People aged 90 and over reported the lowest average feelings that activities they do in life are worthwhile.

ONS figures show that as people pass 75 years old they report decreasing levels of happiness, life satisfaction, and a sense what they do in life is worthwhile.

But, those in the oldest age groups reported the lowest levels of anxiety, compared with younger age groups, although these levels remained unchanged beyond retirement age.

People aged 90 and over still reported higher life satisfaction and happiness than those in their middle years.

The findings help to inform an ongoing debate about how the UK can support an ageing population and focus on those things most important to a good later life.

The figures also found that people aged 65 to 79 tended to report the highest average levels of personal well-being.

How personal well-being is measured

Since 2011, ONS has asked people how they feel about their lives as part of a much wider initiative in the UK, and internationally, to look beyond traditional measures of progress and to measure what really matters to them.

The four measures which are used to monitor personal well-being in the UK are:

  • life satisfaction

  • sense that what one does in life is worthwhile

  • happiness

  • anxiety

Average personal well-being ratings by age, 2012 to 2015, United Kingdom

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Source: Personal well-being in the UK, ONS

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Why it is important to look at the well-being of older people

We’re living longer and one in three babies will live to see their 100th birthday, according to latest estimates.

In 2014 there were more than half a million people aged 90 and older living in the UK, almost triple the number thirty years ago.

But greater longevity can mean more complex health and social care needs, something which needs to be factored into Government policies and services.

Find out your chances of living to 100 with our life expectancy calculator:

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The fall in personal well-being among the oldest age groups might result from a range of personal circumstances such as poor health, living alone and feelings of loneliness.

How people perceive their own health is strongly associated with all four of the measures of personal well-being. As health problems generally develop with age, it is reasonable to expect that older people are less able to participate in activities as freely as they once were.

Loneliness and well-being

ONS publication, Insights into Loneliness, showed that those aged 80 and over were twice as likely to report feelings of loneliness compared with younger age groups.

What’s more, these feelings of loneliness were found to have a strong relationship with low personal well-being ratings.

Why well-being ratings vary with age

Our well-being may change as we move through our lives, have new experiences, and possibly change the way we look at things.

The differences might also be partly explained through socio-economic factors. Middle-aged people (between the ages of 45 and 59) report the lowest average ratings of life satisfaction and happiness and are also likely to be the generation taking on larger responsibilities, such as a career, family, mortgage and perhaps caring for an elderly relative.

As people age into the 60 to 74 generation, their well-being increases dramatically; a potential factor influencing this could be the transition into retirement and a reduction in expectations on themselves.

New data has also been published this week looking at how personal well-being ratings compare for different areas of the UK. You can find out what personal well-being is like in your area by exploring these interactive maps.

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Background notes:

  1. The following analysis is based on the Annual Population Survey Personal Well-being Three year dataset. The data covers the period April 2012 to March 2015.

  2. Those aged 16 and over living in private households were asked “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?”, “Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?”, “Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?”, “Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?” where 0 is “not at all” and 10 is “completely”.

  3. Differences have only been noted in text where they are statistically significant. Statistically significant differences have been assessed through non-overlapping confidence intervals. This method provides a conservative estimate of statistical significance.

  4. The results are not the outcome of regression analysis, trying to hold all other characteristics (for example, sex) equal. Results therefore do not tell us how important age matters to well-being ratings compared against other factors.

  5. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/assessment/code-of-practice/index.html or from the Media Relations Office email: media.relations@ons.gsi.gov.uk