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Healthy Ageing in Scotland

Scotland’s older population is increasing faster than in other parts of the UK. The country’s overall population is projected to increase from 5.3 million to 5.7 million by 2039 – with an 85% increase in those aged 75+. The country also has poor health and low life expectancy when compared with other economically similar nations, raising unique questions about the future of social care and health policies.

We undertook the first comprehensive study of over 50s in Scotland that gathers information on their health, economic circumstances and social wellbeing.

Insights

The Healthy Ageing in Scotland (HAGIS) study has created an invaluable benchmark that enables comparison of over 50s in Scotland with those in other nations, and will help to inform vital conversations about the country’s future. The £500,000 study – funded by the National Institute of Aging and Nuffield Foundation – is the first of its kind in Scotland. In its pilot phase, researchers at the University analysed the data of 1,000 Scots over the age of 50 – supplying a wealth of information to influence and support the debate around the issues affecting our ageing population.

The initial findings of the study have revealed important insights into the employment, social security, health and life expectancy of the older generation. The HAGIS study represents Scotland within the Gateway to Global Aging – a platform for population survey data covering more than two-thirds of the world’s population aged 50+. HAGIS provides a benchmark and, for the first time, enables comparison of the over 50s in Scotland with those in other countries across the world.

Read more about the specific findings of the HAGIS study below.

Scotland's population is projected to increase from 5.3 million to 5.7 million by 2039

infographic: Our research

Our research

has given Scotland a voice in the Gateway to Global Aging Data

infographic: The HAGIS study

The HAGIS study

supplies a wealth of insight into the issues affecting our ageing population

infographic: Healthy ageing

Healthy ageing

research will help to inform vital conversations about the future

Employment

68% of men and 55% of women aged 50-64 in the HAGIS study are working, around 20% are retired, with the remainder unemployed, unable to work through illness or disability, caring or looking after the family home. Almost 40% of older people in Scotland expect to retire before the State Pension Age, 30% plan to retire when they become eligible for the state pension, and 30% after they have passed the eligibility criterion. A relatively large proportion of respondents (42%) do not have any pension arrangements other than state provision, while 49 percent are enrolled in an occupation pension scheme. Understanding people’s expectations for retirement is important, particularly for ensuring financial security and planning for care in the longer term.

Almost 40% of older people in Scotland expect to retire before the State Pension Age

Health

HAGIS data suggests that single men are significantly less likely to participate in bowel cancer screening tests (57.6%), compared to those who live with a partner (79.5%). Increasing the participation rate of single males to the Scottish average would save around 3.2 lives per year, based on Scottish Government estimates of the effectiveness of the screening programme. The uptake of screening is also lower in deprived areas, so raising awareness in these households would also be beneficial.

Social Isolation and Loneliness

Social isolation and loneliness are distinct but inter-related concepts. Yet, both social isolation and loneliness are associated with poorer physical and mental health. Just over 9% of the HAGIS sample said that they often felt lonely. Most people see either/or children, friends, or family more than once a month, however, some people have very little contact with anyone.

Perhaps surprisingly, some people with high levels of social contact can often feel lonely, while some who never or rarely feel lonely can have few social connections. HAGIS data will help us to understand when, and for whom, feelings of social isolation and/or loneliness are associated with poorer health outcomes. Read more about our research into social isolation and loneliness.

Our research will help us to understand when, and for whom, feelings of social isolation and/or loneliness are associated with poorer health outcomes.

Social security and disability

Disability increases as we age, and the prevalence of disability is highest in deprived areas. The percentage of people with a “high” measure of disability increases from 11.9% of the population to 48.8% between the ages of 50-59 and 80+.

A significant proportion of those with “high” levels of disability are not claiming disability-related benefits and this warrants further investigation. Nearly half of people who think their physical abilities are substantially limiting are not receiving either Attendance Allowance or Disability Living Allowance. These benefits will soon be transferred to the Scottish Government from the UK Department of Work and Pensions and together will account for more than £2bn of Scottish Government spending.

Life expectancy and retirement

Life expectancy is typically underestimated, particularly by younger people. Women underestimate their life expectancy more than men – even though they tend to live longer than men.

People in more affluent areas are more likely to underestimate their life expectancy. Someone living in the most affluent area of Scotland typically underestimates their life expectancy by 2.4 years on average, compared to someone in the most deprived areas who on average underestimates by 1.4 years.

We are currently studying why there are differences between the age people think they will live to and their actual life expectancy. We are exploring variation in age and sex, as well as cultural differences across countries.

We're studying why there are differences between the age people think they will live to and their actual life expectancy.

Shaping policy

Our researchers aim to expand the HAGIS study’s reach to 7,000 people and re-interviewing them every two years. This expansion will add additional depth to the findings of the original study and continue to provide invaluable data on Scotland’s ageing population that allows for global comparison and policy-shaping insights.

Related publications

Older people, Social Isolation and Loneliness in Scotland Insights from the Healthy Ageing in Scotland (HAGIS) study

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