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Differences in late-life loneliness: a comparison between Turkish and native-born older adults in Germany

Abstract

The aim of this study was (1) to examine whether Turkish older migrants are indeed—as is often claimed without solid scientific evidence—lonelier than their peers with no migration background and (2) to determine the factors that account for the differences in loneliness between them. We analysed data of adults aged 50–79 from the first wave of the German Generations and Gender Survey and a supplementary survey of Turkish nationals in Germany (N = 3,248 born in Germany and N = 494 born in Turkey). Differences in degree of loneliness between Turkish and native-born older adults were determined by the six-item Loneliness Scale of de Jong Gierveld. To identify the specific factors contributing to these loneliness differences, a series of multivariate regression analyses were conducted, examining the impact of two groups of risk factors (poor health and low socioeconomic status) and two groups of protective factors (social embeddedness in the family and informal support exchanges) on loneliness. Results showed that feelings of loneliness are indeed more prevalent among older adults of Turkish origin than their German counterparts, which is entirely attributable to their lower socioeconomic status and poorer health. Living with a partner or children, frequent contacts with non-coresident children, emotional support exchange and looking after grandchildren—though important factors to prevent loneliness at the individual level—did not specifically protect Turkish older adults from loneliness, or did so rarely. These findings not only indicate new and challenging directions for further research but also raise questions about the effectiveness of the most common loneliness interventions, which focus on improving number and quality of social relationships.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    After the end of the questionnaire, the interviewer reported if and how many times a translation was needed for the interview. The categories are ‘constantly’, ‘frequently’, ‘sometimes’, ‘rarely’ and ‘never’. One out of five made constantly (12.3 %) or frequently (6.2 %) use of Turkish language help.

  2. 2.

    The loneliness scale has been found to be a valid and reliable measurement instrument for both native and Turkish older adults (further information upon request).

  3. 3.

    A separate category for missing cases was created as the education measure had more missing data than other variables. The rather high number of missing values is mainly due to missing data among Turkish older adults. In 75 cases (10 %), it was not possible to identify the level of education to match into ISCED. Note that missing cases on education is a common problem in immigrant surveys and has largely to do with variation in educational systems between countries and within countries over time—which is hard to adequately capture in a single education question. For difficulties of comparability of educational levels between developing and Western countries, see Heath et al. (2008).

  4. 4.

    We did not use an objective measurement—level of income—for two reasons. Firstly, respondents’ personal income as well as household income is reported in categories, thus impeding calculation of an exact equivalised net income. Secondly, there are no missing cases for the subjective measurement of financial situation in our groups under study, whereas for household income 15.2 % of cases are missing.

  5. 5.

    Unfortunately, the phrasing of the question in the GGS did not allow for a further separation of the unmarried category into widowed, divorced and never-married persons.

  6. 6.

    A similar distinction could not be made for those older adults living with one or more children, as information about the quality of their relationship was lacking.

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Correspondence to Tineke Fokkema.

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Fokkema, T., Naderi, R. Differences in late-life loneliness: a comparison between Turkish and native-born older adults in Germany. Eur J Ageing 10, 289–300 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10433-013-0267-7

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Keywords

  • Older migrants
  • Loneliness
  • Germany
  • Turks