from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: How the old are reacting to lockdown

May 28.  Many of us are daily resisting the pressures to place us in a box called ‘the elderly’.  With the hard medical realities this is not easy.  There is no question that as you pass into your sixties, then into successive decades, the risk of dying from Covid-19 shows a sharp linear increase.  With matters of emotion and behaviour, on the other hand, there are grounds for resisting such age-determination.  Nonetheless the social scientists now conducting detailed research into how people are coping with the crisis have a tendency to group their findings into age brackets. 

Following yesterday’s examination of solitude and loneliness revealed in the Nuffield / UCL Covid 19 Social Study, here are the findings more broadly about the interaction between age and experience (most of the data shows little change over the lockdown period).  Whilst the figures are statistical facts (subject to the issues of category definition and sample quality), the explanations of cause and consequence are matters of judgement. So, feel free to interpret these findings.  The two categories used are 60 and over, and 18-29 year-olds.

The elderly are more likely than the young to:

  • Comply with Government guidelines
  • Show confidence in Government
  • Have feeling of life satisfaction
  • Have a sense of control of finances, family relationships, future plans
  • Be concerned about meeting up with family
  • Be concerned about going to cultural venues

The elderly are less likely than the young to:

  • Experience depression and anxiety
  • Employment stress
  • Financial stress
  • Have thoughts of death or self-harm
  • To have been physically or psychologically abused
  • Experience loneliness
  • Be concerned about meeting up with age-group friends
  • Be concerned about going out for a coffee, drink or meals
  • Be concerned about having time alone

Some of the differences are smaller than others.  There is virtually no variation by age in taking exercise or experiencing face to face contact.

Taken in the round, the striking feature is the lower incidence in the key categories of depression, anxiety, stress and loneliness amongst the older population, despite their much greater exposure to serious illness and death in the pandemic, and their greater likelihood of being locked down.

Addenda.  Since writing this, the Times has today published results of a reworking by a team from Exeter, Manchester and Brunel Universities of a BBC survey of 2018 which questioned 46 thousand people from 237 countries about their experience of loneliness.  As with the UCL evidence, the new research demonstrates that loneliness falls rather than increases with age

Sources

The Times.  28 May 2020

from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: Solitude and Loneliness

May 27 In my diary entry for April 8, I wrote that:

Enforced isolation has an ambiguous effect on the two experiences.  On the one hand it has made solitude a still more valued practice.  In families where the adults are working at home, the children are about all day long, the garden is small or non-existent, periods of solitary escape have become as desirable and unattainable as supermarket delivery slots … On the other hand, it has made loneliness still more threatening.  It becomes more difficult to make physical contact with such friends as the individual possesses.  Intermittent escapes from an empty home to shops, cafes, local libraries, public entertainments, are now forbidden.”  I concluded that, “Where the balance will finally be struck in these contrasting effects of isolation remains to be seen.”

Now the evidence is beginning to appear to answer this question.  The crisis has stimulated the creation of a number of major research projects across the social sciences, which have been planned, funded and put into practice in a remarkably short space of time.  One of the largest of these is the UCL Nuffield Covid 19 Social Study.  This is a questionnaire-based survey which currently has 90,000 respondents.  It is not a representative statistical sample of the population, but is large enough to generate substantial conclusions.  The research team, led by Daisy Fancourt and Andrew Steptoe, have a sophisticated grasp of the concepts and categories of mental health, and are publishing weekly bulletins of their findings.

The ‘Covid-19 Social Study Results Release 8’, on 13 May, was particularly interesting.*  Table 21 measured the incidence of ‘Loneliness’ on the industry-standard UCLA loneliness scale.  This was unchanged across the lockdown period at around 5%.  This is the same level as more cautious observers and social historians have projected across the entire post-war period, and about a quarter of the claims made in the Government’s current loneliness strategy.  Whatever else it is doing, the covid19 epidemic is not causing an epidemic of loneliness.

The team found that the condition was “higher amongst younger adults, those living alone, those with lower household income levels, and those with an existing diagnosed mental health condition.  They are also higher amongst women, people with children, and people living in urban areas.”  It was correspondingly lower than 5% amongst those over 60, those with higher incomes, those without mental health conditions, and those living without children.

Table 27, by contrast, measured ‘Activities missed during lockdown.’  At the top of the table, not surprisingly, were ‘Meeting up with family’ and ‘Meeting up with friends.’  Half way down was ‘Having time alone.’  This was the solitude measure.  The analysts broke down the emotion only by age.  The younger the respondent, the more likely they were to be lacking time alone.

What is really interesting is the volume.  Just over thirty per cent of the population were included in this category.

In other words, after an extended period of lockdown, solitude is being sought by six times as many people as are experiencing loneliness.

* https://mk0nuffieldfounpg9ee.kinstacdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/COVID-19-social-study-results-release-13-May-2020.pdf