On SAGE Insight: Trends in the Social and Functional Disadvantages of Sweden’s Solitary Living Older Adults

Article title: Who Lives Alone During Old Age? Trends in the Social and Functional Disadvantages of Sweden’s Solitary Living Older Adults

From Research on Aging

The proportion of older adults living alone throughout Europe and the United States rose markedly during much of the 20th century. Although the trend of increasing proportions of solitary living older adults appears to have stabilized in recent years, the absolute number of older adults who live alone in communities within most high-income countries continues to rise, primarily as a function of population aging, decreases in family size, and government policies and programs that promote “aging in place” as an alternative to institutional care.

This study identifies specific social and functional disadvantages associated with living alone during old age in Sweden and assesses whether these associations have changed during recent decades. Data for this study come from the Swedish Panel Study of Living Conditions of the Oldest Old. SWEOLD is a nationally representative survey of adults aged 77 and older living in Sweden. The SWEOLD sample was extracted from the sample of participants in the Swedish Level of Living Survey (LNU), a nationally representative, random probability sample of 6,500 adults aged 15–75, originally fielded in 1968.

Simultaneous increases in divorce, along with aging in place initiatives that have made it harder for older adults to qualify for entry into state-sponsored institutional care, continue to contribute to increasing numbers of older adults living on their own in the community. The findings of this study indicate that among Sweden’s older adults, those with socioeconomic, social, behavioral, and functional disadvantages are most likely to end up on their own, and that over time, selection into the living alone status has become increasingly strong for older men with low levels of education. That older adults who live alone are a particularly vulnerable subgroup of the population in terms of socioeconomic, social, behavioral, and functional factors, and increasingly so with respect to level of education, has important implications, both for the study of living alone as a health risk in its own right and when assessing the service needs of this subgroup of the population.

Abstract

This study identifies specific social and functional disadvantages associated with living alone during old age in Sweden and assesses whether these associations have changed during recent decades. Data came from repeated cross-sectional surveys of Swedish adults aged 77+ during 1992–2014. Findings indicate that several types of disadvantage are consistently associated with the probability of living alone including financial insecurity and having never married for women and having never married and mobility impairment for men. Also for older men, low education has become an increasing strong determinant of living alone. These findings suggest that older adults who live alone are a subgroup that is particularly, and in some cases increasingly, vulnerable with respect to social and functional status. This has important policy implications related to addressing the needs of this growing subgroup as well as methodological implications for studies on the health effects of living alone.

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Article detail
Who Lives Alone During Old Age? Trends in the Social and FunctionalDisadvantages of Sweden’s Solitary Living Older Adults
Benjamin A. Shaw1, Stefan Fors23, Johan Fritzell23, Carin Lennartsoon23, Neda Agahi23
2018, Vol. 40(9)
DOI: 10.1177/0164027517747120
Research on Aging


     
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