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Loneliness and the exchange of social support among older adults in Spain and the Netherlands

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 September 2012

Department of Developmental and Educational Psychology, University of Salamanca, Spain.
Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute, The Hague, The Netherlands Faculty of Social Sciences, VU University, Amsterdam.
Department of Developmental and Educational Psychology, University of Salamanca, Spain.
Address for correspondence: Jenny De Jong Gierveld, Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (Nidi), Lange Houtstraat 19, 2511 CV The Hague, The Netherlands. E-mail:


Previous research has shown that exchanges of support within social networks reduce the loneliness of older adults. However, there is no consistent evidence on how types of support (instrumental and emotional) and the direction of that support (giving and receiving) are related to loneliness, and whether the effects are culture-specific. The aim of this study was to investigate support exchanges and their effects on loneliness in Spain and the Netherlands. We suggest that cultural differences, such as more interdependent cultural values in Southern Europe and more independence-related values in Northern Europe, influence social realities such as the social support exchanged. In Spain relationships with family members are determined by mutual obligations; older people expect to receive instrumental support from them. However, in Northern Europe independence is highly valued and intimacy and closeness are shown primarily by confiding about personal matters. This paper examined data from two comparable surveys, one in Spain (N=646) and one in the Netherlands (N=656). Older adults in Spain provide for, and receive, high amounts of instrumental support and this proved to be a protective factor against loneliness. An alternative pattern was found in the Netherlands where respondents provided more and received more emotional support than Spanish older adults; emotional support is a protective factor in the Netherlands (but only for support received).

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