Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

131P Psychosocial Predictors of Loneliness In Midlife and Older Gay and Bisexual Men

Saturday, January 14, 2012
Independence F - I (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Robin J. Jacobs, PhD, MSW, Assistant Professor, Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Michael N. Kane, PhD, LCSW, ACSW, Professor, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL
BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: While loneliness is one of the major concerns of heterosexual and homosexual older men, studies have shown that gay and bisexual men are more likely to suffer from loneliness than their heterosexual counterparts. This may be exacerbated by attitudes toward aging in the gay community and the associated covert and overt expressions of ageism that many older gay men experience. Moreover, they often have fewer resources and support systems to counteract loneliness, particularly in midlife and later-life. This study examined the correlates of psychosocial factors on loneliness in a sample of older gay and bisexual men in South Florida.

METHODS: A cross-sectional, correlational research design was used in this study to determine the influence of selected psychosocial and behavioral characteristics that place gay and bisexual men aged 40 and older at risk for loneliness. Data were collected from a community-based sample of 802 self-identified gay and bisexual men aged 40-94 years (M=54.8, SD=10.76) through an anonymous written questionnaire. The setting for this study was a variety of community sites where gay men frequently visit (e.g., bars, gay pride events, gyms). The questionnaire included sections on standardized psychosocial scales to measure life orientation (i.e., holding views more characterized by either high or low optimism concerning the future), coping self efficacy, internalized homonegativity, (descriptive for any negative attitude towards homosexuality be it emotional, moral or intellectual disapproval) and loneliness. Single items were used to assess demographic variables such as age, partner status, and employment, as well as venues for finding sexual partners (e.g., bars, Internet). Data were analyzed using Pearson correlation coefficients (r) and multiple regression analysis.

RESULTS: The majority (86.5%) of the participants self-identified as gay (2.4% reported ‘bisexual' and the rest used another term, such as ‘queer'). Significant relationships were found to exist between loneliness and the variables Life Orientation (r=.528, p<.01), Coping Self Efficacy (r=.586, p< .01), Internalized Homonegativity (r=.428, p< .001), being partnered (r=.118, p< .05), and finding partners on the Internet (r=.087, p< .05). Multivariate modeling successfully explained 45% of the variance in predicting risk for loneliness, which was significantly related to a pessimistic life orientation, increased feelings of internalized homonegativity, reduced levels of coping self efficacy, and meeting partners online, F=96.140, df=6, p<.001.

CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS: The significant correlations between the variables suggested that loneliness scores were the highest in men who held less optimistic views toward the future, experienced less coping self efficacy, felt more internalized homonegativity, and met sexual partners online. These data underscore the need for tailored approaches for older gay and bisexual men that focus on underlying factors contributing to feelings of loneliness. Social workers should be aware of programs and policies that are discriminatory or insensitive to older gay and bisexual men. The emphasis on skills building to increase coping self efficacy and optimism, as well as addressing the effects of internalized homonegativity, may have lasting effects in reducing loneliness in older gay men and thus improving their mental and physical well-being.