Lonely older people as a problem in society – construction in Finnish media

Main Article Content

Hanna Uotila
Kirsi Lumme-Sandt
Marja Saarenheimo


Loneliness is a prevalent stereotype of old age but there is a lack of studies of how it is represented in mass media. This study examines how the loneliness of older people is portrayed in mass media. The research material consists of 154 texts from the leading 50+ magazines and daily newspapers in Finland. In the texts, loneliness was rarely seen solely as a lack of companionship and many negative attributes were connected to it. Among other things, loneliness was connected to the low status of older people in society, inhumane practices in elderly care, lack of meaning in life and neglect by relatives. Loneliness was also viewed as an inevitable part of ageing. However, many suggestions were made to alleviate loneliness. The extent of these suggestions varied from broad and collective actions to simple and perfunctory solutions.


Metrics Loading ...

Article Details

Articles in a Special Issue


Anderson, K. T. (2007). Constructing ‘‘otherness’’: Ideologies and differentiating speech style. International Journal of Applied Linguistics 17(2): 178–197.doi:10.1111/j.1473-4192.2007.00145.x

Bazzini, D. G., McIntosh, W. D., Smith, S. M., Cook, S. & Harris, C. (1997). The ageing woman in popular film: Underrepresented, unattractive, unfriendly, and unintelligent. Sex Roles 36(7/8): 531–543.doi:10.1007/BF02766689

Bonnesen, J. L. & Burgess, E. O. (2004). Senior moments: The acceptability of an ageist phrase. Journal of Aging Studies 18(2): 123–142.doi:10.1016/j.jaging.2004.01.008

Cacioppo, J. T., Hawkley, L. C., Crawford, E., Ernst, J. M., Burleson, M. H., Kowalewski, R. B., Malarkey, W. B., Van Cauter, E. & Berntson, G. G. (2002). Loneliness and health: Potential mechanisms. Psychosomatic Medicine 64(3): 407–417.PMid:12021415

Carrigan, M. & Szmigin, I. (2002). Advertising and older consumers: Image and ageism. Business Ethics: A European Review 9(1): 42–50.doi:10.1111/1467-8608.00168

Cattan, M., White, M., Bond, J. & Learmonth, A. (2005a). Preventing social isolation and loneliness among older people: A systematic review of health promotion interventions. Ageing & Society 25(1): 41–67.doi:10.1017/S0144686X04002594

Cattan, M., White, M., Learmonth, T. A. & Bond, J. (2005b). Are services and activities for socially isolated and lonely older people accessible, equitable, and inclusive? Research, Policy and Planning 23(3): 149–164.

Cohen, H. L. (2002). Developing media literacy skills to challenge television’s portrayal of older women. Educational Gerontology 28(7): 599–620.doi:10.1080/03601270290099796

Drageset, J. (2004). The importance of activities of daily living and social contact for loneliness: A survey among residents in nursing home. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Science 18(1): 65–71.doi:10.1111/j.0283-9318.2003.00251.xPMid:15005665

Edley, N. (2001). Analysing masculinity: Interpretative repertoires, ideological dilemmas and subject positions. In M. Wetherell, S. Taylor & S. Yates (eds.), Discourse as Data. A Guide for Analysis (pp. 189–228). London: Sage.

Ellis, S. R. & Morrison, T. G. (2005). Stereotypes of ageing: Messages promoted by age-specific paper birthday cards available in Canada. International Journal of Aging and Human Development 61(1): 57–73.doi:10.2190/ULUU-UN83-8W18-EP70

Findley, R. A. (2003). Interventions to reduce social isolation amongst older people: Where is the evidence? Ageing & Society 23(5): 647–658.doi:10.1017/S0144686X03001296

Finnish Audit Bureau of Circulations. (2009). KMT lukija syksy 2007/kevät 2008. [KTM the Reader Autumn 2007/Spring 2008]. Helsinki: Finnish Audit Bureau of Circulations. Available on http://www.levikintarkastus.fi/mediatutkimus/KMT_Lukija_S07-K08_paakohderyhmat.pdf (Accessed: February 23, 2009).

