Women more gloomy than men in old age, study says

Older woman Researchers found that women are more affected by reduced social contact in older age

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Women become more lonely and depressed with age, but men grow more content with their lives in retirement, a study has found.

This may be because men are happier once they stop working, but older women are more likely to feel lonely or be living alone.

University College London researchers tracked more than 11,000 men and women aged over 50 from 2002-09.

Their findings form part of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.

This major study regularly monitors a number of factors, including health, well-being, financial circumstances and social engagement.

Start Quote

Older women are more likely to be living lives of loneliness because men die earlier.”

End Quote Prof Sir Michael Marmot UCL

Regarding well-being, researchers discovered that life satisfaction and quality of life had deteriorated in the past four years in this age group.

Women were particularly affected by this change with 18.7% having depressive symptoms above the threshold.

Only 11.5% of men had similar symptoms.

"Women aged 75 and older have particularly poor well-being, with high rates of depressive symptoms, low life satisfaction, poor quality of life and high ratings of loneliness," the study says.

Sense of isolation

However, men aged 65 and over appear to fare better, with their life satisfaction greater than in younger men.

The researchers suggest that women affected by loneliness feel a greater sense of isolation when children leave home or when husbands, partners and friends are no longer around.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, lead researcher on the study from the University College London, said: "Older women are more likely to be living lives of loneliness because men die earlier.

"At an age when you are becoming a widow, you are, in Britain, also unlikely to be living with adult children," he said.

One other possible explanation is that women rely more on social relationships, and experience both positive and negative emotions more strongly than men do.

The importance of frequent social contact is also borne out in the study.

It found that men and women aged 50-64 who had frequent contact with friends and relatives were less likely to have depressive symptoms, at 13.1%.

This compared with symptoms in 17.9% of those who had infrequent contact with friends and family.

Spending power

Wealth is closely associated with all aspects of well-being, the study also found.

More affluent individuals have fewer depressive symptoms, greater life satisfaction, better quality of life and lower levels of loneliness.

This link between wealth and well-being is particularly striking, researchers say, in single, older women at the bottom end of the wealth scale.

Spending on life's basics - food, fuel and clothing - has risen significantly for the over 50s in the last four to five years, the ELSA study found.

"Our research appears to contradict the old adage that money doesn't buy you happiness," said Professor Marmot.

Another important factor in older men and women's well-being is health and the ability to perform everyday activities.

Those who were less able to get about and more limited in their activities had poorer well-being, irrespective of age.

Previous research has shown that individuals who are happier, or less depressed, are less likely to develop serious physical illnesses such as coronary heart disease.

The ELSA study partly coincided with the economic downturn, which the researchers say may have affected the answers collected.

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