Wellbeing in later life

Wellbeing in later life

We partnered with Ipsos MORI to undertake a major social research project exploring people’s wellbeing in later life

The research identified three key dimensions of a good later life – health, financial security and social connections.
What did we do?
Using existing literature, Ipsos MORI selected a range of indicators that could be used to understand wellbeing in later life. This generated six distinct segments of the population aged 50 and over, all of which are of broadly equal size and are distributed across England.

Thriving boomers

Those in this segment are typically in their 60s and early 70s, living with a partner. As well as being financially secure, they are generally in good health, have strong social connections. and display the highest overall levels of happiness.

This is Simon's story.

Simon, 69, is in good health and does not have any serious or long term health conditions.

He keeps himself active by going jogging every evening. He's always enjoyed sport and exercise, and this is something that he does as part of his daily routine, rather than as a conscious effort to improve his health.

He also eats well, ensuring that his meals are balanced and include ingredients like white meat, fish and lots of salads.

"If you are healthy you can really do a lot... you can plan everything else."

Simon places a lot of value on keeping his family close and connected with each other.

He takes great pride in the active role he plays in bringing up his granddaughter who lives with him. He credits the purpose that this role has given him with helping him to make the transition from paid work into retirement.

He's also a member of his church choir, which allows him to socialise with friends and partake in his hobby of singing.

"My family are my pillar... they pep me up."

Downbeat boomers

Downbeat boomers are demographically similar to thriving boomers but very different in their outlook. They are typically financially secure, in good health, maintain strong social connections, but show only average levels of happiness.

This is Kate's story.

For Kate, 63, keeping fit and healthy is an important priority. She ties this in with her social activities and goes to exercise classes regularly.

She is diligent about keeping up with frequent medical check-ups, including a general check-up with her GP at least once a year.

"Not many people my age walk that far regularly. I think I’m doing well because I keep active."

She believes her strong family ties have enabled her to get through the challenges and difficulties she has faced in her life.

She's also involved in several voluntary activities, which give her a sense of purpose and an opportunity to socialise with others.

"I just want people around me. Money would be nice but only so I don’t have to worry about it."

Kate lost both of her parents in the last five years. She was close to both of them and has found this a very difficult transition to deal with, describing it as the biggest challenge she's ever faced.

Although she has strong social networks and is content with these at the moment, Kate's worried that as she ages, she will have fewer opportunities to socialise.

"I’d say life is getting worse as I get older because there’s a lot I haven’t done that I would have liked to. As you get older these opportunities don’t arise."

Kate is quite comfortable financially and acknowledges that she may even be a little better off than others of her age.

However, this doesn't stop her from worrying frequently about the unexpected, such as the possibility of needing home repairs.

Kate values being part of a community and gets on well with her neighbours.

Good transport links are also important to Kate, to enable her to access museums and galleries.

"Young people here treat visiting a parent or a grandparent as a chore or duty."

Can do and connected

Usually in their 70s or 80s and often widowed, those in this segment typically have poor health and lack in disposable income. They do, however, have higher than average levels of happiness, strong social connections and a positive outlook on life.

This is Mary's story.

Mary, 76, has a number of health problems, although she is determined to stay independent for as long as possible and knows that this means taking care of her health.

She watches what she eats – trying to ensure she has enough fresh food – but also exercises regularly, insofar as she can because of her physical limitations.

"You have to learn to accept a lot as you get older and not dwell on what you can’t have or do..."

Mary also has a number of good friends who she often spends time with. She credits her friends with helping her through difficult times in her life.

She's recently had to make new friends after moving to London to be closer to her children following the death of her husband.

"It’s nice to have friends... you talk to them when you have troubles, or when sad things happen you can share them. And when good things happen too."

One of the things Mary appreciates the most about where she lives is the transport links – she can be in central London within half an hour.

Mary also greatly enjoys her garden; when she moved to her current house, one of the first things she did was to create a space that was hers and where she could sit and relax.

While Mary is able to identify how her life would change if she had more money, she appreciates that she has enough money for her needs.

