Older people’s quality of life plummets in their final years, but many are still happy, study finds

19 March 2014

Older people’s quality of life begins to drop rapidly in their seventies – and yet most will say they are satisfied with their lives, according to a new study of ageing.

Researchers from the Institute of Education, University of London, and the University of Manchester analysed information on more than 10,000 men and women aged over 50 who are part of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. They looked at several different indicators of wellbeing, including quality of life, symptoms of depression and how satisfied people said they were with their lives.

The researchers found that quality of life worsens as people enter their sixties, but that it begins to drop much more rapidly in their seventies and eighties. An 80-year-old’s quality of life deteriorates two and a half times faster than a 60-year-old’s, on average.

The rapid decline is not fully explained by circumstances that are more common to old age, such as being widowed or having poor health. Stephen Jivraj, lead author of the study, said: “Inequalities in health explain part of the story, but there remains an unexplained decline at the oldest ages. This is likely to be related to the realisation of one’s own mortality brought on by the onset of frailty and the loss of people around us in the later stages of life.”

Symptoms of depression also increase dramatically after age 70, but this is mostly due to the fact that many people’s partners have passed away by this point in their lives. People in their seventies and eighties were, however, most likely to report being satisfied with their lives, despite having a poorer quality of life and more symptoms of depression than those in their fifties and sixties.

“Our findings show that old age is not a time when we will inevitably be unhappy,” Stephen Jivraj said. “But we are likely to face major difficulties in maintaining our wellbeing in the final years of life.”

Aging and subjective well-being in later life’, by Stephen Jivraj, James Nazroo, Bram Vanhoutte and Tarani Chandola, was published in the Journals of Gerontology Series B.

Further information

Meghan Rainsberry
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Notes to editors

  1. Stephen Jivraj is a Research Officer based at the Institute of Education’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS). CLS, an Economic and Social Research Centre (ESRC) Resource Centre, manages four of the UK’s internationally-renowned cohort studies: 1958 National Child Development Study, 1970 British Cohort Study, Millennium Cohort Study, and the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England.
  2. The Institute of Education is a world-leading university specialising in education and the social sciences. Founded in 1902, the Institute currently has more than 7,000 students and 800 staff. In January 2014, the Institute was recognised by Ofsted for its ‘outstanding’ initial teacher training across primary, secondary and further education. In the 2014 QS World University Rankings, the Institute was ranked number one for education worldwide. In the most recent Research Assessment Exercise two-thirds of the publications that the IOE submitted were judged to be internationally significant and over a third were judged to be ‘world leading’. The Institute is part of the University of London. www.ioe.ac.uk

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