Do personal conditions and circumstances surrounding partner loss explain loneliness in newly bereaved older adults?

Berna Van Baarsen, Johannes H. Smit, Tom A.B. Snijders, Kees P.M. Knipscheer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This longitudinal study aims to explain loneliness in newly bereaved older adults, taking into account personal and circumstantial conditions surrounding the partner's death. A distinction is made between emotional and social loneliness. Data were gathered both before and after partner loss. Results were interpreted within the framework of the Theory of Mental Incongruity. The findings reveal that being unable to anticipate the partner's death is related to higher levels of emotional loneliness. Standards of instrumental support, measured indirectly by poor physical condition, lead to stronger emotional as well as social loneliness. Standards measured directly by importance attached to support or contacts result in higher emotional loneliness but, unexpectedly, in lower social loneliness. Furthermore, difficulties with establishing personal contacts, caused, for instance, by social anxiety, add to loneliness. It is concluded that circumstances related to the partner's illness may contribute to emotional loneliness after bereavement. Moreover, the results highlight the importance of taking coping attitudes into consideration for a better understanding of how newly bereaved older adults adapt to the loss of a partner.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)441-469
Number of pages29
JournalAgeing and Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1999

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