Almost 1 in every 4 older men has less than monthly contact with their children and 1 in 5 have less than monthly contact with friends.
Some of the reasons for loneliness in old age are well-established – the loss of a partner, declining health and mobility, families who live far away… And if men have based their social networks around work, retirement can result in a sudden drop in social contact. Of course, many women are also lonely in old age, but men tend to be more reliant on their wife or partner to keep up family and social networks. This leaves them more at risk of loneliness if they are bereaved.
For our research, we used data from the well-respected English Longitudinal Study on Ageing. For my work as a researcher, this is a fantastic source of information on all sorts of aspects of older people’s lives. Around 10,000 older people give up time to answer questions for this hugely detailed survey, and it’s remarkable that many of them have been taking part every two years since it started in 2002.
There are three different ways people are asked about loneliness in the survey: how often they feel a lack of companionship; how often they feel left out; and how often they feel isolated from others. Reflecting on these questions put me in mind of a recent conversation I had over coffee with a neighbour who has just celebrated his 90th birthday. For him, feeling he belongs to the local community is simple – it’s when he walks down to the local shops and lots of people stop him to say hello.
In our report, there are some fantastic examples of projects already working with older men to create new social connections through shared interests and hobbies. The challenge now for researchers is to develop the evidence that is needed to show which local initiatives make a real difference in tackling loneliness.
By Sue Arthur, Policy and Research Manager.