Compensatory Connections? Living Alone, Loneliness, and the Buffering Role of Social Connection Among Older American and European Adults

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2022 Aug 11;77(8):1550-1560. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbab217.


Objectives: The growth of solo living has important implications for the rising "loneliness epidemic" among older adults. This study considered whether 2 forms of social connectedness-extra-household core discussion networks and social participation-buffer the loneliness associated with living alone.

Method: Our study used data from 2 surveys (National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project; Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe) encompassing 20 developed Western countries in 2009/2010 and 2015/2016 (n = 110,817). Harmonizing measures across data sets, we estimated survey-specific and pooled longitudinal regression models with interaction terms.

Results: High levels of social connectedness only moderately buffered the loneliness associated with living alone in later life. Findings were largely consistent across regions of Europe and the United States, though the buffering patterns were most robustly identified for widowed solo dwellers.

Discussion: Extra-household connections are partial compensators, but do not seem to fully replace the ready companionship afforded by residential copresence in later life. Future research is needed to understand whether the efficacy of compensatory connections differs by gender, race/ethnicity, and across more diverse global regions.

Keywords: Cross-cultural study; Living arrangements; Loneliness; Social networks.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging
  • Home Environment*
  • Humans
  • Loneliness*
  • Retirement
  • Social Participation
  • United States / epidemiology