Older men at the margins: a study of older mens experiences of seeking social engagement and combating loneliness in later life

Paul Willis Completed   2019


Loneliness can impact on people’s wellbeing across the lifecourse, however, later life is consistently associated with loneliness. Research about older men’s experiences of loneliness and social isolation is largely undifferentiated and less attention has been given to the experiences of men from marginalised or seldom heard groups.


The overarching aim of this 2.5-year qualitative study was to develop an in-depth understanding of the formal and informal ways in which men (65+ years) from marginalised and seldom heard groups seek to maintain social engagement and social participation in later life. This includes their experiences of participation in group interventions targeted at reducing loneliness among older adults.


The main method was semi-structured interviewing. Interviews included questions about men’s social networks (ascertaining key features of their networks, including membership and sources of practical and emotional support), experiences of loneliness (past and present) and ways of coping with this, and participation in groups. A rapid literature review was also conducted to identify predictors of, and preventative factors against, loneliness and social isolation for older men from the above identified groups. Seventy-eight sources were included (academic and grey literature).

A total of 111 men self-selected to take part from five groups:

  1. men who are single or living alone in urban areas;
  2. men who are single or living alone in rural areas (i.e. towns, villages, hamlets with less than 10,000 residents);
  3. gay-identifying men who are single or living alone;
  4. men with hearing loss; and
  5. men who are carers for significant others.

Participants ranged in ages from 65–95 years and the mean age was 76. Thirty men (27%) were aged between 80–89 years with six men (5%) aged over 90 years. The majority of the sample were from White British backgrounds with six men identifying with BAME groups (a limitation of the study). Twenty-one men (19%) identified as ‘gay’, all other participants identified as heterosexual. No participants identified as bisexual.

Twenty stakeholders involved in running or leading groups for older men (or older adults) in South West England were interviewed. There were a range of different services represented in the sample ranging from self-managing grass roots organisations to larger community organisations such as community centres supporting a variety of activities for older people in the community.


  • The effects of loneliness were often pronounced and had a range of negative impacts on day-to-day life
  • Experiences differed by sexuality, hearing loss and caring responsibility
  • Feeling ‘left out of things’, socially excluded, overlooked, cut-off were commonly expressed emotions
  • Men did not always have people to confide their feelings to – or felt reticent about doing so
  • Men valued groups that tried to increase social opportunities and interaction
  • Mixed aged groups were strongly preferred, as they did not want to be siloed in groups for ‘old people’
  • There were notable barriers and challenges in accessing and participating in groups
  • Social care practitioners need to be aware of the life events associated with loneliness and how these trigger points impact on wellbeing and social engagement with others.


View a range of resources on Age UK’s project page, including: