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Respondents aged over 50 from the World Values Survey, which looks at political and sociocultural change in over 50 countries worldwide, also reported higher levels of dissatisfaction with their finances if they were divorced or separated, compared to those who were widowed.

The report “What is the relationship between financial satisfaction and happiness among older people?”, authored by David Hayes and funded by the ESRC Secondary Data Analysis Initiative, is part of a collaboration of the Personal Finance Research Centre and think tank ILC-UK, highlights that despite high levels of happiness (79%) and financial satisfaction (55%) among over 50’s internationally, people who were single, divorced or separated were consistently less fulfilled on both counts.

From over 50 countries analysed, eight of the ten ‘happiest’ nations for over 50’s also placed in the top ten for financial satisfaction. New Zealand and Sweden were the ‘cheeriest’ nations (97%), while the Swiss were the most satisfied with their finances (87%). Former communist states dominated the bottom of both rankings, with Moldova coming out as the unhappiest nation (33%).

International comparisons of satisfaction among the 50+ age group with their household’s financial situation show the top (from #1-5; Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Canada) and bottom (from #50-54: Russia, Rwanda, Moldova, Bulgaria and Georgia) countries. Great Britain sits at number 7 for financial satisfaction and number 10 for happiness among the over 50s.

The analysis also revealed that older people who are content with their financial situation are much more likely to be happy. However, money did not buy happiness for the oldest old. While the report found that people got more financially satisfied as they aged, they also became sadder, with the over 80s having twice the odds of reporting unhappiness than those aged 50-54.

Being unemployed, or uneducated were also found to have a profound effect on older people’s happiness and financial satisfaction.
• Over 50s who see themselves as lower-class are almost three times as likely to be unhappy, and are five times more likely to be dissatisfied with their financial situation compared to those who see themselves as upper class.
• Older people who had spent their savings and borrowed money were two and a half times more likely to be unhappy, and had almost five times the likelihood of being financially dissatisfied than those with savings.

David Hayes, Research Associate, Personal Finance Research Centre and author of the research, said:
“This snapshot of the relationship between happiness and financial satisfaction comes at a time when personal finances in the UK are under intense scrutiny. With increasing housing and fuel costs disproportionately affecting the over 50s, the realisation that Great Britain is not faring too badly in an international context may be of some reassurance to policymakers and politicians, if not to those struggling ‘on the ground’. As usual, the Nordic countries rank highly when it comes to both financial satisfaction and happiness. In stark contrast, the former communist states monopolise the bottom of the rankings. With regards to happiness and financial satisfaction, the inequality inherent to capitalism perhaps outweighed the perceived benefits of ‘Westernisation’ following the fall of the Iron Curtain.”

David Sinclair, Assistant Director, Policy and Communications at ILC-UK, commented:
“This research highlights that living together is good for us in old age. Yet in the UK and across many other countries we are witnessing a loneliness epidemic, as divorce and/or death or a partner results in too many people living without companionship. Older people in the UK must have greater access to a range of housing options to reduce the risk of them living alone with no support. And our communities must better support older people living alone. The UK Government must develop a widowhood strategy to ensure targeted support for some of the most isolated and vulnerable in our society.
Yet again it is the lowest social classes who are the most disadvantaged. Governments across the world must concentrate greater effort on tackling the causes of inequalities which result in such huge divergences in self-reported happiness and financial satisfaction.”

Chris Roles, Director of Age International said:
“Perceptions of happiness and wellbeing need to be underpinned by real action by governments worldwide. There is a massive demographic shift taking place across the globe with people living longer and the numbers of older people increasing even in the world’s poorest countries. Simple measures to promote better financial security for all people as they age should be adopted by all governments.”

The report is available to download here.

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