Most 50-year-olds expect to be happy and healthy in 10 years’ time

3 October 2012

When asked to imagine themselves at age 60, most 50-years-olds from the 1958 birth cohort study were optimistic about what life would be like.

In the CLS working paper, Imagine you are 60: A view of the next decade for 50-year-olds in the 1958 British birth cohort study as they enter the ‘third age’, author Jane Elliott, Director of CLS, analysed a sample of 500 responses to the question, ‘Imagine that you are now 60 years old…please write a few lines about the life you are leading (your interests, your home life, your health and wellbeing and any work you may be doing).’

The then 50-year-old cohort members mainly spoke positively about their lives at age 60. The word ‘good’ was used 146 times, ‘enjoy’ 80 times and ‘happy’ 75 times. ‘Bad’ only appeared a total of six times, and ‘sad’ and ‘unhappy’ did not appear at all. The emphasis placed on positive aspects of life, such as pleasure and leisure – and lack of emphasis on money worries – is of particular interest as the data was collected at the start of the economic downturn. A second major theme in the responses was that of stability. Cohort members expect to still be working, still pursuing the same hobbies and interests and hope to still to be healthy.

There was little difference in the topics raised by men and women. For both sexes the four main areas covered were work, health, family, and interests and leisure. There were however differences in the topics raised by people in different social classes. Those in managerial or professional occupations were most likely to mention work, interests and leisure, and money. Those in routine or manual jobs were least likely to mention housing or family.

When writing about their health, the men in the sample were more likely to imagine themselves in good health. Women were slightly more likely to write about health behaviours and having a chronic condition. There were no significant differences in expectations of health between social classes.

Read the full paper

Elliott, J. (2012) Imagine you are 60: A view of the next decade for 50-year-olds in the 1958 British birth cohort study as they enter the ‘third age’. CLS Working Paper 2012(6). London: Centre for Longitudinal Studies.

More on qualitative data in the 1958 birth cohort study

This CLS working paper is an early example of what can be accomplished with the rich qualitative data from the 1958 National Child Development Study. In the video below, Jane Elliott of CLS and Libby Bishop of the UK Data Archive discuss the data that is available to researchers.

Using Nvivo to analyse open-ended questions

The Imagine you are 60 working paper also includes a special overview of how to use Nvivo to analyse textual responses to open-ended questions. It covers coding for themes, creating matrices, exporting to SPSS and generating tag clouds of word frequency.

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