moneyPeople aged over 50 who struggle to manage their finances are 8 times more likely to have reduced levels of mental wellbeing than their wealthy peers, according to new research.

Figures from the Personal Finance Research Centre at the University of Bristol and the International Longevity Centre UK (ILC-UK) found that more than 22% of those aged 50-54 show worryingly low levels of mental wellbeing, while this age group also has the lowest percentage of people living comfortably (26%). 

The figures are based on a sample of almost 20,000 people aged 50 and above, drawn from Understanding Society – the largest social survey ever undertaken in the UK.

In contrast, 40% of those aged 80 and above are living comfortably, with only 1% feeling that they are finding things very difficult financially and 85% show positive mental wellbeing. 

The age group with the highest levels of positive mental wellbeing are those aged 70-74, which researchers attribute to the ‘baby boomer’ effect or people enjoying the early stages of retirement and good health. 

The author of the research, David Hayes, research associate at the Personal Finance Research Centre (PFRC) in the School of Geographical Sciences, said: “This research supports the findings of other researchers that debt may be both a cause and consequence of mental health. 

“However, the magnitude of the relationship that we uncover here is quite staggering. The research proves beyond all doubt how poor mental wellbeing and poor financial management are inextricably related, and has implications for policy in the fields of health and debt. Future work is now needed to unravel the nature of this complex relationship, to provide further material for policy makers in these areas.” 

Other findings from the research include:

Women are more likely to show signs of reduced mental wellbeing than men (odds of 1.5)

Older people who are divorced or separated have 1.2 times the odds of displaying poor levels of mental wellbeing, compared to those who are married or in a civil partnership

Older people who are unemployed have double the odds of reduced mental wellbeing, compared to those in full or part-time employment

Retired people have 1.4 times the odds of having reduced levels of mental wellbeing, while the long-term sick or disabled have almost five times the odds of poor mental wellbeing

People in rural areas are less likely to experience poor mental wellbeing than those in urban areas.

David Sinclair, assistant director, policy and communications at ILC-UK, added: “This research confirms our suspicions that having low levels of mental wellbeing is very much associated with financial difficulties. We must ensure that people of all ages have access to the mental health support they need. Similarly we must ensure that everyone who needs it has access to support to help them manage their finances.” 

Andy Bell, deputy chief executive at the Centre for Mental Health, said: “There is now clear evidence of the links between mental ill health and financial difficulties. People with mental health problems face a high risk of poverty and problem debt while people with financial problems are at risk of poor mental health. Both health and financial services need to be mindful of these links and ensure people get the expert support they need to manage their finances and their mental health together.”