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How important is creative and cultural participation to our wellbeing?

Through our wellbeing research, Age UK has attempted to find out what makes later life worth living. Our new report explores the striking impact of creative and cultural activities.

On this page, we cover some of the key themes:

Is creative and cultural participation important?

Creative and cultural participation is the top-most contributor to wellbeing in older age.

We delved further into our Index of Wellbeing in Later Life around creative and cultural participation – what it is, who does what, and how it differs depending on people's overall level of wellbeing. It told us that participating in creative and cultural activities had the biggest impact on wellbeing.

Our report presents our findings, together with examples of creative and cultural activities for older people and recommendations for practitioners and policymakers.

Our conclusion is reflected in other reports and research

  • In 2017, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing published the report of its two-year Inquiry into practice and research in the arts in health and social care. This found that participating in the arts is essential to healthy ageing, mentally, emotionally, and even physically.
  • An analysis of USoc data by other researchers found a positive relationship between engagement in cultural activities, the arts, and subjective wellbeing, not just in older people but all adults.

What is the Index of Wellbeing in Later Life?

Our Index, the first of its kind, uses 200+ possible wellbeing indicators and assigns weightings to signify their importance.

What counts as creative and cultural participation?

'Creativity' and 'culture' are hard to define. For this research, we based our indicator on the data collected in the Understanding Society (USoc) survey under the heading of 'cultural activities.'

The prompts asked in the survey range from composing music to being a member of a book club, from visiting a museum to participating in a Chinese festival, with 38 items in total.

Top activities that older people participate in

  • Reading for pleasure was the top ranked
  • For people in the lowest wellbeing group, visiting a public library and crafts were the 2nd and 3rd most popular activities.
  • Plays and days out were important for everyone.

'It was one of the best things I've ever done'

How different groups participate?

  • Women tend to participate more than men.
  • Women are much more likely to take part in dance, craft and literary activities, and men are slightly more involved in music and historical activities.
  • Participation declines with age.

What affects participation?

Some of the factors associated with taking part include having access to a car, the person's health, their mental health and wellbeing, whether they are a carer, have friends or live in an urban area.

Some barriers that could prevent people from taking part include:

  • Lack of transport
  • Lack of support to get out and attend
  • Lack of knowledge about what is available in the local area

Key contributors

Our infographic shows the key contributors to creative and cultural activities for wellbeing in older people.

Where can I get further resources and information?

We recommend the following organisations and resources:

  • The Age of Creativity is a 1,000-strong network of professionals who believe creativity and culture supports older people to experience better health and wellbeing.
  • Arts Council England enables and encourages older people to take part in the arts and culture.
  • Creative Health is a short report about the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing Inquiry.
  • Luminate, Scotland's creative ageing organisation, runs a wide range of creative events and activities across Scotland from care home artist residencies to training for older emerging artists.
  • Age Cymru's Gwanwyn Festival is a national month-long festival held across Wales in May each year celebrating creativity in older age.

Policy & Research Update

Read about Age UK's latest publicly available research and policy information in our monthly email.

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Last updated: Dec 06 2023

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