Physical distancing is related to fewer electronic and in-person contacts and to increased loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic among older Europeans

Ella Cohn-Schwartz, Adi Vitman-Schorr, Rabia Khalaila

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: During the COVID-19 pandemic older adults are asked to maintain physical distancing, which can be linked to loneliness. While older people are encouraged to use electronic communication to stay socially connected, it remains an open question whether electronic contacts are related to lower loneliness during the pandemic. This study examined the associations of physical distancing during the pandemic with loneliness and the role of in-person and electronic contacts with children and non-kin as explaining these associations across European regions. Methods: The study used data from Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), collected during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Mediation and moderation analyses tested the direct and indirect associations between physical distancing, contact frequency and loneliness, as well as the differences across European regions. Results: The results indicate that adults who reported higher frequency of physical distancing also felt lonelier during the pandemic. This association was partly explained by social contacts—those who practiced physical distancing maintained less in-person contact with children and non-kin and less electronic contact with non-kin, which were related to feeling lonelier. Adults in Southern European countries felt lonelier and reported more frequent contacts. The moderation analyses showed that the link between physical distancing and loneliness was found in the northern region, but not in the southern and eastern regions of Europe. Conclusion: This study can indicate that attention should be paid to adults who may struggle to maintain social contacts in light of physical distancing guidelines.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1033-1042
Number of pages10
JournalQuality of Life Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This paper uses data from SHARE Wave 8 (DOIs: ). The SHARE data collection has been funded by the European Commission through FP5 (QLK6-CT-2001-00360), FP6 (SHARE-I3: RII-CT-2006-062193, COMPARE: CIT5-CT-2005-028857, SHARELIFE: CIT4-CT-2006-028812), FP7 (SHARE-PREP: GA N°211909, SHARE-LEAP: GA N°227822, SHARE M4: GA N°261982, DASISH: GA N°283646) and Horizon 2020 (SHARE-DEV3: GA N°676536, SHARE-COHESION: GA N°870628, SERISS: GA N°654221, SSHOC: GA N°823782) and by DG Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion. Additional funding from the German Ministry of Education and Research, the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science, the U.S. National Institute on Aging (U01_AG09740-13S2, P01_AG005842, P01_AG08291, P30_AG12815, R21_AG025169, Y1-AG-4553-01, IAG_BSR06-11, OGHA_04-064, HHSN271201300071C) and from various national funding sources is gratefully acknowledged (see ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG.


  • Friends
  • Loneliness
  • Online
  • Phone
  • Social contacts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Physical distancing is related to fewer electronic and in-person contacts and to increased loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic among older Europeans'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this