Over-60s happiest in Scandinavia, UK study suggests

If you want to be happy and satisfied with life when you are over the age of 60, you should be living in Scandinavia. This is one of the results of a UK study analysing the impact of living
alone, with a spouse or with others, on the health and happiness of older people and how this impact varies within Europe.

Professor Emily Grundy from the Centre for Population Studies at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), who led the study together with Harriet Young, also of the LSHTM,
attributes this finding to the generous welfare system in Scandinavia in comparison with that of other countries.

More generally speaking, ‘older people living alone were less happy and had lower life satisfaction than those who lived with others’, Professor Grundy explains. In many cases, the grade of
happiness was higher for those living with a spouse. ‘Those living with a relative or friend were more likely to be lonely,’ the study states. This is particularly true of men, who were happier
living with a wife than with other people.

Women, on the other hand, were usually more content living a single life or living with family or friends than their male counterparts. Contrary to the Nordic countries, older women in England
and Wales even rated their health better if they lived alone rather than with a husband. This might be due to the fact that they are free of having to provide round-the-clock care for their
husbands, who are more likely to be in poorer health than they are, the study suggests. However, both elderly women and men living alone have a higher mortality risk than those living with a
spouse.

‘These findings have important policy implications for whether long-term care services for older people living alone should be prioritised, or if services should be directed at unpaid family
carers,’ says Professor Grundy.

Demographic change and ageing populations are an increasing challenge for the western world. While today there are about 70 million people (20% of the population) in the EU that are aged over
60, it is estimated that by 2050, the number will have doubled to 40% of the total population. In addition, there has been a rise in older men and women living alone and a decline in those
living with children or relatives.

The study, which was funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), is based on findings from the Office for National Statistics Longitudinal Study on England and Wales, the
English Longitudinal Study of Ageing in England, and the European Social Survey with data from 19 European countries.

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