Academic journal article Demographic Research

Living Arrangements, Intergenerational Support Types and Older Adult Loneliness in Eastern and Western Europe

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Living Arrangements, Intergenerational Support Types and Older Adult Loneliness in Eastern and Western Europe

Article excerpt



Previous research has shown that living arrangements (independent households of those living alone or as a couple, versus coresident households encompassing adult children) are important determinants of older adults' loneliness. However, little is known about intergenerational support exchanges in these living arrangements and their associations with loneliness.


Our aim is to contribute to the knowledge on associations between living arrangements and loneliness, by taking into account and differentiating intergenerational support types.


Using data from the Generations and Gender Surveys of three countries in Eastern Europe and two countries in Western Europe, Latent Class Analyses was applied to develop intergenerational support types for (a) co-residing respondents in Eastern Europe, (b) respondents in independent households in Eastern Europe, and (c) respondents in independent households in Western Europe, respectively. Six types resulted, distinguishing patterns of upward support, downward support and get-togethers. Subsequently, we used linear regression analyses to examine differences in loneliness by region, living arrangements and intergenerational support type.


Findings show higher levels of loneliness in Eastern than in Western Europe. Older adults living alone are most lonely, older adults living with a partner are least lonely. Coresidence provides protection, but not to the same degree as a partner. In both co-resident and independent households there is a greater likelihood of being involved in support given to adult children than in support received from adult children. In both East and West European countries, older adults who are primarily on the receiving side are most lonely.


A better explanation of older adult loneliness is obtained if the direction of supportive exchanges with adult children is considered than if only living arrangements are considered.

1. Introduction

The classic volume on old age by Rosow (1967), and his observation that the most significant problems of older adults are intrinsically social, forms the starting point of the present paper. What factors contribute to older adults' integration in society? People are socially integrated when their lives are tied to the lives of others, a process that is strongly shaped by work, family, and neighborhood roles. At work, people interact with colleagues, clients and others. Over the years, shared conversations and experiences contribute to a sense of belongingness in the work setting as well as the society at large (Hagestad and Uhlenberg 2006). Marriage tends to provide feelings of emotional connectedness (De Jong Gierveld et al. 2009; Waite and Gallagher 2000), but differently so for men and women (Dykstra and De Jong Gierveld 2004). As Chodorow (1978) has argued, men tend to rely on their spouses for support, whereas women are socialized to have more complex affective needs in which an exclusive relationship with a spouse is not enough. Children serve as bridges to new social circles for their parents through involvements at daycare, school, clubs, sports, and the local community (Dykstra 2006; Furstenberg 2005).

In this paper we focus on social integration as a subjective experience. More specifically, we address feeling not socially integrated; that is, feeling lonely. Perlman and Peplau (1981: 38) define loneliness as "the unpleasant experience that occurs when a person's network of social relations is deficient in some important way, either quantitatively or qualitatively." Loneliness needs to be differentiated from social isolation. The latter is an objective situation and refers to the absence of relationships with other people (Cornwell and Waite 2009). Loneliness is a subjective and negative experience, the outcome of the evaluation of the match between the quantity and quality of existing relationships and one's relationship desires or standards. …

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