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Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing

English social climbers happier in later life

3 August 2015

People in England born before 1955 who were socially mobile have a stronger sense of control and wellbeing in later life new research shows.

Findings show that men and women born in England into working class families who increased their social status are more satisfied with life than those born in a high class family, relative to their health and wealth.

The study led by sociologist Dr Bram Vanhoutte looked at whether increased social mobility - the difference between the social position of your upbringing and the one you are now in - makes people happier in later life, while taking into account people’s living conditions. Those who moved down the social ladder in comparison with their parents, were less satisfied than those who stayed in the same position. 'People’s personal journey through the ranks of society, can give us additional insight, not only into wellbeing, but equally into the mechanisms that distribute life chances', said Dr Vanhoutte.

The recent paper published in the Journal of Population Ageing researchers shared analysis of two long-running longitudinal studies involving large samples of baby-boomers in England and the USA. The study also found that English social climbers ladder were more content and happy when they get older than Americans who are similarly upwardly mobile. Notably climbing the ladder in America either has no or even a negative association with wellbeing.

While one out of two born in a working class family also retired from a working class job in England, this was only a third in the US. Compared to the US, social mobility for those born in a working class family in England was relatively rare but when it did happen and was substantial, it has measurable positive effects on wellbeing in later life. In the US on the other hand, social mobility happened more often, but was inconsequential in terms of happiness in later life. 'The country differences in the effects of mobility may well be linked to the stark differences in resources for older people in England and America, such as access to healthcare and pensions, that seem to offset the gains of social rising', commented Dr Vanhoutte.

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