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Lonely old men
03 July 2009
Professor Bo Malmberg and Professor Gerdt Sundström at the School of Health Sciences in Jönköping, Sweden have studied loneliness among older people.
A common stereotype about older people is that loneliness is typical for older women, rather than for older men. One problem with this stereotype is that feelings of loneliness are not particularly common among either men or women in the Nordic countries.
“Some studies show a lower prevalence among women and some a lower among men. We use several national and local surveys to analyze gender differences in perceived loneliness. Longitudinal surveys, which enable us to analyze changes during ageing,”, says Bo Malmberg and Gerdt Sundström
Older people who still live at home in communities in Scandinavian welfare states are either married or living alone, with the latter group reporting more of a sense of loneliness. Two marriages out of three end in the death of the husband, and if marital status is excluded from the equation, most of the differences in loneliness between the genders disappear.
Yet, in the 80+ age group, (the few) men who live alone report a higher frequency of loneliness than women in the same category. At that age, most men are still married, but most women are living alone. These patterns are even more pronounced in the 90+ age group.
“We interpret the results as the outcome of selection mechanisms and that they may reflect male-female differences in marital adaptation. Those men who survive and live alone are more often from a working-class background and in poor health, while women who live alone are socially and health-wise a more heterogeneous group”, says Bo Malmberg and Gerdt Sundström.
There may also be a difference in marital background, colouring the way men and women see their situation: men more often have had their wives as their only confidant, whereas women have a wider social network and may even see their new solitary life as a relief.