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Gender and Marital-History Differences in Emotional and Social Loneliness among Dutch Older Adults*

  • Pearl A. Dykstra (a1) and Jenny de Jong Gierveld (a1) (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 March 2010

In this study, Weiss's (1973) theorizing about the sources of emotional and social loneliness is elaborated – with notions about the asymmetric gratifications derived from marriage, about the conflicting loyalties that result from remarriage, and about selection into marriage – in order to reach an understanding of gender differences in loneliness, both in and outside of marriage. First and subsequent marriages are considered, as well as marital disruptions and never marrying. The data (N = 3737) are from the 1992 Dutch survey on older adults' living arrangements and social networks (NESTOR-LSN). Marital-history differences emerge, not only for emotional loneliness, but also (and contrary to Weiss's theoretical conceptualizations) for social loneliness. The marital-history differences in emotional and social loneliness are greater among men than women. For men, the marriage bond appears not only to be more central to emotional well-being than is the case for women but also to play a pivotal role in their involvement with others. Marital history offers the best explanation for differences in emotional loneliness among men, but social embeddedness characteristics also account for differences in emotional loneliness among women. Apparently, whereas men are more likely to find an intimate attachment in marriage, women also find protection from emotional loneliness in other close ties. The marital-history differences in social loneliness are largely mediated by social embeddedness characteristics, partly in different ways for men and women. Involvement in activities outside the home serves as the context for sociability for men, whereas parenthood plays a more important role in women's social engagements.


Dans cette étude, l'auteur développe la théorie émise par Weiss en 1973 sur les sources de la solitude affective et sociale; il étudie les gratifications asymétriques tirées du mariage, les conflits de loyauté liés au remariage et le choix d'un conjoint, pour comprendre les différences qui existent entre les femmes et les hommes face à la solitude dans le mariage et hors du mariage. Il examine les premiers mariages et remariages, ainsi que les perturbations matrimoniales et le célibat. Les données (N = 3737) sont tirées d'un sondage effectué aux Pays-Bas en 1992 sur les conditions de logement et les réseaux sociaux des aînés (NESTOR-LSN). Les antécédents conjugaux influent non seulement sur la solitude affective, mais aussi (au contraire de ce qu'indiquent les conceptualisations théoriques de Weiss) sur la solitude sociale. Les antécédents conjugaux influent davantage sur la solitude affective et sociale des hommes que des femmes. Être marié semble plus essentiel au bien-être affectif des hommes et joue un rôle central dans leurs rapports avec les autres. Les antécédents conjugaux expliquent le mieux les différences notées chez les hommes face à la solitude affective, et l'intégration sociale les différences relevées chez les femmes sur ce plan. Il semblerait que les hommes soient plus enclins à trouver un attachement intime dans le mariage, et que les femmes se protègent de la solitude affective en entretenant des liens étroits avec d'autres personnes. L'impact des antécédents conjugaux face à la solitude sociale dépendent pour une large part de l'intégration sociale, et s'expriment, en partie, de façon différente chez les hommes et chez les femmes. La sociabilité des hommes consiste à participer à des activités en dehors du foyer, tandis que celle des femmes passe davantage par leur rôle de mère.

Corresponding author
Requests for offprints should be sent to: / Les demandes de tirés-à-part doivent être adressées à : Pearl A. Dykstra, NIDI, Postbox 11650, 2502 AR Den Haag, The Netherlands. (
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This study is based on data collected in the context of “Living Arrangements and Social Networks of Older Adults” (NESTOR-LSN), a research program conducted at the department of Sociology and Social Gerontology of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam and the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI) in The Hague. The program was funded by NESTOR, the Netherlands Program for Research on Ageing, with subsidies from the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sciences. This manuscript was written while the first author was a fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIAS).

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Canadian Journal on Aging / La Revue canadienne du vieillissement
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