Mortgages, rents, and low education: the factors behind loneliness in Malta

Financial insecurity caused by housing costs and debts is likely to be a factor contributing to loneliness, a study has revealed

Financial insecurity caused by housing costs and debts is likely to be a factor contributing to loneliness, besides age, disability and a low level of education.

A study by the University of Malta’s Faculty for Social Well-being and the National Statistics Office found that of the 1,000 people surveyed, a significant amount of 43.5% said they were either moderately (41.3%), severely (1.7%) or very severely lonely (0.7%). The first results of the study were published in May.

And 53% of respondents who live in rented accommodation are experiencing severe or moderate loneliness, compared to 43% who own their house. While only 28% of those whose mortgage has already been paid experience loneliness, the percentage rises to 49% among those still paying their mortgage.

The study ‘The Prevalence of Loneliness in Malta’, authored by Marylin Clark, Andrew Azzopardi and Jamie Bonnici, shows people are more likely to be lonely if they live alone, are widowed, separated, or divorced, are disabled, or rate their general physical health as bad.

Individuals who have completed higher levels of education are less likely to be lonely than those with lower education.

Educational attainment was significantly associated with loneliness, with rates of loneliness decreasing the higher one’s level of education is.

Those with a primary or lower level of education experienced the highest rates of severe or very severe loneliness (3.3%), followed by those with a secondary level of education (2.5%), post-secondary or non-tertiary education level (1.6%). In contrast, less than one percent (0.8%) of tertiary-educated individuals were classified as severely or very severely lonely.  

Less than a quarter of university-educated people were lonely compared to 48% of those with a secondary education and 54% of those with a primary level of education.

Individuals who perceive their household income to be low are also likelier to be lonely, than those who say their incomes are high or adequate. While 6% of those who say they are low-income earners said they were severely lonely, just 1% of those on an adequate income experience described themselves severely lonely. 55% of those on a low income said they were moderately lonely, compared to 37% of those on an adequate income.

Labour status was another factor associated with loneliness. Retired individuals are more likely to be lonely (58.1%), compared to lower rates for those who are in employment (36.1%). Higher rates of loneliness (48.9%) are also experienced by persons otherwise not in employment – including students, persons unable to work due to illness or disability, or those taking care of the house and/or family – as well as the unemployed (40%).

The study makes a number of recommendations, including a call on the government to address rising cost of living rates “given the impact that financial insecurity can have on loneliness and subsequently on physical health outcomes”.

The study found higher levels of loneliness among people with a weak sense of belonging in the community (over 50%), but even those with a strong sense of belonging in their locality (33%) said they experienced loneliness. “This could involve improving areas which lack green spaces to benefit members of the community and supporting campaigns that encourage residents to improve green spaces whilst fostering a sense of connectedness,” the study recommends.

  Severely lonely Moderately lonely
All 1.7% 41.3%
Primary level of education 3.3% 53.9%
Secondary 2.5% 47.6%
Post-secondary 1.6% 35.5%
Tertiary 0.8% 24.4%
Own a house 1.6% 41%
Rent 5.3% 47.4%
Mortgage already paid 2.1% 25.5%
Mortgage not paid 1.8% 46.7%
Adequate income 1% 37.4%
Low income 5.8% 54.5%