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Index of Wellbeing in Later Life

Our Index is a new way to measure wellbeing in later life, using rich data sources and state-of-the-art statistical techniques.

Read our summary

It explains what we did, key findings and provides a picture of older people's wellbeing across the whole population.

On this page we answer:

What is the Index of Wellbeing?

The Index of Wellbeing in Later Life allows us, for the first time, to measure:

  1. What is important in later life
  2. How older people are doing
  3. Where and why wellbeing is low
  4. What effect various policy and practical levers might have in improving wellbeing.

Our Index is unique for several reasons

  • It focuses solely on people in later life (age 60+)
  • It is constructed from data at the level of individuals, rather than at a societal level
  • It is built largely from objective measures of wellbeing, rather than purely subjective ones
  • It gives weights of importance of each factor to wellbeing, resulting from the statistical analyses of the data.

Beneath the aggregate measure there are tiers such as domains and individual indicators with different weightings to signify their importance.

How did Age UK create the Index?

We listed 200+ possible wellbeing indicators from our literature review and discussion with experts. We then looked for a data source that would cover most of these, have a large sample size, and be as representative of older people in the UK as possible. The Understanding Society (USoc) survey seemed to fit these requirements the best.

We then:

  • Found which questions in USoc ask about these
  • Ran multiple regressions on the answers (which came from over 15,000 respondents aged 60+) to see what was statistically significantly related to wellbeing
  • Used structural equation modelling and factor analysis to determine which of the resulting 40 indicators ‘hang together’, which gave us 12 groupings
  • Used further analysis and discussions with experts to merge groups into five domains.
Our expert panel participants
  • Professor Chris Phillipson, The University of Manchester
  • Jen Beaumont, Office for National Statistics (retired)
  • Professor Patrick Rabbitt, Oxford University
  • Margaret Robinson, Peterborough Older People's Partnership Board
  • Dr Alan Burnett, Portsmouth Pensioners’ Association
  • Professor Ann Bowling, University of Southampton
  • Penny Thewlis, Age UK Oxfordshire
  • Dr Ursula Henz, London School of Economics
  • Dr Dawn Snape, Office for National Statistics
  • Michael Fassio, Guest participant
  • Dr Aparna Shankar, St George's, University of London and University College London
  • Professor Josie Tetley, Manchester Metropolitan University
  • Dr Sarah Alden, University of Sheffield
  • Dr Andrea Wigfield, University of Sheffield
  • Paul Cann, Age UK Oxfordshire

Top of section

What are the key factors of wellbeing in later life?

  1. Participation in enjoyable, meaningful activities was the biggest direct factor for wellbeing. This could be in creative, cultural, civic, and/or social activities.
  2. Physical activity is extremely important too – this is the 2nd biggest individual direct factor.
  3. Support for older people who are informal carers is very important – a little bit of caring responsibility can be good for feeling useful and valued, but too much can be bad for one’s wellbeing (and health).
  4. Having positive social interactions with others is common thread throughout wellbeing. In fact, the social domain accounts for 33% of one’s wellbeing.


  • An overall average wellbeing score only just above 50% across the entire older population in the UK is a cause for concern – surely we should be doing better.
  • The gap between older people who have the highest and the lowest wellbeing is unacceptably vast.

Creative and cultural participation

Our report explores how creative and cultural participation affects our wellbeing in later life.

How do I use the Index?

The Index provides new and authoritative information about what matters for a good later life and we hope it will help all of us to get closer to achieving it, whoever we are and whatever our circumstances may be.

The Index can be used to start conversations about what is needed at local and national levels to help older people achieve a good amount of wellbeing.

This person-centered and quantitative intelligence supports and poses a challenge for Government, policymakers and service practitioners.

The clear messages for Government are:

  • How crucial it is to sustain decent public services
  • How important public transport is for older people
  • How vital age-friendly communities are.

For targeting services

The Wellbeing Index points out people who are at greater risk of low wellbeing:

  • Widowed
  • Living alone
  • Informal carers (at more than 20 hours/week)
  • Have one or more long-standing illness or disability, often 3 or more diagnosed health conditions
  • Don’t take much or any physical activity
  • Renters
  • Have low financial resources

Where can I get more information

Contact our Research team for more information about our wellbeing research.

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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