Handley, Ryan (2019) The Subjective Wellbeing and Life Satisfaction of Older Adults. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

In common with other developed countries, the UK population is ageing with today’s older workers facing pressures from greater financial stress. Reasons for this include changes to pension systems, increased longevity, and an increasing need for informal care provision. Understanding the retirement transition and different retirement outcomes is important for older adults themselves as well as for policy makers and organisations seeking to provide support to those forced to work well beyond traditional retirement ages.

In this thesis, the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing dataset is used to investigate which segments of the ageing population are susceptible to experiencing lower subjective wellbeing in the retirement transition. It includes two studies: Firstly, informed primarily by social capital theory, it highlights the disparities in social connectedness between older workers receiving no pension, ‘bridge employees’ (working in a reduced capacity whilst in receipt of a pension) and those fully withdrawn from the labour market as well as the significance of close and supportive social networks in improving subjective wellbeing and reducing social isolation. Study two then focuses on the importance of the wider contextual landscape surrounding the retirement transition. It does so by including a second series of data analysis that focuses on a much narrower band of ages.

Study one’s findings suggested that the significance of the effects of social capital on subjective wellbeing are dependent on labour force participation. For adults fully withdrawn from the labour market, social capital has a bigger positive effect on wellbeing than for workers not receiving a pension. Furthermore, bridge employees and workers with no pension experienced similar effects on wellbeing when it came to social capital and that bonding social capital had a bigger positive effect on subjective wellbeing for fully withdrawn adults than the bridging type of social capital. Study two’s findings suggested that resources older adults have to draw from are not only important in determining life satisfaction but also that they are shaped by the wider societal, political and economic contexts.

The thesis then concludes with a detailed discussion on the theoretical and practical implications of the study’s findings and how these results relate to extant literature. In particular, it highlights the importance of better access to volunteering opportunities and social activities and services. In addition, providing work-based incentives that promote the development of social capital could improve retention of older workers, therefore keeping their experience and unique skillsets with the organisation. Also discussed is the importance of understanding contextual issues when policies relating to older workers are formulated and implemented.

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