Worry about debt is related to social loneliness in older adults in the Netherlands

  • Cäzilia Loibl Cäzilia Loibl
  • Barbara Summers Barbara Summers
  • Bianca Suanet Bianca Suanet
  • Madeleine A. Drost Madeleine A. Drost
  • Martijn Huisman Martijn Huisman
  • Simon McNair Simon McNair
  • Wandi Bruine de Bruin Wandi Bruine de Bruin

The amount of financial debt held by older adults has grown substantially over the past two decades in Europe. This study examines the association of objective and subjective debt burden with social and emotional loneliness among 1,606 older adults in the Netherlands. Objective debt burden is based on financial terms, such as debt-to-income ratio; whereas subjective debt burden measures the psychological distress caused by financial debt. Data are from the 2015/2016 wave of the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam. First, we use means-comparison tests to examine whether older adults who experience social and emotional loneliness differ from older adults who do not experience loneliness regarding their subjective and objective debt burdens. Subsequently, using linear regression models we address two questions: whether social loneliness and emotional loneliness are associated with objective and subjective debt burden; and whether social participation, social network size, anxiety and depression mediate these relationships. We find that subjective debt burden (i.e. the worry related to debt) is a significant predictor of social loneliness, above and beyond the role of social and psychological measures. Objective debt burden, in contrast, is unrelated to social and emotional loneliness. Social participation, social network size, anxiety and depression do not mediate the debt-burden-to-loneliness relationships. The results point to the importance of subjective debt burden in understanding social loneliness and designing interventions.

Netspar, Network for Studies on Pensions, Aging and Retirement, is a thinktank and knowledge network. Netspar is dedicated to promoting a wider understanding of the economic and social implications of pensions, aging and retirement in the Netherlands and Europe.


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