Health is wealth for over-50s, study shows

They experienced large falls in wealth during the recession and expect to work well into their 60s, yet the over-50s remain essentially upbeat about their health and wellbeing, according to new research.

The study, published by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), found that between 2006/7 and 2012/13, average net assets of Ireland’s over-50s fell by a massive 45%, from €565,000 to €306,000.

The main factor in the reduction of asset value was the property market crash, in which the value of owner-occupier housing fell from an average of €476,000 in 2006/7 to €224,000 in 2012/13.

Alan Barrett, one of the research authors, said many in the older age group were likely to have “felt wealthier” before the economic crisis, when the value on their homes was high. This would have played a part in people taking out second mortgages or the manner in which bequests were made.

“If people thought there was a lot of money in the house, they might leave that to the family and spend what they had while alive,” said Mr Barrett. In this sense, people’s perception of wealth, based on high house values, had an impact on spending.

In terms of their sense of wellbeing, however, the over-50s reported an improvement between 2006/7 and 2009/11, from 26.4 to 27.6, on a scale of 0-36.

While there was a fall in the proportion reporting that their health was “excellent” (from 21% in 2006/7 down to 15% in 2012/12), this was offset by an increase in people reporting that their health was either “very good” or “good” (58% in 2006/7 to 67% in 2012/13), compared to “fair” or “poor”.

The study — Did the Economic Crisis have Impacts on the Health and Well-being of Ireland’s Older People? — drew on data from three sources, including the pan-European Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) for which around 1,100 people in Ireland aged 50-plus were interviewed in 2006/7; and from the first (2009/11) and second (2012/13) waves of the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA).

TILDA and SHARE asked respondents about their expectations for the future and, when the authors of the ESRI study drilled down into the findings, they found that more of the over-50s expected to be working longer after the economic collapse. In 2006/7, about one-third said the chance of working well into their 60s was in the range of 75%-100%. By 2009/11, this had risen to almost two in five.

The good news for the over-50s was that median incomes did not change across the period 2006/7 to 2012/13, which possibly explains their general upbeat take on health and wellbeing, the study found.

However Mr Barrett said given that it was known income declined among younger age groups during the recession, there was “every possibility” their sense of health and wellbeing had deteriorated too.

Read the report here.

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