Understanding Society Scientific Conference 2019 - , University of Essex

Loneliness in widowhood: who and how?

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Day:Tue 2 Jul
  • Claryn Kung, Monash University

Loneliness is at the top of public health agendas in a number of developed countries, given evidence on the negative links with health outcomes including cardiovascular disease, depression, health care utilisation, and ultimately higher mortality. Loneliness is particularly prevalent among the elderly, although comparable rates have recently been revealed among adolescents and young adults below 25y. Among the elderly, the second largest risk factor (after poor mental health) for loneliness is widowhood: widowed individuals are at least seven times more likely than their married counterparts to report being frequently lonely. 

Using the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey, this paper advances the understanding of loneliness among widowed individuals. Applying fixed-effects models on a sample of widowed individuals (218 males, 539 females) and matched controls, we find the increase in loneliness in widowhood to be larger among males than females: even after two years the impact of widowhood among males is still around twice that among females. Among males, quantity and quality of social engagements do not change during the time before or after widowhood, whereas females show a slight decrease in quantity of engagements before widowhood, and a larger, lasting increase in quantity post-widowhood. Such insights regarding adaptation, changes in quality and quantity of social engagements, and further heterogeneity by death expectations, socioeconomic status, and personality types are important to inform cost-effective interventions for preventing or reducing loneliness in this high-risk group, which constitutes nearly 25% of the Australian population above 70y (17% across England and Wales).