A growing generation of older men is facing a future of increased isolation. Meanwhile, the number of older men aged 65+ living alone is projected to rise by 65% between now and 2030. That’s according to new research conducted by Independent Age and the International Longevity Centre – UK (ILC-UK), which shows that:
• The number of older men living alone is expected to rise from 911,000 to 1.5 million by 2030.
• Older men are more socially isolated than older women.
• Older men have significantly less contact with their children, family and friends than older women.
• The number of older men outliving their partners is expected to grow.
One year on from Jeremy Hunt’s speech where he called loneliness among older people “a national shame” – Isolation: The Emerging Crisis for Older Men is a comprehensive new report exploring the experiences of older men who are socially isolated or lonely in England.
The research is based on the latest data from the English Longitudinal Study on Ageing (ELSA), interviews with older men, focus groups and existing research.
In England, in 2012/2013, over 1.2 million men aged over 50 reported a moderate to high degree of social isolation. 710,000 men aged over 50 reported a high degree of loneliness.
In the report, loneliness is defined as a subjective perception in which a person feels lonely. Social isolation broadly refers to the absence of contact with other people.
The new research reveals that older men report significantly less social contact with children, family members and friends than older women. Almost 1 in 4 older men, 23%, have less than monthly contact with their children, and nearly 1 in 3, 31%, have less than monthly contact with other family members. For women the figures are 15% and 20% respectively. Also 1 in 3 older men without a partner are the most isolated, compared to over 1 in 5 women (37% v 23%).
The report looks at the importance of partnerships and examines how older men’s social networks tend to decline after the death of a partner. It calls on men to take steps to prevent isolation and loneliness and recommends action that government, charities and service providers can take to better address the needs of older men.
Janet Morrison, Chief Executive of Independent Age, said:
“It’s alarming to think there are growing numbers of lonely older men who may be facing a future alone and without proper support. This new evidence suggests men and women experience social isolation and loneliness in different ways.
“In general, men rely more heavily on their partner to remain socially connected. When their partner dies, often a man’s social life shrinks.
“Our new research highlights the importance of social contact to older men. Poor physical and mental health is much more likely for the most socially isolated and lonely men. In terms of medical services, the evidence shows that older men are less likely to seek help or ask for support. And it’s already known that men are 30% more likely to die after being recently widowed.
“We would welcome more research into the kinds of services that would attract older men to remain more connected to those around them in later life. Sometimes services such as lunch clubs and coffee mornings while providing a very valuable function, may be designed with the social preferences of women in mind rather than the purposeful activity that men may prefer. We also want the government to follow up on their promise and develop a new measure to capture the extent of loneliness across the population as a whole.”
Baroness Sally Greengross, Chief Executive of ILC-UK, said:
“Too many older men continue to experience social isolation and loneliness in later life. While we should encourage men to plan better for retirement, we must also accept that many of our services simply don’t work for men.
“Health services and GPs can play an important role in outreach by identifying patients most at risk and providing support in partnership with the voluntary sector. Other statutory bodies should also work with the voluntary sector to develop low-cost innovations to encourage older men to support each other through the creation of clubs and other social programmes.
“Professional bodies should also consider creating post-retirement clubs for their workforce, particularly in male-dominated industries. These could have the potential to keep older men socially connected in post-work life, as well as offering support at certain later life events, such as widowhood, that can impact older men’s exposure to isolation and loneliness.”