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Disability-related inequalities in the prevalence of loneliness across the lifespan: trends from Australia, 2003 to 2020

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • Glenda M. Bishop
  • Gwynnyth Llewellyn
  • Anne M. Kavanagh
  • Hannah Badland
  • Jodie Bailie
  • Roger Stancliffe
  • Eric Emerson
  • Nicola Fortune
  • Zoe Aitken
Article number621
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>27/02/2024
<mark>Journal</mark>BMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Background: Experiencing loneliness can be distressing and increasing evidence indicates that being lonely is associated with poor physical and mental health outcomes. Cross-sectional studies have demonstrated that people with disability have increased risk of experiencing loneliness compared to people without disability. However, we do not know if these inequalities have changed over time. This study investigated the prevalence of loneliness for people with disability in Australia annually from 2003 to 2020 to examine whether disability-related inequalities in loneliness have changed over time, and disaggregated results for subgroups of people with disability by age group, sex, and disability group. Methods: We used annual data (2003–2020) from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey. Loneliness was measured by a single question assessing the subjective experience of loneliness. For each wave, we calculated population-weighted age-standardised estimates of the proportion of people experiencing loneliness for people with and without disability. We then calculated the absolute and relative inequalities in loneliness between people with and without disability for each wave. Analyses were stratified by 10-year age groups, sex, and disability group (sensory or speech, physical, intellectual or learning, psychological, brain injury or stroke, other). Results: From 2003 to 2020, the prevalence of loneliness was greater for people with disability, such that people with disability were 1.5 to 1.9 times more likely to experience loneliness than people without disability. While the prevalence of loneliness decreased for people without disability between 2003 and 2020, the prevalence of loneliness did not decrease for people with disability during this period. Inequalities in loneliness were more substantial for people with intellectual or learning disabilities, psychological disability, and brain injury or stroke. Conclusion: This study confirms that people with disability have increased risk of loneliness compared to people without disability. We add to the existing evidence by demonstrating that disability-related inequalities in loneliness have persisted for two decades in Australia without improvement. Our findings indicate that addressing inequalities in loneliness for people with disability is a critical public health concern given that loneliness is associated with a wide range of poor health outcomes.