Loneliness is increasingly recognized worldwide as a critical social issue and one of the major health hazards of our time. Their research shows older private renters are at high risk of loneliness and anxiety. This is a growing concern as more Australians are renting housing later in life. By contrast, only a small proportion of the social housing tenants we interview said they were lonely.

People experiencing loneliness

The links between housing arrangements and loneliness could have profound implications for our health. As former US surgeon general Vivek H. Murthy said: “The reduction in life span [for people experiencing loneliness] is similar to that cause by smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and it’s greater than the impact on life span of obesity Look even deeper, and you’ll find loneliness is associate with a greater risk of heart disease, depression, anxiety and dementia.

A 72-year-old woman living by herself said she could not afford the outings organize by her church: There’s quite an active social club at the church for over-55s but they can’t go to any of those Sometimes they think it would be nice to go on something that appeals to me, yes. And they might have an afternoon at somebody’s home and you’re ask to bring a plate [of food]. You see, they couldn’t afford to do that.

Peter, 67 and divorced, had left the workforce prematurely due to ill-health. They’ve become very isolated. they use to, before they had the hip operation; so they use to play tennis and they love to play tennis but they really can’t afford it. They’ve find a few clubs that they could go and play in. They’d like to get back to it; but they say, Ah, the fees are this and you pay it annually, and they can’t come up with $150 or $200 or whatever.

Allocate social housing

They do like it around here. they know where everything is and they know all the people, especially around these units you know. They know everyone and they know me. They like it around here. This is my home, you know. This is a community, they think. Like they know all the people and they’ve become really good friends. they couldn’t think of being anywhere else.

Pam, who have a private renter before allocate social housing; reflect on how her life had change: Well, it is change because they are happier; also they think they are healthier and they have a lot of new friends. They also have a lot more people around me for support if anything does happen. If they get sick and if they don’t see me for a few days someone will come and say, Pam, are you OK?” In private housing there was nobody.

What the interviews indicate is that the housing tenure of age pensioners often plays a fundamental role in whether they are able to escape the experience of loneliness. Older private renters are far more likely to experience loneliness than their counterparts in social housing and that loneliness can be acute.