The impact of COVID-19 lockdown stringency on loneliness in five European countries Article - Décembre 2022

Juan Carlos Caro, Andrew E. Clark, Conchita d'Ambrosio, Claus Vögele

Juan Carlos Caro, Andrew E. Clark, Conchita d'Ambrosio, Claus Vögele, « The impact of COVID-19 lockdown stringency on loneliness in five European countries  », Social science & medicine, décembre 2022. ISSN 0037-7856

Abstract

Rationale The coronavirus pandemic has forced governments to implement a variety of different dynamic lockdown-stringency strategies in the last two years. Extensive lockdown periods could have potential unintended consequences on mental health, at least for at-risk groups. Objective We present novel evidence on the heterogeneous direct and indirect effects of lockdown-stringency measures on individuals’ perception of social isolation (i.e. loneliness) using panel data from five European countries (Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Sweden), which tracks changes in both in-person and remote social interactions between May 2020 and March 2021. Method We combine data from the COME-HERE panel survey (University of Luxembourg) and the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker (OxCGRT). We implement a dynamic mixture model in order to estimate the loneliness sub-population classes based on the severity of loneliness, as well as the evolution of social interactions. Results While loneliness is remarkably persistent over time, we find substantial heterogeneity across individuals, identifying four latent groups by loneliness severity. Group membership probability varies with age, gender, education and cohabitation status. Moreover, we note significant differences in the impact of social interactions on loneliness by degree of severity. Older people are less likely to feel lonely, but were more affected by lockdown measures, partly due to a reduction in face-to-face interactions. On the contrary, the younger, especially those living alone, report high levels of loneliness that are largely unaffected by changes in the pandemic after lockdown measures were initially implemented. Conclusions Understanding the heterogeneity in loneliness is key for the identification of at-risk populations that can be severely affected by extended lockdown measures. As part of public-health crisis-response systems, it is critical to develop support measures for older individuals living alone, as well as promoting continuous remote communication for individuals more likely to experience high levels of loneliness.

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