News & Views

Monday 1st July 2013 14:08

Reaching retirement makes people feel they are 30 again, health figures show

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics as part of David Cameron’s plan to measure the nation’s “happiness”, show that people in their late 60s feel like they are back in their prime, with similar levels of satisfaction with their own health to those in people 30 years younger.

At the same time the incidence of anxiety and depression drops by almost a third between people’s early 50s and late 60s.

The figures suggest that those in their late 60s are more care-free than any other age group including young people.

The report, published by the ONS as part of its ongoing “well-being” programme, shows that people’s sense of health and well-being are on a “downward trend” from their teens until late middle age before receiving a sudden bounce in their 60s.

Retirement experts said that for some the simple relief of finally retiring made people feel happier. But for many who continue to work, it could also be the satisfaction at having made plans for the next phase of their life and embarking on them, they said.

As part of a wider study of 40,000 households, people were asked to rate how satisfied they were with their overall health as well as being asked a series of questions about any conditions which limit their everyday activities.

Overall two thirds indicated that they were satisfied with their health but the responses varied with age.

Those in the youngest group, who were between 16 and 24, unsurprisingly ranked their health most highly with a 75 per cent satisfaction rate.

People in their late 20s and early 30s showed a health satisfaction rate just over 70 per cent, which drifted to 69 per cent by their late 30s.

The rates drifted lower among those in their 40s and 50s, to just over 60 per cent by the age of 59 but jumped to 67 per cent among those between 65 and 70. For men the rates continue at similar levels until their mid 70s.

Mental well-being measures also show a similar pattern. The ONS found that overall almost one in five of the population exhibited some signs of at least low level anxiety and depression, based on people’s responses to a series of questions.

It peaks at 22 per cent among those in their late 40s and 50s but drops to just 14 per cent among those in their late 60s.

There was also a clear link between depression and life circumstances. Those in good health were also most likely to feel less anxiety, for example, and the unemployed were also more anxious.

Notably married people scored more highly either than single people or even those in long-term cohabiting relationships.

Dr Ros Altman, a pensions expert and former government policy adviser on ageing, said that for those reaching retirement the realisation that they are still in good health, often unlike their parents’ generation, can itself be “life enhancing”.

“The social narrative is that you reach retirement and you are decrepit or infirm or that you are going to get ill but now most people find that that isn’t the case,” she said.

“In terms of health, there will be a strand where people would have expected that they would not have good health in their 60s and are pleasantly surprised to find that they do.

“I suspect that what is happening socially is that as people reach their mid 50s they are bound to start worrying about the next stage in their life which would normally be considered to be retirement and that can be a worrying prospect especially at the moment given what has happened with pensions.

“There will be a strand of people worrying about what they are going to and not having enough money but once they reach their 60s their are more likely to have made their plans and have some idea of what they are going to do.

“That is less worrying, once you have made a plan that can be a big reduction in stress.
“There will be some who reach their mid 60s who have decided to keep working, they will be OK they have made their decision.

“And there will be some who realise that they have not got enough pension but decide that they want to make the best of it and there will be some satisfaction.”


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