Home Male Psychology Older Men Less Likely to Admit Loneliness Than Older Women, Study Finds

Older Men Less Likely to Admit Loneliness Than Older Women, Study Finds

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A recent study has revealed that older men are less likely than older women to admit feelings of loneliness, even when they exhibit similar scores on loneliness scales. John Ratcliffe, Paul Galdas, and Mona Kanaan conducted research on the sex differences in loneliness among older adults in England using data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). The findings, published in BMC Public Health, offer new insights into the complex ways that gender influences loneliness and social isolation in later life.

The study utilised a sample of 6,936 respondents aged 50 and above from wave 8 of ELSA. To manage missing data, the researchers employed multiple imputation with chained equations and applied multivariate regression to investigate the impact of sex on loneliness. They controlled for the University of California Loneliness (UCLA) scale to ensure accuracy.

The results indicated that older men are less likely to report loneliness directly, even when their UCLA scores suggest otherwise. This discrepancy is attributed to cultural ideals of masculinity, which discourage men from expressing vulnerability. The researchers also found a significant association between loneliness and alcohol consumption in older men, but this was only apparent when assessing the number of alcohol units consumed in the past week rather than over the past year. Older men living with a partner reported lower levels of loneliness compared to cohabiting older women. Conversely, previously married but not cohabiting older men were lonelier than their female counterparts, whereas never-married older men were less lonely than never-married older women.

The study also discovered that the quality of friendships played a crucial role in mediating loneliness for older men. Men with poorer quality friendships were more reliant on their partners for social support, and this dependency increased their risk of loneliness if the partnership ended. Severe isolation predicted greater loneliness in older women but did not have the same effect on older men, suggesting that isolated older men might underreport their loneliness or manage it differently.

These findings highlight the need for gender-sensitive approaches in addressing loneliness among older adults. Traditional measures of loneliness may not accurately reflect men’s experiences due to their reluctance to admit such feelings. The study suggests using indirect measures, like the UCLA scale, which might provide a more accurate picture of older men’s loneliness. Additionally, the strong link between alcohol consumption and loneliness in older men suggests that interventions aimed at reducing alcohol misuse could also help alleviate loneliness in this demographic.

The study also underscores the importance of improving the quality of friendships among older men. Community programmes such as “Men’s Sheds” that focus on building social connections and fostering supportive friendships could be particularly beneficial. These initiatives can help older men develop better social networks and reduce their reliance on partners for emotional support.

The study’s results are consistent with qualitative research and findings from other cultural contexts, but they also highlight the unique aspects of loneliness among older men in England. For instance, the findings suggest that older men who have never married and do not cohabit may have developed resilience to loneliness, differing significantly from other men who are more reliant on spousal relationships.

Future research should continue to explore the intersection of loneliness, social isolation, and mental health among older adults. Longitudinal studies could provide more insights into how these dynamics evolve over time. Additionally, investigating the impact of other variables, such as ethnicity and socioeconomic status, could offer a more comprehensive understanding of loneliness in diverse older populations.

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