Abstract: Social networks are important for well‐being and healthy aging. However, older adults are more likely to have less social contact with others than their younger counterparts due to significant changes in their lives, such as retirement or age‐related losses, along with declining health and mobility. Consequently, with increasing age, a growing proportion of people experience feelings of loneliness. This becomes even more important during pandemics when social contact should be minimized. Therefore, this article examines the extent and patterns of loneliness before and during the first two years of the Covid‐19 pandemic and how social contact and the type of communication affected levels of loneliness during the pandemic. To investigate loneliness, social contact, and their association during the pandemic, this study uses representative data from 27 countries from SHARE (Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe). The analyses are based on a balanced panel covering three consecutive waves with 28,448 respondents aged 50 years or older. The results indicate that three out of ten Europeans face loneliness in later life. While loneliness has increased for a significant part of the elderly in the wake of the pandemic, there has also been a reverse trend in terms of a decrease in feelings of loneliness for an almost equal proportion of people. Additionally, multivariate analyses highlight that nonpersonal communication cannot substitute face‐to‐face interaction and can potentially increase feelings of loneliness.
Keywords: communication; Covid‐19; Europe; healthy aging; loneliness; pandemic scenario; SHARE; social contact; social isolation; social networks; well‐being