[2/24/20] – Fighting Loneliness through Cohabitation

Recently, Sweden joined other countries in taking an interesting approach to its growing elderly (and refugee) and millennial populations. Instead of placing each group into their respective housing to live, officials have designed a new concept housing called the “SällBo.” According to a late 2019 article, this, … “…project in the Swedish city of Helsingborg aims to combat loneliness among the elderly at the same time as helping former child refugees integrate by housing them side-by-side in the same building. There are 31 flats for retired people and 20 for 18- to 25-year-olds, ten of which are reserved for people who arrived in Sweden as unaccompanied child asylum-seekers.” We’ve also seen this trend growing in the United States with a proliferation of young people who struggle to pay rent and are simultaneously pursuing their degree or recently graduated. Sociologists have a long-standing interest in the issue of social isolation, and this week we explore it through the lens of Sweden, intergenerational interactions, similarities and differences between social isolation in the United States and Sweden and how institutions work to address these issues to provide stability for society…and also how access to resources can create competition over them.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for Fighting Loneliness through Cohabitation

Learning Objectives

LO1: Explain how the social process of loneliness is rooted in cultural norms of progress, success, and human interaction.

LO2: Discuss how your experiences (or perceptions) align with or critique existing sociological wisdom on loneliness, both modern and historical.

LO3: Deliberate the merits of involving government agencies in creating a complex system of supports for humans living with loneliness in their society.


Music students living at Cleveland retirement home

Music is bringing generations together at Judson Manor, a Cleveland retirement home where young music students reside with seniors.

This Retirement Home Offers Students Free Housing

This retirement home offers students free housing in exchange for spending quality time with senior-citizen neighbors.

Talking to your neighbors is mandatory if you live here. A plan to help tackle loneliness.

Talking to your neighbors is mandatory, if you live here, you can only live in this block of flats if you are under 25 or a pensioner – and you have to socialize. It’s all part of a plan to help tackle loneliness.

Discussion Questions

Describe the experience of loneliness in your own words. How does the experience of feeling alone effect a human being? What would you say is the minimum among of time one needs to experience loneliness in order to feel these effects? Is being lonely all bad? What positive experiences can emerge from social isolation, if any?

How would the concept of intersectionality be applied to the issue(s) surrounding loneliness in the United States, specifically? How do issues of social class, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality, political affiliation, and more converge to prevent or propel one toward loneliness? How is aging socially constructed in the United States? Is American culture more or less accommodating to senior populations? What parts of American culture are reflected in the way we treat our elderly populations?

To what degree do social institutions like education and healthcare need to be involved in the fight against loneliness? What measures could they implement in order to increase connectivity among humans? How can they make the impact lasting?

From a symbolic-interaction perspective, describe the value of human interaction as one grows older. How are the needs of human interaction different and similar among elderly and millennial generations? How does living together facilitate opportunities for authentic connections to build? What is the role of technology in modern age of loneliness? Can computers provide the same level of human connection that can offset feelings of loneliness?

From a conflict perspective, there are only so many spots available in these housing situations, so how might this social asset become fodder for fierce competition? What populations are most likely to suffer the consequences of this competition? Is it possible that some populations are more targeted to experience the effects of social isolation, even in large urban areas? Why or why not?


From a sociological perspective, social isolation can disrupt one’s _______ experience and render them ill equipped to perform a variety of social functions within the norms of a society.
a. deviance
b. living
c. socialization
d. norm building

A social conflict theorist would likely be interested in investigating which of the following topics related to the issue of loneliness and human interaction?
a. Advertisement revenue gathered by corporations used to pay executives.
b. Disproportionate amounts of poor people experiencing loneliness and dying sooner.
c. Gender differences in norms surrounding disclosing experiences of loneliness.
d. All of the above.

_______ control(s) the experience of and access to resources to combat negative effects of loneliness in society. It also drives how we define loneliness and those who suffer from it.
a. Capitalism
b. Culture
c. Credentialism
d. Creditors

Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/PredragImages

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