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Living arrangements, health and well-being: 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.


Contact: Alexandra Saxon
Economic & Social Research Council

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