Alone but connected? Digital (in)equalities in care work and generational relationships among older people living alone

Project summary

Digitalisation has brought a significant change to perceived and enacted care relationships in terms of distance and proximity between people. Whilst the digital age adds new cultural expectations of care, collaboration and mutuality, it has the potential to perpetuate inequalities between generations, income groups and countries due to available care resources and infrastructure. Living alone raises specific challenges to care work and on- and off-line care relationships particularly in contexts, where tension with close or immediate handson physical caring, as well as caring responsibilities involving younger generations, arise. Digitalisation has contributed to the connectedness of young and old generations within families as employment opportunities have forced younger generations to leave their hometowns. The Covid-19 pandemic and its accompanying social lockdown has led to a particular increase in the numbers of older people using mobile technologies to stay in touch with family and friends. As people live longer, seek more autonomous living, do not tolerate unsatisfactory family or household relationships, and are obliged for various reasons to live alone either temporarily or on a more permanent basis, living alone has become a central theme to understanding later life. Living alone also necessitates some degree of selfcare. Thus, an aspect of great empirical, policy and societal interest is the relation of (self)care and digital webs of caring work towards and from family members, friends and indeed wider circles of neighbours, acquaintances and those of similar service or mutual co-operation organisations and networks.

EQaulCare aims to further understanding of, and policy development on, the intersections of digitalisation with intergenerational care work and care relationships of older people living alone, and to contribute to reducing inequalities through collaboration and co-design. EQualCare interrogates inequalities by gender, cultural and socio-economic background both between and within countries, with their very different demographics and policy backgrounds.

EQualCare is a cross-cultural comparison and collaboration, with Finland and Sweden as two countries advanced in the digitalisation of civic and private life and thus providing a helpful contrast to Germany and Latvia that are at different levels of digitalisation. Following a participatory action research (PAR) approach, EQualCare sets out to recruit older people aged 60+ as co-researchers. These co-researchers will define questions and problems related to the aim of EQualCare and seek out older people living alone in the community to listen to their experiences. There will be two PAR projects per country and co-researchers will be recruited ensuring diversity in terms of gender, socio-economic and cultural background. The model of EQualCare is a participatory policy making one, whereby the work of one PAR project leads to a reduction of social inequality at the local level, but where combined with the work done by other groups leads to changes at a higher (e.g. regional or national) level. With four European countries collaborating, societal outreach of the eight interlinked PAR projects will have supranational impact. In addition, the project will undertake an review of social policy documents and legislation in terms of care-responsibility and digitalisation for each country and analyse existing national and EU data sets (e.g. EU-SILC) to draw comparative information on living conditions, income, health and care work for different age segments in the 60+ age group.

The project consortium is strongly multidisciplinary, bringing together experienced researchers in anthropology, business, organisation and management studies, cultural studies, education, gender studies, psychology and sociology.

Project details

EQualCare participated in the fourth joint call on ‘Equality and Wellbeing across Generations’.

Project duration and total costs

Project duration: 36 months
Total costs: €1,060,571.07


  • Goethe-University Frankfurt, Germany.
    Coordinator: Dr Miranda Leontowitsch
    Prof Frank Oswald
    Rafaela Werny
  • Hanken School of Economics, Finland.
    Dr Charlotta Niemistö
    Prof Emeritus Jeff Hearn
    Hanna Sjögren
  • Linnaeus University, Sweden.
    Prof Clary Krekula
    Dr Emme-Li Vingare
  • University of Latvia, Latvia.
    Dr Aivita Putnina
    Dr Ilze Mileiko