Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

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)

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. (
Hide All

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).

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

T.C. Antonucci , & H. Akiyama (1987). An examination of sex differences in social support among older men and women. Sex Roles, 17, 737749.

J. de Jong Gierveld (1998). A review of loneliness: Concept and definitions, determinants and consequences. Reviews in Clinical Gerontology, 8, 7380.

J. de Jong Gierveld , & F. Kamphuis (1985). The development of a Rasch-type loneliness scale. Applied Psychological Measurement, 9, 289299.

E. DiTomasso , & B. Spinner (1993). The development and initial validation of the social and emotional loneliness scale for adults (SELSA). Personality and Individual Differences, 14, 127134.

P.A. Dykstra (1993). The differential availability of relationships and the provision and effectiveness of support to older adults. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 10, 355370.

P.A. Dykstra (1995). Loneliness among the never and formerly married: The importance of supportive friendships and a desire for independence. Journals of Gerontology Social Sciences, 50b, S321S329.

M.J. Essex , & S. Nam (1987). Marital status and loneliness among older women: The differential importance of close family and friends. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 49, 93106.

W.R. Gove , & H.-C. Shin (1989). The psychological well-being of divorced and widowed men and women: An empirical analysis. Journal of Family Issues, 10, 122144.

W.R. Gove , C.B. Style & M. Hughes (1990). The effect of marriage on the well-being of older adults: A theoretical analysis. Journal of Family Issues, 11, 435.

J.F. Gubrium (1974). Marital desolation and the evaluation of everyday life in old age. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 36, 107113.

C.S. Henry , & S.G. Lovelace (1995). Family resources and adolescent family life satisfaction in remarried family households. Journal of Family Issues, 16, 765786.

M.F. Lowenthal , & C. Haven (1968). Interaction and adaptation: Intimacy as a critical variable. American Sociological Review, 33, 2030.

R.M. Milardo (1987). Changes in social networks following divorce: A review. Journal of Family Issues, 8, 7896.

B.L. Neugarten (1969). Continuities and discontinuities of psychological issues into adult life. Human Development, 12, 121130.

A. Peters , & A.C. Liefbroer (1997). Beyond marital status: Partner history and well-being in old age. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 59, 687699.

C. Rosenthal (1985). Kinkeeping in the familial division of labor. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 47, 965974.

L. Thomson , & A.J. Walker (1989). Gender in families: Women and men in marriage, work and parenthood. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 51, 845871.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Canadian Journal on Aging / La Revue canadienne du vieillissement
  • ISSN: 0714-9808
  • EISSN: 1710-1107
  • URL: /core/journals/canadian-journal-on-aging-la-revue-canadienne-du-vieillissement
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 12 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 462 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 24th June 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.