Inequalities in later life

Dec 6, 2017 | REPORTS

This scoping review provides an overview of the current literature on inequalities in later life.

The growing proportion of older people in the population has long-term implications for countries such as the United Kingdom. In particular, there is a need to consider how different groups of people experience later life. While some groups enjoy the many benefits of extended lives, others may experience older age as a time of profound challenge.

In this report, the focus is on the often stark contrasts that can mark later life in England. The distribution of good health, longer life expectancy, positive subjective wellbeing, financial security, strong social connections, and decent living environments varies between different groups of an increasingly diverse older population. In general, it is the most vulnerable in society who fare worst in terms of their experiences of later life.

The causes of such inequalities in later life are complex, inter‐related, and challenging to eliminate. Moreover, research evidence relating to the scale, nature and influences of inequalities is wide-ranging, and can be of varied quality and quantity.

The report aims to provide a non-exhaustive scoping review of inequalities in later life that can inform and underpin the future work of the Centre for Ageing Better. In broad terms, the review seeks to respond to three key questions:

  1. What is the scale and nature of inequalities in outcomes in later life in England?
  2. What are the most significant influences on these outcomes?
  3. What is the quality and strength of the evidence on inequalities in later life, and where are the particular gaps or limitations in the evidence base?

The focus of the evidence review is on inequalities that apply to people aged 50 and over in the following six areas:

  • Subjective wellbeing
  • Physical and mental health
  • Life expectancy and healthy life expectancy
  • Financial security
  • Social connections
  • Living environment (home and neighbourhood)

Inequalities relate to a broad range of characteristics of individuals and the groups to which they belong. In this review, we report on evidence concerning inequalities associated with the protected characteristics of sex, race, age, disability, sexual orientation and religion and belief. Where the evidence is available, we also explore inequalities associated with socioeconomic status, place of residence, and being an informal carer for another person.


Report authors: Professor Thomas Scharf and Dr Caroline Shaw from the Newcastle University Institute for Ageing and the Institute of Health and Society, with Sally-Marie Bamford, Dr Brian Beach and Dean Hochlaf from the International Longevity Centre.