Using data from the UK’s largest social survey, Understanding Society, new research reveals that people who are struggling to manage their finances in old age have eight times the odds of having reduced levels of mental wellbeing.
The new evidence is published today in a working paper published by the Personal Finance Research Centre (PFRC) at the University of Bristol and the International Longevity Centre UK (ILC-UK). The research has been produced as part of the ILC-UK and PFRC project on “financial wellbeing in older age” funded by the ESRC’s Secondary Data Analysis Initiative.
The new research reveals:
• Compared to those who are living comfortably, those who say they are just getting by have double the odds of reporting lower levels of mental wellbeing, after controlling for all other factors.
• However, this pales compared to those who are finding it very difficult to get by financially, who have almost eight times the odds of reporting reduced mental wellbeing compared to those who are living comfortably.
The research highlights a strong association between age and mental wellbeing:
• While more than one-in-five of those aged 50-54 show worryingly low levels of mental wellbeing, this drops to 15 per cent of those aged 80 and above. However, the age group displaying the highest levels of positive mental wellbeing are those aged 70-74.
• While just a quarter (26 per cent) of those aged between 50 and 54 feel that they are living comfortably, 40 per cent of those aged 80 and above report the same.
• Only one per cent of those aged 80 and above feel that they are finding things very difficult financially, compared to five per cent of those aged 50-54, and three per cent of all respondents.
After controlling for the other factors, the research finds:
• Older women are more likely to show signs of reduced mental wellbeing than men (odds of 1.5).
• Older people who are divorced or separated have 1.2 times the odds of displaying poor levels of mental wellbeing, compared to those who are married or in a civil partnership.
• Those who live in a property with a mortgage have 1.2 times the odds of reporting lower levels of mental wellbeing.
• Older people who are unemployed have double the odds of reduced mental wellbeing, compared to those in full or part-time employment.
• Retired people have 1.4 times the odds of having reduced levels of mental wellbeing, while the long-term sick or disabled have almost five times the odds of poor mental wellbeing (odds of 4.7).
• People in rural areas have slightly lower odds of having reduced mental wellbeing than those in urban areas (odds of 0.9).
The author of the research, David Hayes, Research Associate, PFRC, said:
"This research supports the findings of other researchers that debt may be both a cause and consequence of mental health. However, the magnitude of the relationship that we uncover here is quite staggering. The research proves beyond all doubt how poor mental wellbeing and poor financial management are inextricably related, and has implications for policy in the fields of health and debt. Future work is now needed to unravel the nature of this complex relationship, to provide further material for policy makers in these areas."
David Sinclair, Assistant Director, Policy and Communications at ILC-UK added:
“This research confirms our suspicions that having low levels of mental wellbeing is very much associated with financial difficulties. We must ensure that people of all ages have access to the mental health support they need. Similarly we must ensure that everyone who needs it has access to support to help them manage their finances.”
Andy Bell, Deputy Chief Executive at the Centre for Mental Health commented:
"There is now clear evidence of the links between mental ill health and financial difficulties. People with mental health problems face a high risk of poverty and problem debt while people with financial problems are at risk of poor mental health. Both health and financial services need to be mindful of these links and ensure people get the expert support they need to manage their finances and their mental health together."
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