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Have Middle-Aged and Older Americans Become Lonelier? 20-Year Trends from the Health and Retirement Study

Version 3 2024-06-19, 23:03
Version 2 2024-06-03, 02:17
Version 1 2023-12-19, 03:26
journal contribution
posted on 2024-06-19, 23:03 authored by DL Surkalim, PJ Clare, Robbie EresRobbie Eres, K Gebel, A Bauman, D Ding
Abstract Objectives Despite media and public dialog portraying loneliness as a worsening problem, little is known about how the prevalence of loneliness has changed over time. Our study aims to identify (a) temporal trends in episodic and sustained loneliness (lonely in 1 wave vs consistently lonely in 3 consecutive waves); (b) trends across sociodemographic subgroups by sex, race/ethnicity, birth cohort, education, employment status, marital status, and living alone; and (c) longitudinal predictors of loneliness in middle-aged and older Americans (≥50 years). Methods Based on Waves 3 (1996) to 14 (2018) of the Health and Retirement Study (n = 18,841–23,227), we conducted a series of lagged mixed-effects Poisson regression models to assess trends of episodic and sustained loneliness in the overall and sociodemographic subgroup samples (by sex, race/ethnicity, birth cohort, education, employment, relationship, and living alone status). To examine the predictors of episodic and sustained loneliness, we used a multivariate mixed-effects Poisson regression model with all sociodemographic variables entered into the same model. Results Episodic loneliness prevalence decreased from 20.1% to 15.5% and sustained loneliness from 4.6% to 3.6%. Trends were similar across most subgroups. Males, Caucasians, those born in 1928–1945, with university education, working, married/partnered, and those not living alone reported lower episodic and sustained loneliness, although associations with sustained loneliness were stronger. Discussion Contrary to common perceptions, loneliness has decreased over 20 years of follow-up in middle-aged and older Americans. Several sociodemographic subgroups have been identified as having a higher risk of loneliness, prompting targeted public health attention.

History

Journal

Journals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences

Volume

78

Pagination

1215-1223

Location

Oxford, Eng.

ISSN

1079-5014

eISSN

1758-5368

Language

eng

Publication classification

C1.1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Editor/Contributor(s)

Schafer M

Issue

7

Publisher

Oxford University Press (OUP)