Heikkinen, R-L. & Kauppinen, M. (2004). Depressive symptoms in late life: A 10-year follow-up. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics 38(3): 239–250.doi:10.1016/j.archger.2003.10.004PMid:15066310

Hilt, M. L. & Lipschultz, J. H. (2005). Mass Media, An Aging Population, and the Baby Boomers. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Horton, S., Barker, J. & Deakin, J. M. (2007). Stereotypes of aging: Their effects on the health of seniors in North American Society. Educational Gerontology 33(12): 1021–1035.doi:10.1080/03601270701700235

de Jong Gierveld, J. (1987). Developing and testing a model of loneliness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 53(1): 119–128.doi:10.1037/0022-3514.53.1.119PMid:3612484

Jylhä, M. (2004). Old age and loneliness: Cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses in the Tampere longitudinal study on aging. Canadian Journal on Aging 23(2): 157–168.doi:10.1353/cja.2004.0023

Jylhä, M. & Saarenheimo, M. (2010). Loneliness and aging: Comparative perspectives. In C. R. Phillipson & D. Dannefer (eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Social Gerontology (pp. 317–328). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Killeen, C. (1998). Loneliness: An epidemic in modern society. Journal of Advanced Nursing 28(4): 762–770.doi:10.1046/j.1365-2648.1998.00703.xPMid:9829664

Kulmala, A. (2006). Kerrottuja kokemuksia leimatusta identiteetistä ja toiseudesta [Narrated Experiences of Stigmatised Identity and Otherness]. Tampere: Acta Universitatis Tamperensis. Laslett, P. (1989). A Fresh Map of Life. The Emergence of the Third Age. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Lumme-Sandt, K. (2010). Images of ageing in a 50– magazine. Journal of Aging Studies. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaging.2010.08.013.

McInnis, G. J. & White, J. H. (2001). A phenomenological exploration of loneliness in the older adult. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing 15(3): 128–139.doi:10.1053/apnu.2001.23751PMid:11413504

Medianetti. (2009). HS Product Family. Helsinki: Helsingin Sanomat. Available on http://medianetti.helsinginsanomat.fi/english/HS_Product_family/1101979183413 (Accessed: February 23, 2009).

Miller, D. W., Leyell, T. S. & Mazachek, J. (2004). Stereotypes of the elderly in U.S. television commercial from the 1950s to the 1990s. International Journal of Aging and Human Development 58(4): 315–340.doi:10.2190/N1R6-7Q5Y-2N7Q-8NM1

Miller, L. (2008). Foucauldian constructionism. In J. A. Holstein & J. F. Gubrium (eds.), Handbook of Constructionist Research (pp. 413–428). New York: The Guilford Press.

Miller, P. N., Miller, D. W., McKibbin, E. M. & Pettys, G. L. (1999). Stereotypes of the elderly in magazine advertisements 1956–1996. International Journal of Aging and Human Development 49(4): 319–337.doi:10.2190/A078-FRJE-NQ1P-C3KY

Mulley, G. (2007). Myths of ageing. Clinical Medicine 7(1): 68–72.

Palkeinen, H. (2005a). ‘‘Tässa¨ on kaikki parasta, nyt kun ma¨ elän yksin.’’ Yksin olemisen hyva¨t puolet ia¨kka¨iden naimattomien naisten puheessa [Single, elderly women’s attitudes toward solitude]. Naistutkimus 18(1): 30–41.

Palkeinen, H. (2005b). Yksinäisyys iäkkäiden ihmisten kirjoituksissa [Loneliness in the texts of elderly people]. Gerontologia 19(3): 111–120.

Peplau, A. L. & Perlman, D. (1982). Perspectives on loneliness. In A. L. Peplau & D. Perlman (eds.), Loneliness: A Sourcebook of Current Theory, Research and Therapy (pp. 1–18). New York: John Willey.

Pettigrew, S. & Roberts, M. (2008). Addressing loneliness in later life. Aging & Mental Health 12(3): 302–309.doi:10.1080/13607860802121084

Pierce, L. L., Wilkinson, L. K. & Anderson, J. (2003). Analysis of the concept of aloneness. As applied to older women being treated for depression. Journal of Gerontological Nursing 29(7): 20–25.PMid:12874936

Pinquart, M. & Sorensen, S. (2001). Influences on loneliness in older adults: A meta-analysis. Basic & Applied Social Psychology 23(4): 245–266.

Rokach, A. (2004). Loneliness then and now: Reflections on social and emotional alienation in everyday life. Current Psychology 23(1): 24–40.doi:10.1007/s12144-004-1006-1

Routasalo, P. E., Savikko, N., Tilvis, R. S., Strandberg, T. E. & Pitka¨lä, K. H. (2006). Social contacts and their relationship to loneliness among aged people – a population-based study. Gerontology 52(3): 181–187.doi:10.1159/000091828PMid:16645299

Roy, A. & Harwood, J. (1997). Underrepresented, positively portrayed: Older adults in television commercials. Journal of Applied Communication Research 25(1): 39–56.doi:10.1080/00909889709365464

Rozanova, J. (2006). Newspaper portrayals of health and illness among Canadian seniors: Who ages healthy and at what cost? International Journal of Ageing and Later Life 1(2): 111–139.doi:10.3384/ijal.1652-8670.0612111

Sanoma Magazines Finland. (2009). ET-lehti. [The ET Magazine]. Helsinki: Sanoma Magazines Finland. Available on http://asiakaspalvelu.sanomamagazines.fi/tutustu/default.asp?lehti_ET (Accessed: February 23, 2009).

