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The COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacted the social lives of older adults across several areas, leading to concern about an increase in loneliness. This study examines the associations of structural, functional, and quality aspects of social connection with increased loneliness during COVID-19 and how these associations vary by sociodemographic factors.
Secondary data analyses on a nationally representative survey of older US adults.
The 2020 Health and Retirement Study (HRS) COVID-19 module.
The study sample includes 3,804 adults aged 54 or older.
Increased loneliness was based on respondents’ self-report on whether they felt lonelier than before the COVID-19 outbreak.
While 29% felt lonelier after COVID-19, middle-aged adults, women, non-Hispanic Whites, and the most educated were more likely to report increased loneliness. Not having enough in-person contact with people outside the household was associated with increased loneliness (OR = 10.07, p < .001). Receiving emotional support less frequently (OR = 2.28, p < .05) or more frequently (OR = 2.00, p < .001) than before was associated with increased loneliness. Worse quality of family relationships (OR = 1.85, p < .05) and worse friend/neighbor relationships (OR = 1.77, p < .01) were related to feeling lonelier. Significant interactions indicated stronger effects on loneliness of poor-quality family relationships for women and insufficient in-person contact with non-household people for the middle-aged group and non-Hispanic Whites.
Our findings show an increase in loneliness during COVID-19 that was partly due to social mitigation efforts, and also uncover how sociodemographic groups were impacted differently, providing implications for recovery and support.
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