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Planning and preparing for our later lives

Ageing Better’s report, ‘Planning and preparing for later life’, summarises the available evidence on what enables people to plan for their later lives and what factors can present barriers to planning.

The research found that while a number of barriers exist, planning and preparing for later life is both possible and likely to be beneficial.

A new report from the Centre for Ageing Better

Later life can be a great period of our lives, but we need enough money to live on, people to rely on and a suitable home to live in. Planning ahead could make it more likely that we enjoy a good later life, including things like saving for retirement, taking action to try to stay fit and healthy, and working out whether we need to adapt and make our homes accessible as we grow older.

Our research found that while a number of barriers exist, planning and preparing for later life is both possible and likely to be beneficial. While it’s not a silver bullet, there are plenty of things that can be done ahead of time to try and ensure we have a good later life.

Focusing primarily on those in mid-life, the research aimed to answer three key questions:

  1. Who does or doesn’t plan for later life in mid-life onwards?
  2. What enables or prevents people from planning for later life?
  3. What can be done to encourage more people to overcome the barriers to planning?

Planning and preparing for later life

Read the report
Who does or doesn’t plan for later life?

The evidence illustrates that those who are living in challenging and precarious circumstances are less likely to plan for later life. Unsurprisingly, many who are on a low income, living in rented accommodation and/or working part-time tend to focus on the immediate concerns of the here and now: trying to earn enough money for that next rent payment, struggling to get more hours at work, or juggling multiple caring responsibilities. It is therefore crucial that we consider the wider circumstances of people’s lives when thinking about how to encourage planning, and not assume that those who aren’t engaging in planning are just being ‘irresponsible’.

What enables or prevents planning for later life?

Despite material circumstances clearly constricting people’s ability to plan, there are a range of ways in which we could encourage those in mid-life to plan for later life. These revolve around five key themes (Awareness/salience; Choice and control; Knowledge and skills; Instrumental and informational support; and Social influence) illustrated by the table featured in the report. Several of these barriers and enablers for any given area of planning can be relevant for an individual at the same time, and it’s clear that many of the barriers are more prevalent amongst those who are least likely to plan in the first place due to more challenging personal circumstances.

What might work in encouraging people to plan?

Although evidence on specific interventions aimed at increasing planning behaviours is limited, our review points towards some general lessons for anyone wanting to enable people to overcome the barriers to planning:

  1. Encourage people to preserve the good things in life by focusing on what they want to maintain into the future and encouraging the setting of achievable goals.
  1. Work on time perspectives to enable people to think about themselves in the future, which for many can be difficult to imagine.
  1. Avoid imposing an external pressure to plan as this can have negative effects such as feelings of guilt.
  1. Acknowledge that there are limitations to an approach which seeks simply to give people more information in the hope they will act on it. Tailor advice and support and consider the range of other barriers people face.
  1. Recognise that people often plan with other important people in their lives, including as a couple and for their family.
  1. Recognise that some individuals need more support than others as they are disadvantaged in their capacity to plan, for example those on low incomes.
  1. Accept that there are limitations to planning generally, and many life events are difficult if not impossible to plan for.

Blogs: Planning and preparing for later life

Read our series of blogs

Ultimately our circumstances have the largest impact on whether we can or indeed do plan and prepare for later life. For those on low incomes, in temporary work, or in precarious housing situations it is far more difficult to consider the future because of the pressing needs of the present. Alongside this, even for those in relatively secure material circumstances, it can be hard to plan and prepare for later life for a variety of experiential, attitudinal and psychological reasons. However, there are clearly some approaches that could be taken to encourage more planning for the future, many of which need to be underpinned by external support from peers, service providers, and government.