Loneliness: A Global Ailment Of Our Aging, Virtual Society

Globally, 25% of all people admit they have nobody to talk to, with older people living longer and young people spending their time on line.

Alone on the bench
Alone on the bench
Arturo Flier

BUENOS AIRES After reading last month's article "The Loneliness of Millennials' in Clarín, I must point out that this problem does not apply to any single generation. For starters, the world's population is aging. The World Health Organization reports that life expectancy rose by 5.5 years between 2000 and 2016. The indicator is not of course uniform across the world, and typically depends on income and healthcare available in a country or region. Even today, in some countries people live 18 fewer years on average than in wealthier places.

Still, there have been significant advances, as in the case of Eritrea, where life expectancy today is 22 years longer than early this century when it was barely 43 years, or other countries that have successfully fought AIDS, smallpox or other diseases.

In mid to high-income countries, the emphasis given to women having professional careers and calculating the costs of having a child has gradually cut down the birth rate as women have their first child later and later. In southern Europe where childbearing had traditionally been more prolific, each woman now has an average of 1.4 children.

This aging trend is generating a crisis in pensions and retirement systems worldwide, and a need for migrants to help sustain them, especially in the northern hemisphere. In parallel, it is also creating a new urban map with an explosion of single-member households including young people living with no partners, and older adults or separated individuals who are enjoying longer lives now.

Some consider this epidemic of loneliness more deadly than obesity.

One of the little-talked about results of this growing phenomenon is loneliness, particularly evident in older people but not exclusive to them. Polls show that more than 6% of Europeans (some 30 million souls) say they have nobody to talk to. The figure is 13% in Italy and Luxembourg. The United Kingdom created a government Minister of Loneliness after 200,000 people set off the alarms by telling a poll they had not spoken to anyone for a year. The lower house of Spain's legislature approved a strategy against loneliness, after 40% of youngsters aged 16-24 said they felt alone.

Unsplash/Lonely person on the bike

The aging trend is generating a crisis in pensions and retirement systems worldwide — Photo: Raoul Croes/Unsplash

Globally, 25% of all people admit they have nobody to talk to. Some consider this epidemic of loneliness more deadly than obesity, generating alcoholism, drug addiction, sleeplessness, dementia, but also skepticism and depression as it leads to faster processing of negative social information. This social phenomenon does not discriminate according to age, gender nor socio-economic level. It can be seen among hyper-connected kids living virtual lives online, in people with stable partners, and in the overworked or unemployed.

No system can eliminate our condition as gregarious and social beings, and we shall always have a need to count on "someone." The virtual world and its offer of instant and multiple connections have not managed so far to break the loneliness barrier, nor supplant the impact of physical presence or the shared experience with the "other."

Governments at various levels face the enormous challenge of acting with urgency on this particularly 21st-century ailment. They must develop strategies to promote group living and encourage a communal outlook oriented toward different age groups. Such initiatives can be applied to areas of services, team sports, tourism, and cultural activities. Ideally, such action would, in turn, become a tool for creating real jobs that will continue in the age of automation and Artificial Intelligence, and in turn stimulate productivity, innovation and ultimately feed contributions to public pensions and health services for that same aging population.

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A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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