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Older never married women rely on strong friendships to combat loneliness

18 July 2017

Older women who have never been married struggle to find their place in society, especially if they remain childless.

These findings were presented last week at a British Psychological Society conference by Sergio A. Silverio currently at Edge Hill University.  The research was carried out whilst he was studying within the School of Psychology at the University of Liverpool.

Twelve women aged 50-78 took part in one-to-one interviews, six of the women had children.   The interviews were semi-structured, giving the participants the opportunity to give a thorough account of their lived experiences without too much guidance.

Previous research found that older people rely on long-established friendships rather than relatives in their later years to avoid loneliness.  Increasingly, older people are acting as carers for family and partners, but this was not the case for the participants in this research who found themselves to be alone, and sometimes even lonely.  Each participant felt they lived fulfilled lives, but not all were entirely content.

Overall, participants expressed disappointment that they had not followed a traditional life-course and at times felt marginalised by married peers of the same age.  This feeling was less so in those who maintained long-standing and close friendships, often with other single women.

Sergio A. Silverio said:

“We have identified a marginalised population within our society and given them a voice.  In doing so we have learnt these women who have never married ‘do battle’ every day to be recognised, and in failing to do so, may at times suffer from loneliness which we know can be a precursor to wider mental health and social wellbeing issues.  Each participant interviewed had a different life experience, yet the message was the same from all: being never married can be challenging and at times can feel very lonely.

There are many older single people in society, many of whom feel lonely, we need to reach out to them.”

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