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Money alone does not buy a good later life

Social connections are as important as money and health to a good later life, according to a major new study published by the Centre for Ageing Better.

The study reveals the strong links between health, financial security and social connections in determining whether we enjoy our later life. It is possible to enjoy a happy and fulfilled later life despite having some health and money problems.

New analysis has identified six groups based on their happiness with later life. These are:

  • Thriving Boomers
  • Downbeat Boomers
  • Can Do and Connected
  • Worried and Disconnected
  • Squeezed Middle Aged
  • Struggling and Alone

Social connections matter across all groups but a large group of people, predominantly in their 50s, are squeezed today and risk having a difficult future.

The ‘Squeezed Middle-Aged’ (representing over 2½ million people aged 50 and over in England [2]) are at risk of missing out on a good later life. Many are caring for children and parents, they have little time to socialise or money to spare. They report being too busy to build or maintain relationships with 45% of this group saying that they sometimes or often lack companionship. [3] People in their 50s are also less likely to say they are ‘satisfied with their lives’ than those in their 60s or 70s. [4]

The ‘Can Do and Connected’ group (representing over 3½ million in England) are mostly in their 60s and 70s and show how important social connections are in later life. Their health is worse than average, they have typically had a number of stressful life events and yet have high levels of happiness. This seems to be due to the strength of their supportive connections.

This is in sharp contrast to the group Ageing Better call ‘Worried and Disconnected’ who are similar in terms of age and health, have more stable finances and yet have a much lower sense of happiness. This is largely due to having fewer social connections, some of which had been lost when moving from work in to retirement.

The Centre for Ageing Better will develop and use evidence about what works to help bring about improvements in later life. Ageing Better has identified the areas where it believes it can have most impact including helping people stay active and connected. It will also help people prepare for the future and to feel in control as they age.

Ageing Better will begin work on these issues in the New Year when it will hold deliberative workshops with people with relevant life experience to identify potential solutions. It will also bring together leading thinkers, innovators and do-ers who it wants to work with to make change happen.

Anna Dixon, Chief Executive of the Centre for Ageing Better, said:

“Living longer is potentially the greatest gift of our lives and a huge opportunity for society. But as well as adding years to life, we need to add life to years – enabling people to enjoy a good later life. While good health and financial security are already seen as important, the value of human relationships is often ignored. By understanding more about what influences happiness in later life, we can ensure fewer people miss out. The Centre for Ageing Better will work with others to help people prepare for the future, stay active and connected, and feel in control. We will use evidence about what works to bring about changes so that in future more people will enjoy a good later life.”

Lord Geoffrey Filkin, Chair of the Centre for Ageing Better said:

“We are still “woefully unprepared” for our ageing society, as more of us live longer lives. This new research shows that there are millions of people on the cusp of older age who are at risk of missing out on the benefits and opportunities that a longer life can bring. Individuals, communities, businesses and Government need to act. I hope this report leads to more people understanding and acting on the issues so more of us can enjoy a good later life.”


  1. The Centre for Ageing Better commissioned Ipsos MORI to undertake a mixed-methods piece of social research, involving analysis of existing data to identify groups of people with similar experiences of later life, in-depth interviews and visits with people in each group, and a survey of 1,389 people aged 50 and over in England.In addition, they analysed the survey data from 8,835 people in the English Longitudinal Survey of Ageing, wave 6, 2012-13.
  2. Estimated from ONS 2014 mid-year population estimates adjusted using Census 2011 data on the proportion of the population living in private households.
  3. Compared to 36% of the 50 and over population as a whole (cluster analysis of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, 2012-13).
  4. Only 57% of people aged 50-54 feel satisfied with their lives compared to 65% of the 50 and over population as a whole (survey of 1,389 people aged 50 and over, Ipsos MORI for the Centre for Ageing Better, September – October 2015).