Opinion Former Article

ESRC: Living arrangements, health and wellbeing - a European perspective

Ageing populations are an increasing issue for the Western world. The proportion of people over aged sixty is growing plus there has been a rise in older men and women living alone and a decline in those living with children or relatives. A new study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), analysed the impact of living alone, with a spouse or with others on the health and happiness of older people and how it varies within Europe and in England and Wales.

Key findings from the research include:

  • Older people living alone were more likely to be depressed, lonely and unhappy and to be less satisfied with life than those living with a spouse.
  • Those living with a relative or friend were more likely to be lonely than those living with a spouse.
  • Men living with a relative or friend were less likely to be happy or satisfied with life than those living with a wife.
  • In most regions of Europe, older women who were unmarried were in general happier living with friends and family than alone. But this did not apply to women in Nordic countries where there was no significant difference in happiness levels between living alone or with other people.
  • In England, older women rated their health better if they lived alone rather than with a husband however, men and women living alone had a higher mortality risk than those who lived with a spouse.
  • In Europe, older women in Nordic countries living alone rated their own health as significantly worse than those living with a husband but this was not the case in Eastern and Southern regions of Europe.
  • These associations did not appear to be moderated by the presence of other social ties- but this needs further investigation.

Professor Emily Grundy from the Centre for Population Studies at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine commented: "These findings have important policy implications for whether long term care services for older people living alone should be prioritized, or if services should be directed at unpaid family carers. This research highlights differences within Europe. Older people in Scandinavia were happier than in other regions of Europe. In Scandinavia there are generous welfare systems. In quite a lot of countries, including the UK, older people living alone were less happy and had lower life satisfaction than those who lived with others".

FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Harriet Young, Tel: 020 7299 4676, e-mail: harriet.young@lshtm.ac.uk
Professor Emily Grundy, Tel: 020 7299 4668, e-mail: emily.grundy@lshtm.ac.uk

ESRC Press Office:

Alexandra Saxon, Tel: 01793 413032 / 07971027335, e-mail: alexandra.saxon@esrc.ac.uk
Danielle Moore, Tel: 01793 413122, e-mail: danielle.moore@esrc.ac.uk
Phillippa Coates, Tel: 01793 413119, e-mail: phillipa.coates@esrc.ac.uk

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

1. The study was carried out by Harriet Young and Professor Emily Grundy at the Centre for Population Studies at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. It was based on findings from the Office for National Statistics Longitudinal Study on England and Wales, the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing on England, and the European Social Survey with data from 19 European Countries. Four categories were used for living arrangements: living with a spouse only, living alone, living with a spouse as well as other people, and living with people other than a spouse.

2. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It supports independent, high quality research relevant to business, the public sector and voluntary organisations. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2007 - 08 is £181 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

3. ESRC Society Today offers free access to a broad range of social science research and presents it in a way that makes it easy to navigate and saves users valuable time. As well as bringing together all ESRC-funded research and key online resources such as the Social Science Information Gateway and the UK Data Archive, non-ESRC resources are included, for example the Office for National Statistics. The portal provides access to early findings and research summaries, as well as full texts and original datasets through integrated search facilities. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

4. The ESRC confirms the quality of its funded research by evaluating research projects through a process of peer review. This research has been graded as 'good'.

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