This is a question I’ve been thinking a lot about recently, as I’ve just finished work on some qualitative research into older people’s perceptions of their income and lifestyle, commissioned by the DWP, and the fact that last Saturday was UK Older People’s Day.
The really interesting finding to come out of our study was that while the people who took part tended to identify with a ‘comfortable’ lifestyle, what constituted a ‘comfortable’ lifestyle wasn’t just about financial means.
Our study involved talking to 30 individuals aged over 60 who had been deliberately chosen to reflect middle income households. They earned between £10K and £40K in their last main job and had some pension income over and above the State Pension, which meant they could reflect on the appropriateness of their pre-retirement planning.
We asked participants to define their own lifestyle and that of other older people, which they did having first identified three key descriptors. These descriptors were whether a lifestyle provided financial security, independence and choice.
Participants then went on to define three types of lifestyle in retirement.
- A ‘basic’ lifestyle was seen as one which lacked financial security and independence.
- A ‘comfortable’ lifestyle was one which began at the point of financial security and independence. However, there was a great deal of variation in how people defined ‘comfortable’. This depended on the level of choice individuals felt they needed to enhance the quality of life, for example, some people felt they needed a holiday twice a year whilst others felt once a year was enough.
- A ‘wealthy’ lifestyle was seen to be differentiated from a ‘comfortable’ one, based on individuals being able to exercise choice on a much grander scale in this lifestyle, for example, having exotic holidays.
Although financial factors were important, particularly being able to pay bills, being free from debt and having secure accommodation, other non-financial factors also contributed to a ‘comfortable’ lifestyle. Of importance was good health and mobility, a strong support network of friends and family and being able to tailor expectations and expenditure to meet income.
So financial factors don’t in themselves tell the full the story of what it means to enjoy a comfortable older age. This is a fascinating area of research and I’d be really interested to hear from other people who have looked into this, or from older people to find out if our findings speak to their own experience of retirement.