Savikko, N., Routasalo, P., Tilvis, R. S., Strandberg, T. E. & Pitkälä, K. H. (2005). Predictors and subjective causes of loneliness in an aged population. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatric 41(3): 223–233.doi:10.1016/j.archger.2005.03.002PMid:15908025

Steed, L., Boldy, D., Grenade, L. & Iredell, H. (2007). The demographics of loneliness among older people in Perth, Western Australia. Australasian Journal on Ageing 26(2): 81–86.doi:10.1111/j.1741-6612.2007.00221.x

Taylor, S. (2001). Locating and conducting discourse analytic research. In M. Wetherell, S. Taylor & S. Yates (eds.), Discourse as Data. A Guide for Analysis (pp. 5–48). London: Sage.

Toppila, M. (2009). Suomen suurin aikakauslehti [The Largest Magazine in Finland]. Helsinki: Sanoma Magazines Finland. Available on http://www.sanomamagazines.fi/mediaopas/kohderyhmat-ja-lehdet/lehdet/et.html (Accessed: February 23, 2009).

Vakimo, S. (2001). Paljon kokeva, vä hän näkyvä. Tutkimus vanhaa naista koskevista kulttuurisista käsityksistä ja vanhan naisen elämänkäytännöistä. [Out of Sight But Full of Life. A Study of Cultural Conceptions of Old Women and Their Life Practices]. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.

Vernon, J. A., Williams, Jr. J. A., Phillips, T. & Wilson, J. (1990). Media stereotyping: A comparison of the way elderly women and men are portrayed on prime-time television. Journal of Women & Aging 2(4): 55–68.doi:10.1300/J074v02n04_05

Victor, C., Scambler, S., Bond, J. & Bowling, A. (2000). Being alone in later life: Loneliness, social isolation and living alone. Reviews in Clinical Gerontology 10(4): 407–417.doi:10.1017/S0959259800104101

Victor, C. R., Scambler, S. J., Bowling, A. & Bond, J. (2005). The prevalence of, and risk factors for, loneliness in later life: A survey of older people in Great Britain. Ageing & Society 25(3): 357–375.doi:10.1017/S0144686X04003332

Vincent, J. (2003). Old Age. London: Routledge.

Weiss, R. S. (1973). Loneliness. The Experience of Emotional and Social Isolation. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Weiss, R. S. & Brass, S. A. (2002). Introduction. In R. S. Weiss & A. S. Brass (eds.), Challenges of the Third Age: Meaning and Purpose on Later Life (pp. 3–12). New York: Oxford University Press.

Wenger, G. C. & Burholt, V. (2004). Changes in level of social isolation and loneliness among older people in a rural area: A twenty-year longitudinal study. Canadian Journal on Aging 23(2): 115–127.doi:10.1353/cja.2004.0028

Wetherell, M. & Edley, N. (1999). Negotiating hegemonic masculinity: Imaginary positions and psycho-discursive practices. Feminism Psychology 9(3): 335–356.doi:10.1177/0959353599009003012

Wetherell, M., Taylor, S. & Yates, S. (eds.). (2001). Discourse as Data. A Guide for Analysis. London: Sage.

Williams, A., Wadleigh, P. M. & Yla¨nne, V. (2010). Images of older people in UK magazine advertising: Towards a typology. The International Journal of Aging and Human Development 71(2): 83–114.doi:10.2190/AG.71.2.a

Williams, A., Yla¨nne, V. & Wadleigh, P. M. (2007). Selling the ‘‘Elixir of Life’’: Images of the elderly in an Olivio advertising campaign. Journal of Ageing Studies 21(1): 1–21.doi:10.1016/j.jaging.2006.09.001

Wood, L. A. & Kroger, R. O. (2000). Doing Discourse Analysis. Methods for Studying Action in Talk and Text. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Zhang, W. & Liu, G. (2007). Childlessness, psychological well-being, and life satisfaction among the elderly in China. Journal of Gross Cultural Gerontology 22(2): 185–203.doi:10.1007/s10823-007-9037-3PMid:17347870

Zhang, Y. B., Harwood, J., Williams, A., Yla¨nne-McEven, V., Wadleigh, P. M. & Thimm, C. (2006). The portrayal of older adults in advertising. A cross-national review. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 25(3): 264–282.doi:10.1177/0261927X06289479

Zhang, Z. & Hayward, M. D. (2001). Childless and the psychological wellbeing of older persons. Journal of Gerontology: Social Science 56B(5): S311–S320.