April 24, 2019
A new study out of the University of Minnesota challenges prior assumptions that residents of rural areas are at greater risk of isolation than are urban dwellers, due to their greater physical distance from family and friends.
Indeed, researchers at the School of Public Health who looked at objective and subjective measures of isolation and loneliness among rural and urban older adults found that, overall, people in rural areas actually reported less social isolation and a higher number of social relationships than urban residents.
The team reviewed data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project, a National Institute on Aging survey of 2,439 older adults (age 65 and older) and their spouses or partners. They compared county-level survey data from three groups of people: those living in large cities (metropolitan), small towns (micropolitan), and very rural areas (noncore).
To compare levels of solitude, the researchers used the “Loneliness Scale,” developed by the University of California Los Angeles, which looks at how often a person feels left out, isolated, and lacking companionship.
Highlights of the analyzed data show that residents from those “very rural areas” have more children, grandchildren and were able to rely on friends more than city residents. This sense of reliability was also greater among residents of small towns compared with those in cities.
However, that finding was more valid for whites than it was for other races. Interestingly enough, non-Hispanic black residents of rural areas, they reported significantly higher levels of loneliness than black residents in larger communities and cities. In fact, the study found that black residents in rural areas were four times more likely to be lonely than white residents in rural areas.
Henning-Smith commented, “More relationships, alone, is not enough to protect rural residents from feeling lonely; more should be done to facilitate meaningful social connections.”
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