Who do you think is lonelier - adults in their mid to late 40s or adults age 70 and older? One might surmise that the older folks have experienced more loss of loved ones, diminished physical or mental abilities and/or are less active, which could lead to increased loneliness. Counter to what many people think, folks ages 45-49 are lonelier than those 70 years and older according to our research (43% vs. 25%, respectively). In fact, older people are happier than younger folks. In our recent happiness research, people experienced their lowest levels of happiness in their early 50s, and their happiness steadily increased with age.
In the later stages of life, people concentrate on enjoying the simple things in life, and with age comes understanding and a graceful acceptance of loss.
But clearly some people manage these inevitable losses that occur with each passing year better than others. Being around people helps, as married people are less likely to be lonely (29%) vs. those never married (51%). People with higher incomes are less likely to experience loneliness as well, but then they have the resources to travel to maintain long distance friendships.
In our recent happiness research, people experienced their lowest levels of happiness in their early 50s, and their happiness steadily increased with age.
Being single, I believe having a few deep friendships is extremely important and proximity may play a part. My best friend from college lives on the West Coast and I am on the East Coast, so while we email each other we don't spend time together to "just hang out." And when a close friend from my former employer moved to Iowa, I was devastated. However, because I am active in my community, I have worked to make new and deep friendships with those close by, which was not easy living in a town with mostly "married with kids."
We all bear responsibility to address this issue of loneliness as we age. This will happen to all of us in varying degrees as time passes. I am sure many older folks in failing health and with more limited resources feel marginalized and invisible in a culture that worships youth and vitality. It is up to all of us to reach out to our older neighbors and invite them for a walk, go to their house with a baked good or something from the garden and shovel their drive when it snows. It is up to us to make sure they are not forgotten.
Check out our fact sheet below to see more factors that contribute to loneliness among older adults.
More Research from AARP:
Loneliness Among Older Adults: A National Survey of Adults 45+
Beyond Happiness: Thriving
More on Becky: Becky is the Senior Vice President of AARP Research, and is focused on fostering understanding of the interests and concerns of people age 50-plus and their families. Before coming to AARP, Becky served as the Vice President of Global Market Research & Guest Satisfaction for Starwood Hotels & Resorts. In her spare time, she likes visiting her niece in Ohio, gardening and collecting American art and antiques.