risk of mortality: a longitudinal investigation in Alameda County, California. Social Science and Medicine, 71, 1, 181–6.
Paul, C., Ayis, S. and Ebrahim, S. 2006. Psychological distress, loneliness and disability in old age. Psychology, Health & Medicine, 11, 2, 221–32.
Perlman, D. and Peplau, L. A. 1981. Toward a social psychology of loneliness. In Gilmour, R. and Duck, S. (eds), Personal Relationships: Personal Relationships in Disorder. Academic Press, London, 3156.
Perlman, D. and Russell, D. 2004. Loneliness and health: mental and physical. In Anderson, N. (ed.), Encyclopaedia of Health and Behaviour. Volume 2, Sage, Newbury Park, California, 585–9.
Rook, K. S. 1988. Toward a more differentiated view of loneliness. In Duck, S. W. (ed.), Handbook of Personal Relationships. Wiley, Chichester, UK, 571–81.
Rotenberg, K. J. and MacKie, J. 1999. Stigmatization of social and intimacy loneliness. Psychological Reports, 84, February, 147–8.
Samuelsson, G., Andersson, L. and Hagberg, B. 1998. Loneliness in relation to social, psychological and medical variables over a 13-year period: a study of the elderly in a Swedish rural district. Journal of Mental Health and Aging, 4, 3, 361–78.
Saris, W. E. and Gallhofer, I. 2007 a. Can questions travel successfully? In Jowell, R., Roberts, C., Fitzgerald, R. and Eva, G. (eds), Measuring Attitudes Cross-nationally: Lessons from the European Social Survey. Sage, London, 5377.
Saris, W. E. and Gallhofer, I. 2007b. Design, Evaluation, and Analysis of Questionnaires for Survey Research. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester, UK.
Scharf, T. and de Jong Gierveld, J. 2008. Loneliness in urban neighbourhoods: an Anglo-Dutch comparison. European Journal of Ageing, 5, 2, 103–15.
Science Daily. 2007. 18 August. ‘Loneliness is Bad for Your Health’. URL: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070617130107.htm.
Shute, N. 2008. Why Loneliness is Bad for Your Health: A Conversation with John Cacioppo, Author of a New Book on the Need for Social Connection. Available online at http://health.usnews.com/articles/health/2008/11/12/why-loneliness-is-bad-for-your-health.html.
Stack, S. 1998. Marriage, family and loneliness: a cross-national study. Sociological Perspectives, 41, 2, 415–32.
Sundström, G., Fransson, E., Malmberg, B. and Davey, A. 2009. Loneliness among older Europeans. European Journal of Ageing, 6, 4, 267–75.
Tesch-Römer, C. and von Kondratowitz, H.-J. 2006. Comparative ageing research: a flourishing field in need of theoretical cultivation. European Journal of Ageing, 3, 3, 155–67.
Tijhuis, M. A. R., de Jong Gierveld, J., Feskens, E. J. M. and Kromhout, D. 1999. Changes in and factors related to loneliness in older men: the Zutphen elderly study. Age and Ageing, 28, 5, 491–5.
Townsend, P. 1968. Isolation and loneliness. In Shanas, E., Townsend, P., Wedderburn, D., Friis, H., Milhoj, P. and Stehouwer, J. (eds), Old People in Three Industrial Societies. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 258–87.
van Tilburg, T., Havens, B. and de Jong Gierveld, J. 2004. Loneliness among older adults in the Netherlands, Italy, and Canada: a multi faceted comparison. Canadian Journal on Aging, 23, 2, 169–80.
Victor, C., Scambler, S. and Bond, J. 2009. The Social World of Older People: Understanding Loneliness and Social Isolation in Later Life. Open University Press, Maidenhead, UK.
Victor, C. R., Scambler, S. J., Bond, J. and Bowling, A. 2000. Being alone in later life: loneliness, isolation and living alone in later life. Reviews in Clinical Gerontology, 10, 4, 407–17.
Victor, C. R., Scambler, S. J., Shah, S., Cook, D. G., Harris, T., Rink, E. and de Wilde, S. 2002. Has loneliness amongst older people increased? An investigation into variations between cohorts. Ageing & Society, 22, 1, 113.
Victor, C. R. and Scharf, T. 2005. Social isolation and loneliness. In Walker, A. (ed.), Understanding Quality of Life in Old Age. Open University Press, Maidenhead, UK, 100–16.
Walker, A. 1993. Age and Attitudes: Main Results from a Eurobarometer Survey. Commission of the European Communities.
Walker, A. and Multby, T. 1997. Ageing Europe. Open University Press, Buckingham, UK.
Weiss, R. S. 1973. Loneliness: The Experience of Emotional and Social Isolation. MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Weiss, R. S. 1982. Issues in the study of loneliness. In Peplau, L. and Perlman, D. (eds), Loneliness: A Source Book of Current Theory, Research and Therapy. Wiley, New York, 7180.
Wenger, G. C. 1984. The Supportive Network: Coping with Old Age. George Allen and Unwin, London.
Wilson, R. S., Krueger, K. R., Arnold, S. E., Schneider, J. A., Kelly, J. F., Barnes, L. L., Tang, Y. and Bennett, D. A. 2007. Loneliness and risk of Alzheimer Disease. Archives of General Psychiatry, 64, 2, 234–40.
Yang, K. and Victor, C. 2008. The prevalence of and risk factors for loneliness among older people in China. Ageing & Society, 28, 3, 305–27.

Keywords

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed