The relationship between wealth and loneliness among older people across Europe: Is social participation protective?

Prev Med. 2016 Oct;91:24-31. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2016.07.016. Epub 2016 Jul 26.


Objective: 1. Examine the relationship between household wealth, social participation and loneliness among older people across Europe. 2. Investigate whether relationships vary by type of social participation (charity/volunteer work, sports/social clubs, educational/training course, and political/community organisations) and gender. 3. Examine whether social participation moderates the association between wealth and loneliness.

Methods: Data (N=29,795) were taken from the fifth wave of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), which was collected during 2013 from 14 European countries. Loneliness was measured using the short version of the Revised-University of California, Los Angeles (R-UCLA) Loneliness Scale. We used multilevel logistic models stratified by gender to examine the relationships between variables, with individuals nested within countries.

Results: The risk of loneliness was highest in the least wealthy groups and lowest in the wealthiest groups. Frequent social participation was associated with a lower risk of loneliness and moderated the association between household wealth and loneliness, particularly among men. Compared to the wealthiest men who often took part in formal social activities, the least wealthy men who did not participate had greater risk of loneliness (OR=1.91, 95% CI: 1.44 to 2.51). This increased risk was not observed among the least wealthy men who reported frequent participation in formal social activities (OR=1.12, 95% CI: 0.76 to 1.67).

Conclusion: Participation in external social activities may help to reduce loneliness among older adults and potentially acts as a buffer against the adverse effects of socioeconomic disadvantage.

Keywords: Ageing; Europe; Inequality; Loneliness; Social capital; Social conditions; Social isolation; Socioeconomic factors; Wellbeing.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Europe
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Loneliness / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retirement / economics*
  • Social Participation / psychology*
  • Socioeconomic Factors