The Loneliness of Many? Investigating the Roots of Urban Russian Loneliness

Friday, July 18, 2014: 11:00 AM
Room: Harbor Lounge A
Oral Presentation
Christopher SWADER , Sociology, Higher School of Economics, Russia
Much early sociological work on cities has focused and the connection between city life and urban estrangement. A host of modern maladies are proposed to have higher concentrations within cities: to include alienation, anomie, and the ‘blasť’ attitude. As a result of these and shifting forms of social cohesion in urban spaces, we should also expect to find a higher prevalence of loneliness within urban environments. Cross-country data (the ESS) show loneliness rates to be much higher in Eastern than in Western Europe. Russia is therefore an ideal place to investigate loneliness.

Using Russian WVS data from 2012 on the question of loneliness, I attempt to find the mechanisms through which the urban loneliness effect occurs by also controlling for other relevant factors, such as social engagement, alienation, and values such as individualism/collectivism. In particular, I am interested in the way that individualist values mediate loneliness, either by catalyzing or mitigating its effect, and I expect that this mediation effect is different in cities, with 'urban values,' compared to rural areas. I compare four samples: one metropolis (Moscow), one city (Tambov), a non-urban sample (Russians living in settlements of 100,000 or less), and Tatarstan (city and non-city). Results confirm several important hypotheses. Notably, nearly all loneliness effects in cities are mediated by individualism, collectivism, in stark contrast to loneliness in non-urban areas. In particular, I find that individualists in Moscow are more lonely if they have children, likely because family isolates them from the types of ties they would prefer (with friends, associations, and wider networks). For collectivists, this effect is reversed. Likewise, collectivists in a smaller city (Tambov) are more lonely if they are involved in more civic organizations, likely because this involvement is compensating for a lack of the ties they idealize (family).