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The older, the lonelier? Risk factors for social loneliness in old age

  • LEEN HEYLEN (a1)


Loneliness is often associated with old age, but many studies have shown that the relationship is not straightforward. This paper seeks a better understanding of the impact of social isolation on feelings of loneliness among older people, by building on the theoretical and actual distinction between social and emotional loneliness. Social loneliness refers to a lack of feelings of social integration; emotional loneliness emerges in the absence of an attachment figure. This paper focuses on social loneliness and has two aims, first to disentangle the direct and intermediate effects of both the number and the quality of social relationships on social loneliness in old age, and second to detect the groups at risk of social loneliness by identifying which personal features correspond with which relational deficits and therefore indirectly increase the risk on social loneliness. Data are analysed for a sample of 1,414 respondents aged 55 or more years drawn from the Panel Study of Belgian Households conducted in 2000. The results confirm that improved understanding is gained by decomposing the interrelation between age and other background features, on the one hand, and the social relational features, on the other, as indirect and direct predictors of social loneliness. Generally, this approach promotes a correct identification of the groups at risk of social loneliness in old age.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Leen Heylen, Universiteit Antwerpen, Faculteit Politieke en Sociale Wetenschappen, Sint-Jacobstraat 2, 2000Antwerpen, Belgium E-mail:


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The older, the lonelier? Risk factors for social loneliness in old age

  • LEEN HEYLEN (a1)


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