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Predictors of male loneliness examined in new Australian study

There is a great need for both universal and targeted age-specific loneliness prevention and intervention strategies for male loneliness, say the authors of a new study examining male loneliness in Australia. 

“Prolonged periods of loneliness can be associated with serious physical health conditions like cardiac disease and immune deficiency and mental health conditions like anxiety, depression and even suicide,” write authors Ferdi Botha and Marlee Bower, who drew on over 20 years of data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey, including men aged 15–98.

“Despite increasing recognition and knowledge of loneliness as a global public health concern, there remains a notable relative lack of research investigating its manifestation amongst men. This is notwithstanding the fact that some research suggests men may experience similar or even higher rates of loneliness relative to women.”

Factors contributing to greater loneliness among men include:

  • Social isolation
  • Romantic partner dissolution
  • Having a long-term disability and,
  • Stronger beliefs that the man, rather than the woman, should be the breadwinner of the household.

The HILDA survey also revealed several predictors of loneliness over the life course, such as:

  • Job security, especially important for younger men
  • For older men, volunteering and less conservative gender role attitudes are important factors that can decrease loneliness.

“Frequent social connection, having a romantic partner, and high neighbourhood satisfaction are protective against loneliness,” say the authors.

The HILDA survey is an annual national longitudinal survey initiated in 2001  and currently follows about 7500 households.

The researchers focused on age groups that covered each life stage: 15–24, 25–34, 35–44, 45–54, 55–64, and 65 and older.

They also looked at employment and income characteristics, living arrangements and location, and social life characteristics, such as whether a respondent was partnered, involved in a voluntary activity, had experienced a major life event in the past year (e.g., death of a close friend or partner), the number of friends they had, and the frequency of social connections.

Among personal factors, they sought to determine whether a respondent held stereotypical masculine beliefs by asking to what extent they agreed with the following statement: “It is not good for a relationship if the woman earns more than the man.”


The average age of respondents was 44. Just under three-quarters were employed, 63% were partnered, and 39% were a member of a club or hobby association.

“In general, mean loneliness peaks at around middle age, declines from age 50, after which loneliness starts rising again from age 70,” report the authors.

“Having a romantic partner was an important determinant of loneliness among all age groups, with men who became partnered being significantly less lonely (by between 0.32 to 0.81 points) than those without a partner.”

“One key finding was the marked association between work and loneliness amongst men. Perceived job security was a key predictor of loneliness for men prior to retirement age, with less job security being associated with greater loneliness.

“This may be because men on temporary work contracts may feel less likely to invest in their workplace social context if their job circumstances are likely to change. The rise of insecure work in Australia via the ‘gig economy’ may mean that some men may need to work extra jobs to support dependents, leaving less time to socialise.”

The authors state that the results emphasised the need for universal and targeted age-specific loneliness prevention and intervention strategies for male loneliness. 

Interventions should be developed to prevent men in their 40s from experiencing loneliness, as this group was particularly at risk.

Supporting men aged 65+ to volunteer may prevent or alleviate loneliness.

Preventative programs should target men who have children, who are single parents, have long-term disabilities or recently went through a breakup.

Community-level interventions that brought men together in a neighbourhood, would offer broad protective benefits for male loneliness. Public health campaigns could promote the importance of high-quality male friendships to wellbeing.

Download the full report: Predictors of male loneliness across life stages: an Australian study of longitudinal data

Authors and Affiliations

Ferdi Botha

Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

ARC Centre of Excellence for Children and Families Over the Life Course, Queensland, Australia

Marlee Bower

The Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use, The University of Sydney, Camperdown, Australia





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