New study about loneliness among elderly in Europe

Loneliness can be an unpleasant and distressful emotional state when an individual perceives an imbalance between the actual amount of social relationships and contacts and the amount he or she would wish for. Feelings of loneliness has been portrayed as a major health, well-being and mortality risk factor in previous psychological and sociological research. Loneliness can pose a health burden that is equivalent to several risky behaviors related to health such as smoking, alcohol and physical inactivity, especially among older individuals. While there are studies that have focused on loneliness amongst older adults in various contexts, there are limited evidence on the demographic, health and social patterns of loneliness from a cross-national perspective.

It is essential to identify the factors that are related to loneliness in order to recognize individuals who are at an increased risk of feeling lonely, and to be able to develop strategies to alleviate loneliness. This was the motivation behind a new study aimed at examining the prevalence of loneliness in a nationally representative sample of European older adults (65 years of age and older). The study was based on the first wave of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) that took place between 2004 and 2005 in eleven European countries.

The study showed that women were more likely to feel lonely most of or some of the time as compared to men, and feelings of loneliness seemed to be more common amongst the older ages. The prevalence of loneliness differed significantly between households with different income levels as well as between individuals with different educational attainment levels, with less affluent and less educated individuals being more likely to report frequent feelings of loneliness. The proportion of individuals who declared feeling lonely most of the time compared to none of the time was significantly higher among southern Europeans relative to their Northern counterparts. The proportion of those who reported experiencing frequent feelings of loneliness was also significantly greater among individuals suffering from more than one severe health condition as compared to their healthy counterparts. Furthermore, loneliness was significantly more frequently experienced by individuals who were widowed, whose children had recently moved out of the parental home, those who did not have any children and those who were living without a partner or a spouse.

Based on the findings from the study, the authors of the article suggest that loneliness among older adult Europeans is associated with age-specific adverse health conditions, stressful life events and social isolation indicators. They argue that health and social professionals should consider the importance of loneliness when doing health and psychological assessments. The issue is equally important for health and social policy makers involved in the development of interventions aimed at reducing levels of loneliness to improve well-being and quality of life in older life.

The text above is based on the publication:

Vozikaki, M., Papadaki, A., Linardakis, M., and A. Philalithis. 2018. Loneliness among older European adults: Results from the survey of health, aging and retirement in Europe. Journal of Public Health: 1-12. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10389-018-0916-6

Motherhood, working life and well-being

A recent study based on the European Social Survey (ESS) examines potential links between employment and subjective well-being among mothers with children under 3 years of age.

Within the growing body of literature on happiness and subjective well-being, gainful employment is considered to be important for an individual’s well-being. But is this also the case for mothers with young children? Betty Friedan advanced the idea that homemaking makes women unhappy and she questioned the image of harmonious domesticity in her book Feminine Mystique from 1963. Since then, there has been ongoing discussions and research concerning whether working mothers enjoy better subjective quality of life than stay-at-home mothers do. Some studies suggest that employed mothers are happier whereas some studies show that homemakers are more satisfied, meaning that previous research offers an inconsistent picture of whether employment is beneficial to mothers or not. This study aims to explore this issue further by examining differences in subjective well-being among working mothers and homemakers in 30 European countries, using pooled data from six waves of the European Social Survey (ESS).  Since different mechanisms are thought to be in play among mothers with small compared to older children, the study focuses on mothers with young children. The mothers’ employment situation and the sensitivity of applying different measures of well-being are also in focus.

The results from the study show that stay-at-home mothers are generally happier than full-time working mothers, and this holds regardless of different measures of happiness applied. Contrary to the author’s expectations, it was found that homemaking was positively associated with happiness particularly among mothers who left higher quality employment for childcare. And though some variation across countries exists, it does not seem to be connected to the provision of formal childcare, the duration of parental leave or to the tax system.

The author concludes that the result may be explained in terms of mothers’ self-selection into employment or homemaking, meaning that women who have secure employments with high status and become stay-at-home mothers, are likely to be a selective group that chooses to stay at home or believes that homemaking brings them many benefits. But the limitations of the study hinders further examinations of the matter.

The text above is based on the publication:

Hamplová, Dana. 2018. Does Work Make Mothers Happy? Journal of Happiness Studies: 1-27. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-018-9958-2

New study examines the relationships between human activity and biodiversity

Studies of ecosystems at the macro level is an important part of ecological science and the concern for the impact of economic activity on biodiversity is growing amongst researchers within different fields, as well as in the general society. Many empirical studies have analyzed the relationships between the environment and different human activities, and the way these activities influence biodiversity may depend on more than the level of economic activity and population size. Sociological and cultural factors may also play an important part in understanding these relationships.

A recently published study in Ecological Indicators aims to deepen the understanding of the relationships between human activities and biodiversity, by linking socio-economic indicators as well as sociological factors to biodiversity indicators at a national scale through statistical modelling. To do so, the researchers combined data from different sources; the European Values Study (EVS) and the European Environmental Agency, among others.

The study showed strong relationships between economic variables and biodiversity indictors, represented by the proportion of extinct and threatened species as well as a soil sealing measure. The spatial density of human activity, represented by economic growth and population levels, was found to be positively related to land sealing levels and biodiversity erosion. Significant relationships was also found between biodiversity and some sociological variables. Notably interpersonal trust, which is in general considered to be a key component of social capital which promotes economic growth, was found to improve biodiversity levels. The researchers behind the study stress the importance of integrating spatial density of human activity into political analyses that relates to biodiversity. Since there may be tensions between policies related to economic growth and biodiversity preservation, they emphasize that increasing social trust might provide a middle way in favoring both economic growth and biodiversity levels.

The text above is based on the publication:

Gosselin, Frédéric and Jean-Marc Callois. 2018. Relationships between human activity and biodiversity in Europe at the national scale: Spatial density of human activity as a core driver of biodiversity erosion. Ecological Indicators 90: 356-365. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2018.03.010