The good news is that we are living longer. The even better news is that we have an opportunity to ensure this extended time is active, fulfilling and happy for many more people.
We recently heard that life expectancy at older ages in England is at its highest level ever. Public Health England revealed that for those aged 65 today, men can expect to live for another 19 years and women a further 21 years. This is something to celebrate and presents a huge opportunity for society. But as well as adding years to life, we need to add life to years.
Our own research has shown there is currently a wide variation in how people experience later life. Despite many people having positive experiences, too many people still suffer from ill health or disability, experience poverty or financial insecurity, feel lonely and isolated, or lack meaning and purpose in their lives.
In our major report with Ipsos MORI - Later Life in 2015 - we found that strong social connections help some people to overcome disadvantages such as poor health or a lack of financial security. Interestingly, a recent study published in BMJ Open found that maintaining membership of social groups following retirement has a positive effect on quality of life and mortality.
We need to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to establish and maintain social connections - whether that is through living in an age-friendly community, engaging in fulfilling work or volunteering, or participating in other social activities or groups.
Rising life expectancy will lead to profound demographic changes - by 2021, compared to 2011, there will be 24% more people aged 65 and over, and 39% more people aged 85 and over. If we prepare for this change effectively - as individuals and as a society - this can be a great opportunity: for example, we could see far greater numbers of people continuing to work or contributing to their communities and families. As individuals, with a more realistic view of how long we might live, we can make plans, both financially and socially.
At the Centre for Ageing Better, our vision is simple - we want a society in which everyone enjoys a good later life. We want to find out what works and spread these ideas so that more people can enjoy a good later life in future. During 2016, we will be working with others to identify solutions and develop and test new approaches. We will also learn from others, drawing on international examples of good practice and from cities like Manchester about how to design age friendly cities, how to create thriving retirement communities like the Whiteley Village, the potential of digital to connect people in new ways from social entrepreneurs behind Casserole Club or North London Cares, how to enable people to stay active and connected in later life from local voluntary sector organisations like OpenAge. By understanding what influences happiness in later life, we can ensure fewer people miss out and our longer lives become fuller lives.