Identifying and Addressing Loneliness Among Chinese Late-life Immigrants in New Zealand

Zhao, Yan
Wright-St Clair, Valerie
Neville, Stephen
Garrett, Nick
Item type
Degree name
Doctor of Philosophy
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Auckland University of Technology

Background: Chinese late-life immigrants frequently resettle in New Zealand for the purpose of being reunited with their adult children. Evidence indicates they are more prone to experiencing social isolation and loneliness than the general population. However, little is known about how their loneliness manifests and how it might be addressed.

Method: A mixed methods design was used. Purposive recruitment was conducted through venues where Chinese late-life immigrants frequented. The study’s 23 participants had emigrated from mainland China, aged 65 to 80 years on arrival, and had resided in New Zealand between 2.5 and 16 years. Qualitative data were gathered through in-depth, individual interviews conducted in Mandarin. Each participant then completed interview based standardised measures of loneliness, social support, quality of life, and everyday functioning. Co-design workshops were undertaken with 10 participants’ involvement as co-researchers.

Findings: The results of this study indicate experiences of loneliness and social isolation are common among Chinese late-life immigrants. From the qualitative interviews, the evidence for participants’ cultural loneliness makes an original contribution to knowledge in the social gerontology field. Participants’ feelings of a deep sense of imbalanced intergenerational reciprocity was identified. The imbalanced reciprocity combined with Chinese culture, such as ‘Three obedience and the four virtues’, ‘Filial piety’, and ‘Saving face’, impact negatively on their understandings and experiences of loneliness. Those over 80 years of age reported greater social isolation and loneliness. Loneliness was identified by study participants as a risk factor for anxiety, chest distress, sleeplessness, depression, and loss of self-confidence. Quantitatively, the overall loneliness scores ranged from 0 to 6 with a mean of 2.44. The emotional loneliness and social loneliness scores had a mean of 1.09 (0-3) and 1.35 (0-3) respectively. In response to the direct question about loneliness, 11 participants (48%) reported that they were lonely. Co-designed community navigation needs and public housing recommendations resulted in collaborative actions with stakeholders, Age Concern Auckland and Housing New Zealand.

Conclusion: The study’s design illustrates how analysis of disparate forms of data helped crystallise the culturally-bound understandings of loneliness. These data reveal new knowledge about Chinese late-life immigrants’ loneliness in New Zealand. The 6-item De Jong loneliness scale score was identified as having discordance with the participant interview findings. It is essential to consider Chinese culture when researching or addressing loneliness with older Chinese. The benefits of involving Chinese late-life immigrants as co-researchers outweighed the challenges.

Late life , Immigrants , Chinese , Loneliness , Social isolation
Publisher's version
Rights statement