Productive activities and loneliness among middle-aged and older Japanese: What we know and not yet know
Introduction: Population ageing in Japan is unprecedented in the world. The proportion of people aged 65+ years in the total population is highest in the world: 23% in 2009. By 2030, one in every three people will be 65+ years and one in five people 75+ years. At the same time, loneliness is a known risk factor for physical and mental health in later life, and existing study suggests that the prevalence of loneliness among Japanese older adult ranges between 10% and 29%. High levels of loneliness relate to lower cognitive abilities, higher later life onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s, higher suicidal ideation, high blood pressure, and high risks of premature death. While there is a high research priority and participation rate of productive activities in Japan, there is limited study on how various activities can alleviate loneliness.
This paper endeavors to address the loneliness of Japanese middle-aged and older adults in the productive ageing context.
Methods: Data were drawn from a national probability sample of 1,575 Japanese middle aged and older adults (M age=61.03, SD = 11.90, Range = 40–96). Two-stage stratified random sampling was used. Respondents completed a mail survey regarding their life style, health and well-being. Univariate and bivariate analyses were performed. Graphs were made to visually present the trend of various productive aging activities (working for pay, family caregiving, and volunteering) in middle life and later life. Guided by the productive ageing framework, multiple regression analyses were used to test how work, caregiving, and volunteering were related to loneliness. Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) method was used to impute missing data (0-10%). Stata 14.2 was used.
Results: Controlled for other variables in the model, working was not significantly related to loneliness. Family caregiving was positively related to loneliness (β =.06, p<.001). Volunteering was negatively related to loneliness (β =-.04, p<.01). In the family caregiving context, gender and social interaction were introduced as interaction terms. Compared to females, with the same intensity of family caregiving, male caregivers were lonelier (β =.05, p<.01). The higher level of social interaction, the less lonely the family caregivers were.
Conclusion: Compared to the western world, Japan possesses unique challenges on social inclusion of their older adults. Motivating older citizens to engage in volunteering from an earlier age is an effective way to reduce loneliness. Ways to support family caregivers, especially male caregivers are also discussed.