Is loneliness in later life a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Aging Ment Health. 2016;20(5):543-9. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2015.1023767. Epub 2015 Mar 25.


Objectives: There are many stereotypes about ageing and later life. We looked at the association between expectations and stereotyping of loneliness in old age and actual self-reported loneliness status 8 years later in English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).

Method: Data from 4465 ELSA core members aged over 50 who responded to Waves 2 (2004) did not report loneliness in Wave 2, and responded to loneliness questions at least once between Waves 3 and 6 (2006-2012) were used in multivariable repeated measures logit regression analysis to estimate relationship between perceived stereotypes and expectation of loneliness in older age and actual loneliness reported within 8 years of follow-up.

Results: Twenty-four per cent of respondents from the analytical sample agreed at Wave 2 that old age is time of loneliness and 33% expected to be lonely in old age. Loneliness was reported by 11.5% of respondents at Waves 3-6. Both stereotypes and expectation were significantly associated with later reported loneliness (OR 2.65 (95% CI 2.05-3.42) for stereotypes and 2.98 (95% CI 2.33-3.75) for expectations in age-sex adjusted analysis). Both variables significantly predicted future loneliness even when socio-demographic circumstances were taken into account and both variables were mutually adjusted although the effect was reduced (OR's 1.53 (95% CI 1.16-2.01) for stereotypes and 2.38 (95% CI 1.84-3.07) for expectations).

Conclusions: Stereotypes and expectations related to loneliness in the old age were significantly associated with reported loneliness 8 years later. Interventions aimed at changing age-related stereotypes in population may have more impact on reducing loneliness than individually based services.

Keywords: ELSA; age-stereotypes; expectation; loneliness.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Loneliness / psychology*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Marital Status
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality of Life / psychology*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Social Support
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stereotyping

Grant support

This work was supported by Economic and Social Research Council UK as part of the Secondary Data Analysis Initiative [grant number ES/K004077/1].