Longitudinal data

Transitions, choices and health at older ages: life course analyses of longitudinal data

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The project will examine paid employment and informal caring, and their various combinations, during the years around the State Pension Age (SPA); for example, part-time employment pre-SPA combined with caring for a disabled relative, or continuing paid employment post-SPA, either fulltime or part-time. Health will be examined as a precursor of these choices, as a component of such combinations and as one of their consequences. The study’s findings will be relevant to pensions and labour market policy and to people’s decisions about how to use their early old age. More specifically, life course analysis of the social patterning of work and caring around SPA will have significance for two aspects of Opportunity Age, the government’s strategy on ageing: (1) fairness in work and later; (2) support and care.

Investigator(s)

David Blane, Imperial College London

Team

  • Seeromanie Harding, MRC Social and Public Health Sciences, Glasgow
  • Melanie Bartley, University College London
  • Richard Wiggins, Institute of Education, London
  • Paul Boyle, University of St Andrews

Partners

  • Office for National Statistics
  • Help the Aged
  • Department for Work and Pensions
  • Turin Longitudinal Study
  • Finnish Longitudinal Study

Contact details

David Blane

Background

  • The timing of labour market exit is becoming more varied, with many leaving the labour market before the State Pension Age, along side proposals to raise the State Pension Age (SPA).

  • These issues are bound up with health, both as a cause of early labour market exit and as a possible consequence of a raised SPA.

  • In addition health and the timing of labour market exit are tied to a third issue, that of informal caring for a dependent spouse, parent or child.

  • Retirement, informal caring and health make a complex package of inter-related choices and transitions which face most people in early old age, but about which little is know.

  • What are the health precursors and consequences of combining part-time paid employment pre-SPA with informal caring? Is continuing in paid employment post-SPA dependent on preceding good health; and what are its health consequences? How stable are these relationships; and are they changing along with the changing industrial and occupational structure?

  • The answers to these questions are relevant to the UK population when facing such choices and transitions; and relevant to policy makers when debating reform.

Aims/objectives

  1. Has the relationship between health and labour force participation at ages over 50 years changed during the period 1971-2001? Does the extent of change vary with social position?

  2. Do the social (1971-2001) and health (1991-2001) life trajectories of informal carers aged 50 years and over differ from those of non-carers? Do these groups differ in mortality and cancer registration during 2001-2004?

  3. Are new combinations of health and social characteristics emerging during the years around the State Pension Age? What are the health consequences of such combinations?

  4. Is the relationship between health and labour force participation at ages over 50 years stable internationally; or does it vary with time and welfare state regime?

Design

In the main, our analyses will be based on data held by the Office for National Statistics Longitudinal Study (ONS-LS), which links the Decennial Census returns of 1% of the population of England and Wales, some half-million people. The linked censuses are: 1971, 1981, 1991 and 2001. These also are linked to mortality records and cancer registration.

Support for our ONS-LS analyses will come from the Scottish Longitudinal Study, which uniquely in UK links census returns to hospital admissions data, allowing comparison of the census questions on health with the more objective measure of admission to hospital.

Our international comparisons will involve Italy and Finland, where both Turin and Finland have linked record longitudinal studies that bring together census returns, health registers and data on prescribed medications. While England & Wales, Scotland, Italy and Finland share census-based longitudinal data sets, they differ in their welfare state regimes which will allow us to examine the effect of the wider policy context. These international comparisons will concentrate on health and labour force participation, because neither the Italian nor the Finnish Censuses collects information on informal caring.

The project runs for two years. Year 1 will concentrate on Research Question (1). Year 2 will answer Research Question (2)-(4). Our Italian and Finnish collaborators have started work on the health and labour market analyses; and we will use the second half of Year 2 to answer Research Question (4).

Policy implications

The project will examine paid employment and informal caring, and their various combinations, during the years around the State Pension Age (SPA); for example, part-time employment pre-SPA combined with caring for a disabled relative, or continuing paid employment post-SPA, either fulltime or part-time. Health will be examined as a precursor of these choices, as a component of such combinations and as one of their consequences. The study’s findings will be relevant to pensions and labour market policy and to people’s decisions about how to use their early old age. More specifically, life course analysis of the social patterning of work and caring around SPA will have significance for two aspects of Opportunity Age, the government’s strategy on ageing: (1) fairness in work and later; (2) support and care.

Three non-academic organisations have been involved in the development of the project’s research questions. Both the Department for Work and Pensions and Help the Aged contributed an emphasis on the various combinations of health, employment and caring; and a concern to relate these questions to current policy interests. The third organisation, Office for National Statistics, contributed also an interest in making best use of a new data opportunity; namely, using the separate Longitudinal Studies of Scotland, Northern Ireland and England & Wales to make within-UK comparisons.

The project researcher is a civil servant on part-time secondment from the Demography Unit of the Department for Work and Pensions, for whom she will write briefing notes and make seminar presentations based on the results of work in progress. The project principal investigator, if invited, will make presentations of work in progress to Help the Aged and the Department of Work and Pensions. These more flexible disseminations will complement peer-reviewed conference presentations and journal articles.

The involvement of Department for Work and Pensions, Help the Aged and Office for National Statistics will continue into the project’s research phase. All three organisations are represented on the project team, so they will be able to influence the direction of the project, its conduct and the way in which its results are disseminated.

The New Dynamics of Ageing Programme can help this process by introducing the project to other potentially interested non-academic partners, such as the Department of Health, within the policy sphere, and Age Concern in the voluntary sector.

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