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The University of Southampton
Economic, Social and Political Sciences

Variety now the spice of mid-life

Published: 22 September 2011

The characteristics of mid-life have seen big changes over recent decades, according to our leading research, revealed in the final edition of Population Trends, a journal published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The study, led by Head of Social Sciences Professor Jane Falkingham with researchers Dieter Demey , Dr Ann Berrington and Professor Maria Evandrou , finds that people’s experiences of mid-life – defined as the period between age 45 and age 64 – are much more varied now than in previous decades. Changes in partnership formation, patterns of family life and employment have meant that people can expect to see more differences between their lifestyles and those of their peers than they might have thirty years ago.

Fewer people in the mid-life age group now have a child or grandchild than they did ten years ago, but more still have a parent or grandparent alive. Meanwhile those who do have children are more likely in early mid-life to still have dependent children living with them than those 25 years ago.

More people in mid-life, particularly men, are now living alone – related to the fact that fewer people in mid-life are married, and more are divorced. However, the overall socio-economic position of the middle-aged has improved, particularly for women, and the gap between men and women has narrowed.

Also published in this issue of Population Trends, a special edition produced in conjunction with the ESRC Centre for Population Change (CPC) at the University of Southampton and a consortium of Scottish universities, is an article on cohabitation and marriage in Britain since the 1970s.

The study, by researchers Dr Éva Beaujouan and Professor Máire Ní Bhrolcháin ,  shows that men and women now enter their first partnership about two years later, on average, than in the early 1980s. Marriage is five years later, on average, with the additional delay due both to the growth in the frequency of cohabitation before marriage and to couples living together for longer before their first marriage.

A third article, by researchers Dr Athina Vlachantoni , Dr Richard Shaw , Dr Rosalind Willis , Professor Maria Evandrou , Professor Jane Falkingham and Dr Rebekah Luff , uses data from a range of national surveys to measure unmet needs for social care among older people. It concludes that different kinds of need tend to be supported by particular sources of care, and that there is a significant level of ‘unmet need’ for certain activities, such as help with bathing – with half of all people over 65 who need assistance with this, not receiving it.

Further information

Other articles produced by CPC in this issue:

  • Trends in A8 migration to the UK during the recession
  • Intergenerational replacement and migration in the countries and regions of the United Kingdom, 1971-2009
  • How serious is the Modifiable Areal Unit Problem for analysis of English census data?
  • Reweighting the General Household Survey 1979-2007

Other articles also featured in this issue:

  • A new area classification for understanding internal migration in Britain
  • Civil partnerships five years on*
  • Mortality of the ‘Golden Generation’: what can the ONS Longitudinal Study tell us?
  • How have administrative sources been used to adjust population estimates and set plausibility ranges?

Full articles and a podcast can be viewed at:

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