Background: Loneliness is an important public health issue associated with mortality and morbidity. Often researched amongst older people, less is known about risk factors for loneliness among adults aged 50-64 years who are in work. We investigated (a) if exit from the workforce increases the odds of loneliness; (b) whether adverse psychosocial work factors are associated with increased odds of loneliness over 2 years of follow-up; and (c) whether the association is stronger among subjects still working compared with those who have exited the workforce.
Methods: Data came from the Health and Employment After Fifty (HEAF) study, a large population cohort who provided questionnaire information about work and health at baseline and 2 annual follow-ups. Logistic regression was used to explore the association between psychosocial risk factors and loneliness at follow-up 2, with adjustment for loneliness at baseline, sex, age, self-rated health, living alone, and mental health diagnosis.
Results: Of the initial 8134 participants, 4521 were working at baseline and provided data for this analysis. Of those, 507 (11.2%) were defined as lonely at 2 years' follow-up. Exiting the workforce was not significantly associated with loneliness (OR = 1.1, 95%CI: 0.7-1.7). However, negative psychosocial work factors predicted loneliness at follow-up. After mutual adjustment, lack of choice at work (OR: 1.5, 95%CI: 1.1-1.9), often lying awake worrying about work (OR: 1.4, 95%CI: 1.0-1.9) and perceived not coping with physical demands of the job (OR: 1.3, 95%CI: 1.0-1.7) were independent predictors, with associations robust to adjustment for demographic factors and health. Associations were only slightly altered when we restricted the sample to those who remained in work until the end of follow-up.
Conclusions: Loneliness amongst middle-aged working adults is not predicted by permanent work exit but is predicted by individuals' perceptions about their work. Provision of good-quality work, matched to the capacity of the older worker, could prevent loneliness.
Keywords: Loneliness; Older workers; Perceived work quality; Psychosocial work factors; Retirement.