Loneliness in Older Migrants: Exploring the Role of Cultural Differences in Their Loneliness Experience

Honghui Pan, Pamela Qualter, Manuela Barreto, Hannelore Stegen, Sarah Dury

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Introduction and background: The scientific literature suggests the necessity of studying loneliness from a broader social perspective. This article aims to broaden the research on loneliness in older migrants by exploring the role of cultural differences through the lens of the social environment (as measured in social capital, discrimination, and ageism) and social situation (as measured in relational mobility, childness, and marital status). Based on Hofstede’s Individualism Index, older migrants involved in the BBC Loneliness Experiment (N = 2164) were classified into three groups: cultural migrants (i.e., from a collectivist to individualist culture) (N = 239), migrants with a similar culture (i.e., within an individualist culture) (N = 841), and ageing non-migrants (N = 1084). Objectives: The two main objectives were 1) to compare the levels of loneliness among these three groups, and 2) to unravel how different influencing factors, such as the social environment, social situation, coping strategies, and personal characteristics, are related to loneliness. Methods: Bivariate analyses were performed to determine the differences in the loneliness, social environment, social situation, and personal characteristic variables between the groups, with adjusted p-values according to the Bonferroni correction to limit the potential for type I errors (α = 0.005). Multiple linear regressions were performed to unravel the relationships between loneliness and the different influencing factors, namely the social environment, social situation, coping strategies, and personal characteristics. Results: The bivariate analyses show no significant difference in loneliness across the three groups. The multiple linear regressions demonstrate that the social environment (i.e., social capital, discrimination, and ageism) is significantly associated with loneliness. Social capital acts as a protective factor for cultural migrants (β = −0.27, p < 0.005, 95% CI [−0.48, −0.05]), similar-culture migrants (β = −0.13, p < 0.005, 95% CI [−0.25, −0.03]), and non-migrants (β = −0.21, p < 0.001, 95% CI [−0.28, −0.12]). Discrimination and ageism are both risk factors for loneliness across the three groups. The Social situation, as measured in married/cohabitation status and relational mobility, shows a significant association with loneliness in the non-migrants and similar-culture migrants but not the cultural migrants. In terms of individual resources for coping strategies, engagement in active coping is protective for all three groups. Non-coping, the unawareness of any coping strategies, is a risk factor, while passive coping shows no significant association. Discussion: The results show that the structural factor of the social environment in which older migrants’ find themselves, rather than their culture of origin, is more important for older migrants’ feelings of loneliness in later life. A favorable social environment with high social capital and low levels of discrimination and ageism protects against loneliness in the ageing population across cultures. Practical implications for loneliness interventions for older migrants are put forward.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2785
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 4 Feb 2023


  • loneliness
  • culture
  • older people
  • older migrants
  • social environment
  • social relationship
  • coping
  • linear regression
  • cultural aspects
  • social capital
  • ageism
  • coping strategies


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