"My best friend, she’s always there, I can lean on her, share my troubles with her. I can knock on the door and always get a welcome."

Worried and disconnected

Those in this segment are typically aged 70 or over and are retired. Despite being financially stable, they sometimes have poor health and are more likely to be socially isolated, often due to bereavement or losing social connections they had through work. This often attributes to below average levels of happiness.

This is James' story.

James has a number of long-term health conditions including Type 2 Diabetes and memory loss.

He says he eats and drinks what he wants and doesn’t exercise aside from walking short distances.

"I eat and drink what I want… and physical exercise has never been a friend of mine…"

With his family living far away, and friends not tending to drop by, he recognises that getting out is the only way he will see people.

Since his partner died, James lives alone and feels lonely most of the time.

James feels stuck in a rut, but doesn’t know how to change things for the better – he feels that he's too old to meet anyone new.

"When I go to the pub there is always someone to talk to."

In spite of working later in life, he did not save in his employers’ pension scheme. Instead, he relies on the state pension and the small amount of rental income he gets from his own property.

He’s keen to stay in his home for the rest of his life and thinks that this will be possible; with no stairs to contend with, he considers it a suitable house to grow old in.

"If you’ve got a partner, then you can plan things, you can do anything, but it’s different when you are alone."

Squeezed middle aged

Those in this segment are squeezed for time, finances and in their homes. They tend to have caring responsibilities for children and parents, meaning less time for social connections. Typically, their health is good but they have high cause for concern about the future.

This is Rachel's story.

Rachel, 52, is in relatively good general health and does not suffer from any long term or serious conditions. Though she is not strict with her diet, she is conscious about what she eats and and makes an effort to eat lots of fruit.

"As with most middle aged people you feel that you’re overweight and unfit."

At the moment, Rachel's mother, who suffers from dementia lives alone but with her condition worsening, Rachel is concerned that she will soon require full time care.

Rachel doesn’t feel as though she has anyone that she can rely on emotionally, or talk to about the things she is going through.

"I’m worried that the boys will leave home and then all my time will be taken up mothering an aged relative… that happens for a lot of people, but I really feel that it’s my husband and my time now."

Rachel’s husband works full time, while she has three part-time jobs that she juggles with her other family responsibilities. She feels guilty that she can’t provide more for her children.

With so many financial commitments, retirement feels a long way off. In fact, Rachel is considering working more if she can, despite her caring responsibilities

"With one son at university and another son going to university, and my daughter just 16, we probably have more financial commitments than we’ve ever had…"

Feeling secure in her home is important to Rachel as she sees home as the “still point in a busy life”.

"I suppose I always picked up that my generation were never going to be the generation that worked to 65, stopped, and then had money and nothing going on."

Struggling and alone

This is Trevor's story.

Trevor, 59, developed serious problems with his back four years ago, which led him to stop working. Although it has improved since then, the pain affects his day-to-day life.

Trevor's ex-partner recently moved back in with him to help him with his health needs and provide emotional support. Trevor is also close to his adopted son, who provides him with financial assistance.

Looking after his new kitten has filled a significant gap in his time and has given him both a routine and a focus.

"My ex-partner has moved back into the house and it’s been fantastic. He can help me cope with all the things I’m finding difficulty with because of my back."

Finances are a struggle for Trevor. He has been out of work for some time as a result of his health, and although he now feels that physically he's ready to go back, finding a job is very difficult.

Retirement is the last thing on his mind and there's nothing he wants more than to get back into work.

"This year I’ve applied for 20 jobs and this was my first interview. I was heartbroken to find out I didn’t get the job."

Being out of work now does not just affect Trevor financially but has come with a huge emotional cost too.

He loves his house, which is where he spends most of his time. Trevor’s garden is also important to him, allowing him to grow vegetables and herbs which he then uses in the kitchen.

"Ageism is a serious issue and more needs to be done about it. Others are being forced to retire which isn’t right."

Project files & resources

Download the documents below that were created to support the research of this project:

Later life in 2015: main report
Methodology report
Executive summary