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Good friends

Inequalities exist within generations, as well as between them

Inequalities exist within generations, as well as between them. “If you’ve not got good health, you can’t even make money.” Trevor, Struggling and Alone.

By Phil Richards.

He’s suffering with depression too, which he attributes, at least in part, to the impact his back problems have had on the other areas of his life, like his relationship with his ex-partner, who he split up with last year.

Trevor is ‘Struggling and Alone’. This was just one of the six segments we identified from the social research project exploring people’s wellbeing as they age we undertook with Ipsos MORI in 2015.

From this, we know that there’s wide variation in how people experience later life. The six segments of people aged 50 and over categorised according to their experiences, circumstances and levels of wellbeing are:

We seem to be facing a time of intergenerational tensions, with many people claiming that the generation gap is wider than ever.  The recent launch of the Resolution Foundation’s Commission on Intergenerational fairness generated headlines like Millennials will be the first generation in history to be worse off than their parents. Although it’s true that we are currently at a time of significant social and demographic change in the UK, with more people living longer than ever before, it is vitally important to look at the inequalities within generations, as well as between them.

Trevor’s part of a group who make up 12% of people aged 50 and over, who scored significantly lower than average on all key measures that influence social wellbeing in later life. His situation is not an isolated case. Many of those ‘Struggling and Alone’ are in poor health and have experienced health problems throughout their life. This affects their ability to work and made them more likely to experience financial insecurity in later life. These pressures have also severely impacted their social connections, with three quarters (74%) of those in this segment giving low scores (of 0-5 out of 10) when asked ‘how happy did you feel yesterday?’

Compare this to the ‘Thriving Boomers’ who make up 21% of people aged 50 and over, where over three quarters (77%) gave high scores (of 9-10 out of 10) when asked the same question.

This segment are likely to be in their 60s, are living with a partner, retired and, as they’ve paid off their mortgage, they have more disposable income which they can spend on holidays and social and cultural activities. They have a strong network of family and friends and people they feel they can rely on – all of which help create a more fulfilling later life.

This stark contrast in the three key dimensions of wellbeing that our research identified – health, financial security and social connections, is quite alarming. But the work we are doing at the Centre for Ageing Better aims to tackle these dimensions head on.

We’ve identified the benefits of being in fulfilling work that supports a good later life. Not only is staying in work important to bolster finances, but it’s also a major source of social connections, with people missing these social circles more than any other aspect of work (36%) once they retire.

Not all people stop working out of choice. Our survey showed that 13% of those that had retired had done so due to ill health and 7% because they were made redundant. We’re calling for employers to recognise the benefits that older workers can bring and to create more age-friendly workplaces. Our partnership with Business in the Community will help to identify and test what works to recruit, retrain and retain older workers.

The fact that people are living longer presents an incredible opportunity for everyone to enjoy healthy, active and fulfilling later lives. However, at the moment too many people risk missing out.

So when we think about later life, it is important for all of us not to generalise. There are as many differences between individuals within a generation as there are differences between the generations themselves. We want to use the experiences of those who are happier in later life regardless of financial or social status to help prevent people like Trevor from ever struggling or being alone, ensuring we all get to enjoy life to the full as we age.

The fact that people are living longer presents an incredible opportunity for everyone to enjoy healthy, active and fulfilling later lives.