Malgorzata Mikucka
Loneliness among older adults in Poland. What triggers it and what are the social differences?

Conference "Harmonized longitudinal data on social structure: Polish research in a cross-national perspective", Warsaw, December 01st to December 02nd, 2021

Despite evidence of worrisome levels of loneliness among elderly in Eastern European countries, longitudinal studies of the topic remain scarce. This paper fills in this gap, providing new empirical evidence for elderly people (60+) in Poland. The analysis proposes a dual perspective to study loneliness. First, it accounts for the dynamic aspect and describes changes associated with ageing and identifies triggers and inhibitors of old age loneliness. Second, it explores the relationship between the person-specific baseline loneliness and socio-economic disadvantage experienced over the life course. The analysis uses POLPAN data for years 2008, 2013, and 2018 and loneliness measure included in the Nottingham Health Profile (NHP), so called social isolation dimension. The analysis relies on longitudinal regression models with individual fixed intercepts to study triggers of loneliness, and on cross-sectional OLS regression to analyse the relationship with socio-economic disadvantage. The results showed that loneliness in Polish population was stable during the midlife but increased during old age. For women the increase began around the age of 60, whereas for men it started a decade later. Life transitions fully explained these trajectories. Widowhood and divorce were powerful triggers of loneliness among the younger old, whereas the changes of number of friends, health, retirement status, or economic situation played a minor role. The potential inhibitors of loneliness were important in the midlife but less so during old age. The factors affecting loneliness among the oldest old were poorly captured by the models. Disadvantaged socio-economic position, including, to some extent, characteristics of family of origin, put people at greater risk of loneliness during old age. Low education and experiencing economic problems during adulthood correlated with an elevated risk of being lonely. The paper contributes to the literature by providing new empirical evidence for an Eastern European country. It shows specific patterns of loneliness (earlier onset than in Western countries) and different pattern of predictors (mainly, great importance of family situation).