Various measures have been used to explore the relationship between social isolation and gender. Using a typology of social isolation and data from the National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS), researchers (Cudjoe, Roth, Szanton, Wolff, Boyd, & Thorpe, 2018) found males have a higher prevalence of social isolation, while females were more socially integrated. Using aspects of Lubben’s (1988) Social Network Scale, other researchers (Jang et al., 2016) found men have less social ties. Various scales have been criticized for focusing heavily on the objective or subjective aspects of social isolation, but not both.
This study seeks to use the recently developed Social Isolation Scale (SIS) (Nicholson, Feinn, Casey, & Dixon, n.d.) to measure the relationship between gender and social isolation, which includes a more robust focus on both objective and subjective aspects of social isolation. The SIS is a six-item scale that includes three questions that ask respondents to indicate frequency of contact with family, friends, and neighbors and three questions that ask respondents to rate agreement on questions about activities and relationships.
Method: The study used data collected by the AARP Foundation at selected Tax-Aide sites between March 7 and April 30, 2012. The convenience sample totals 15,535 respondents aged 50 or older across 44 states in the US. Linear mixed models were used to test if there is a difference in social isolation by gender. The study controlled for demographic variables including ethnicity, marital status, age, and employment status.
Results: Males were significantly more isolated than females on both the objective (Cohen’s d=0.21, p<.001) and subjective (d=0.16, p<.001) measures of isolation, as well as the overall measure of isolation (d=0.18, p<.001). After adjusting for demographic variables the difference between males and females increased for the objective measure (d=0.27, p<.001), the subjective measure (0.20, p<.001), and the overall measure of isolation (d=0.23).
Conclusions/Implications: Based on these findings, social workers should consider gender when assessing for social isolation given the myriad negative outcomes. When developing and implementing interventions to combat social isolation, social workers must also consider gender. Further analyses looking at the objective and subjective aspects of social isolation are necessary to better understand this phenomenon and appropriately tailor interventions.