Correlates of social and emotional loneliness in older people: evidence from an English community study

Aging Ment Health. 2014 May;18(4):504-14. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2013.856863. Epub 2013 Nov 19.


Objectives: Loneliness is an important influence on quality of life in old age and has been conceptualised as consisting of two dimensions, social and emotional. This article describes analyses that sought to produce models of social and emotional loneliness in older people, using demographic, psychological and health, and social variables.

Method: Older people (aged 65+, n=1255) from the Barnsley metropolitan area of the United Kingdom were recruited randomly from within a stratified sampling frame and received a questionnaire-based interview (response rate: 68.1%). The questionnaire contained items and scales on demographic, psychological and health, and social characteristics, and a validated measure of loneliness that assesses both social and emotional loneliness.

Results: Of the respondents, 7.7% were found to be severely or very severely lonely, while another 38.3% were moderately lonely. Social and emotional loneliness shared 19.36% variance. Being male, being widowed, low well-being, low self-esteem, low-income comfort, low contact with family, low contact with friends, low activity, low perceived community integration, and receipt of community care were significant predictors of social loneliness (R=0.50, R2=0.25, F(18, 979)=18.17, p<0.001). Being widowed, low well-being, low self-esteem, high activity restriction, low-income comfort, and non-receipt of informal care were significant predictors of emotional loneliness (R=0.55, R2=0.30, F (18, 973)=23.00, p<0.001).

Conclusion: This study provides further empirical support for the conceptual separation of emotional and social loneliness. Consequently, policy on loneliness in older people should be directed to developing a range of divergent intervention strategies if both emotional and social loneliness are to be reduced.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Community Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • England / epidemiology
  • Family Relations
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Loneliness / psychology*
  • Male
  • Residence Characteristics / statistics & numerical data
  • Self Concept
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Isolation / psychology*
  • Social Support
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Widowhood / psychology
  • Widowhood / statistics & numerical data