This is the first national study to examine disparities in loneliness and social relationships by sexual orientation in late adulthood in the United States.
Prior studies have shown that lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals often struggle with social relationships across the life course, likely because of stigma related to sexual orientation. However, little is known about whether loneliness is more prevalent among LGB people than among other groups in late adulthood, and if so, which relationships contribute to the loneliness
We analyzed data from a nationally representative sample of older adults from the 2015–2016 National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (N = 3,567) to examine the disparity in loneliness by sexual orientation and identify links between this disparity and multiple dimensions of social relationships, including partner, family, friend, and community relationships.
Older LGB adults were significantly lonelier than their heterosexual counterparts, primarily due to a lower likelihood of having a partner and, to a lesser extent, lower levels of family support and greater friend strain. While they were also disadvantaged in the size of close family and frequency of community participation, these factors were less relevant to their loneliness. Overall, the conventionally defined inner layers of relationships (partnership and family) contributed more to the loneliness disparity than the outer layers of relationships (friends and community).
These findings suggest that strengthening the partnerships and family relationships of sexual minorities is essential to reducing the loneliness