Public Release: 

Influences on quality of life in early old age

Economic & Social Research Council

A golden early old age is within sight for many people, says new research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, which demonstrates that the good life is much less influenced by your past - the job your father had, for instance - than by the present, when two of the most important influences are having choices about working or not working, and having friends in whom you can confide.

"Good quality of life in early old age is a realistic ambition for all", says the research team, headed by Dr David Blane at Imperial College of Science Technology Medicine, London, "to the extent that it is possible to free the present from past influences". Early old age, sometimes called the Third Age, between 55 and 75 years old, is the phase of life between leaving the labour market and the onset of physical dependency.

The study on what influences quality of life draws on data from childhood, which was collected between 1937 and 1939, data on their adulthood and cross-sectional data on their early old age, followed by a survey of 282 people in different areas of Britain. This included a measure of quality of life in early old age developed as part of the study.

The findings:

  • Health and socio-economic factors naturally have a bearing. The quality of life for the affluent-healthy is higher than for the deprived-sick. People who are affluent, but also sick, have lower life quality, as do people who are healthy but also deprived. The quality of life of a person in poor health, however, is poorer than for a person who is healthy but who is economically deprived.

  • Having control over when and when not to work has a significant bearing on quality of life. People who choose to retire early and those who opt to work beyond normal retirement age enjoy better quality of life than people who have had the decisions made for them, because they have been made redundant, for instance, because economic circumstances have forced them to carry on working beyond the age at which they had expected to retire, or because ill health prevents them from staying in work. The issue of choice seemed to be more important for people classified as 'socially disadvantaged' than those who were 'advantaged'.

  • The quality and density of a person's social network was more important than the number of people in the network.

  • The neighbourhood seems to have little influence except in the negative sense. Not being able to get away from an area which suffers from various nuisances, and where there is a fear of being robbed, has a negative impact.

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For further information, contact Dr David Blane, tel 020-7594-0789 email: d.blane@ic.ac.uk, or contact Iain Stewart or Lesley Lilley, External Relations Division ESRC on telephone 01793-413032-413119.

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It has a record of providing high-quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC invests more than £53 million every year in social science research. At any time, its range of funding schemes may be supporting 2,000 researchers within academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences, thereby nurturing the researchers of tomorrow. The ESRC website address is http://www.esrc.ac.uk.

2. REGARD is the ESRC's database of research. It provides a key source of information on ESRC social science research awards and all associated publications and products. The website can be found at http://www.regard.ac.uk

3. The research project 'Influences on quality of life in early old age' is part of the ESRC's £3.5 million Growing Older Research Programme which consists of 24 research projects focused on how to extend the quality of life in old age. The programme aims to pursue a broad-based multi-disciplinary programme designed to generate new knowledge on extending quality life and to contribute to the development of policies and practices in the field. For further information on the Growing Older Research Programme contact the director Professor Alan Walker at the University of Sheffield on telephone 0114-222-6466.

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