Glad to be grey: older people are happiest

Those ages 65 and over represent 18 per cent of the population in Britain

Britain’s pensioners are happier, have a greater sense of self-worth and are less anxious than all other age groups.

The annual wellbeing survey from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirmed the cliché about contentment rising with age but also found that pensioners were the least satisfied of all age groups with their health.

The ONS started measuring wellbeing and quality of life eight years ago to answer the question: “How are we doing?” The survey-based approach went beyond traditional economic measures to gauge “a fuller picture of UK progress”, Rhian Jones, an ONS statistician, said.

The ONS estimates that there are 11.8 million UK residents aged over 65, representing 18 per cent of the population. Twenty-five years ago, this age group accounted for 15.6 per cent of the population: in 25 years’ time, it is projected to rise to a quarter.

“Contrary to a commonly held belief that ageing involves loss and increasing burden, those aged 65 and over are currently faring better on many measures of social and financial well-being than their younger counterparts,” the ONS said.

Life appears to be becoming more challenging for the young, even without factoring in the high cost of rent and housing. One in five people aged between 16 and 34 exhibits signs of depression, anxiety or other signs of mental ill health, compared with 12.5 per cent of those aged 65 to 74 and 15 per cent of those aged over 75.

“[The young] are less likely to feel they have someone to rely on or a sense of belonging and also have higher rates of unemployment and more frequently report loneliness,” the ONS said. “This matters both at an individual level and for society in terms of how well we will be able to sustain high levels of national well-being into the future.”

Those aged over 75 who are still working report the greatest level of job satisfaction, at 87 per cent. By comparison, for those in the three age groupings between 16 and 44, job satisfaction is consistent at just below 55 per cent.

Youth has its advantages, however. As might be expected, the younger cohorts surveyed are happier about their health. Post-millennials, or Generation Z, also enjoy their leisure time more than those aged 25 to 54, who were “less likely to report that they were satisfied with the amount of their leisure time than any other age group, probably due to work and family commitments”, the ONS said.

Those in the youngest cohort are also relatively happy with their income levels, possibly because many are still living at home.

“Those aged 16 to 24 were significantly more likely to say that they were mostly or completely satisfied with their household income than those aged 25 to 54,” the survey found. Pensioners were happiest of all in this regard.

The survey found that 19.1 per cent of the working-age public have given up their time to volunteer, which “can contribute both to the well-being of others as well as ourselves”, the ONS said.

Published in The Times