Cross-national differences in older adult loneliness

J Psychol. 2012 Jan-Apr;146(1-2):201-28. doi: 10.1080/00223980.2011.631612.


Loneliness concerns the subjective evaluation that the number of relationships is smaller than the individual considers desirable or that the intimacy that the individual wishes for has not been realized. The aim of this study was to assess variations in levels of late-life loneliness and its determinants across Europe. Data came from the SHARE surveys, Wave 2 (Borsch-Supan et al., 2008), encompassing adults aged 50 years and over in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland (N = 12,248). Loneliness was measured by a single item derived from the CES-D (depression) scale. Using logistic models, the present authors tested several types of explanations for country differences: differences in demographic characteristics, wealth and health, and social networks. Older adults in the southern and central European countries were generally lonelier than their peers in the northern and western European countries. In the southern and central European countries, loneliness was largely attributable to not being married, economic deprivation, and poor health. Frequent contacts with parents and adult children, social participation, and providing support to family members were important in preventing and alleviating loneliness in almost all countries. To combat loneliness among older adults, the findings suggest both (a) generic approaches aimed at improving social embeddedness and (b) country-tailored approaches aimed at improving health and wealth.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Demography
  • Europe / ethnology
  • Female
  • Health / ethnology*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Loneliness / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Social Support*
  • Socioeconomic Factors