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Conclusion

There is a good deal of interest in the loneliness of older people in New Zealand. Much less attention has been given to examining variations in loneliness across age groups. Young adults may experience loneliness differently to those in midlife or older people, and therefore the appropriate response to designing interventions will be different for each.

This analysis shows that there is a statistically significant association between the age of adult New Zealanders and the likelihood they have felt lonely in the last four weeks. Loneliness demonstrates a linear distribution, with adults aged under 30 years experiencing the highest levels of loneliness. Older people experienced the lowest levels of loneliness.

Poor mental health is strongly associated with loneliness for all age groups. For those in later life, economic standard of living is more strongly associated with loneliness than it is for young adults or those in midlife. Being a recent migrant is associated with loneliness only for people in midlife. Living alone was associated with loneliness for young adults and those in midlife but not for older people. This indicates that different factors may contribute to vulnerability (or protect) against loneliness at different stages of life and suggests that preventative strategies or interventions that reflect these variations need to be considered.

Loneliness and social isolation are different concepts. Loneliness is a subjective measure of the difference between desired and achieved levels in the quality and quantity of social contact. Social isolation objectively describes the absence of social contact with family, friends, and the community. It should be noted that findings for social isolation could be quite different to those presented in this report. It is likely that there are reasons why some people feel lonely despite having lots of contact with family and friends, and on the other hand, reasons why some people don’t feel lonely despite limited social contact. This is a possible area for further research.

ISBN 978-0-478-40826-3 (online)
Published 23 April 2013

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