Exclusion from social relations in later life: on the gendered associations of social networks with mental wellbeing
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Objectives: This study addresses the gendered risks of loneliness and depression in later life from a social exclusion perspective. Exclusion from social relations (ESR) in older age is an unwanted situation associated with increased loneliness and depressive symptoms, with gender differences in the perception of solitude, and the evaluation of existing social networks, potentially accounting for the increased susceptibility of older women. Method: Secondary analyses was conducted in a sample of 60,918 participants in the Survey on Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). Older persons’ subjective perception of solitude (i.e. solitude satisfaction), and their satisfaction with established relations (i.e. network satisfaction), were examined in gender-stratified regression models, predicting loneliness and depressive symptomatology, controlling for network size, demographics, and health. Results: There was no convincing evidence for significant associations between solitude satisfaction (SoS) and loneliness among older men, nor between network satisfaction (NeS) and loneliness for both genders. Low SoS and low NeS were independently associated with more depressive symptoms and an increased probability of depression, especially among older women. This vulnerability could not be attributed to increased loneliness, as only among older women, low SoS was associated with lower levels of loneliness, and lower levels of loneliness was anaemically associated with more depressive symptoms. Conclusions: The perception of solitude, and the evaluation of social relations, are associated with gendered risks of depression among older persons who are challenged by objective and subjective ESR states.