What does living alone really mean for older persons? A comparative study of Myanmar, Vietnam, and Thailand

Bussarawan Puk TEERAWICHITCHAINAN, Singapore Management University
John Knodel
Wiraporn Pothisiri


Background: Rapid development and social change in Asia have led many to assume that the proportion of elderly people living alone is rising and that they tend to live in destitute situations. These assumptions often lack empirical validation. Objective: We address the trends and correlates of solitary living among older persons in Myanmar, Vietnam, and Thailand. We examine the extent to which this form of living arrangement equates with their financial stress, physical and social isolation, psychological distress, and met need for personal care. Methods: We analyze 2011-12 national surveys of older persons from the three countries. We employ descriptive and multivariate analyses using either binary logistic regression or multiple classification analysis. Results: There has been a modest upward trend in solo living among the elderly in the three countries over the last few decades. The prevalence of solo living remains low, accounting for less than one-tenth of all elders in each setting. A substantial proportion of solo-dwelling elders live in quasi-coresidence. Solo living is not always associated with financial stress. Although solitary dwellers report more psychological distress than others, our evidence does not support the claim that they are socially alienated. Note, however, that solo-living elders who are childless are the most vulnerable group and will need attention from policymakers and social workers. While solitary living tends to be correlated with adverse wellbeing outcomes in Myanmar and Vietnam, this is less the case in Thailand. Conclusions: Our evidence provides a varied and nuanced view regarding the trends and situations of solitary-living elders in developing Southeast Asia.