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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2019  |  Volume : 35  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 169-172

Material and social resources at old age from life course perspective: An overview of the United Kingdom

The Centre for Research on Ageing, Faculty of Social, Human and Mathematical Sciences, University of Southampton, Southampton, England

Date of Submission19-Jul-2018
Date of Decision07-Oct-2018
Date of Acceptance29-Oct-2018
Date of Web Publication30-Sep-2019

Correspondence Address:
Ms. Tulika Bhattacharyya
University of Southampton, Southampton
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijsp.ijsp_58_18

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Material and Social resources throughout the life course has cumulative impact at old age. An individual utilizes these resources in varied ways to attain her/his goals. Even though material resources decline with aging, financial satisfaction increases with age. Older people will have a greater chance of having a family caregiver than their previous generations – in spite of the declining fertility – due to better chances of their caregiver's survival. The study concludes that new uncertainties and global risks threaten the well-being of the older people.

Keywords: Age, life course perspective, material and social resources, old

How to cite this article:
Bhattacharyya T. Material and social resources at old age from life course perspective: An overview of the United Kingdom. Indian J Soc Psychiatry 2019;35:169-72

How to cite this URL:
Bhattacharyya T. Material and social resources at old age from life course perspective: An overview of the United Kingdom. Indian J Soc Psychiatry [serial online] 2019 [cited 2022 May 26];35:169-72. Available from: https://www.indjsp.org/text.asp?2019/35/3/169/268340

Aging is a lifelong process. Life course refers to an individual's actual life experiences at different age stages, throughout their journey of life. A range of factors influence an individual's life experiences, at all points of time. The life course perspective to aging is constructed on the idea that the continuum of an individual's experiences and trajectories throughout their life plays an important role in shaping their situations, opportunities, and challenges at their old age. This approach considers both developmental and historical frameworks, by focusing on life transitions and its influence on the intergenerational relationships.[1] It takes a holistic view and considers the interrelationship between the different stages of an individual's life, in contrast to the life cycle standpoint which views each stage in isolation and focuses on the expected experiences at each age stage, as determined on the basis of sociocultural beliefs and practices.

Change in life course has resulted in alterations in the accumulation and utilization of an individual's resources, thereby resulting in transformation in the availability of material or social resources at old age. The changing life course in Britain between 1930s and 2000s is illustrated in [Figure 1].[2]
Figure 1: The changing life course from the 1930s to 2000s. Source: Warnes, p. 211, Figure 21.1 The changing life course in Britain 1850s–2030s)

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An individual's life revolves around social, material, as well as immaterial resources – such as power, knowledge, and love. Material and social resources are essential for enhancing an individual's chances of survival and maintaining healthy life and well-being. Production, accumulation, utilization, and exchange of these resources are the central pillars through which an individual maintains her/his physical, mental, social, economic, and spiritual well-being and thereby their quality of life, throughout their life course. Material resources refer essentially to the economic well-being, and it includes one's property and income from earning or other resources, housing, and wealth – including inheritance, investments, savings, and access to consumer goods.

However, social resources refer to the social ties of an individual. The power of a social tie depends on the amount of time spent, degree of emotional involvement, and level of intimacy, as well as mutual efforts and benefits involved in the tie, throughout the life course. According to the social resource theory, individuals can expand their social resources using their social ties – using networking patterns and dynamics. Therefore, material and social resources are accessed and utilized in a variety of ways and combinations by an individual to attain her/his goals, throughout the life course. In the later life, these resources might be utilized for maintaining one's quality of death and dying.

Social support bonds are formed in early life and are reshaped by historical circumstances – including events such as wars and decline of economies – over the life course.[3],[4] The life course approach is significant in exploring the resources of the older people as the expectations for receiving all forms of support in old age are the outcome of the continuous interaction among family members while moving through the historical time. Grundy [5] showed that at later life, family members, especially spouses or living partners, provide the major share of support and thereby act as a major social resource in maintaining activities of daily living (ADL), such as bathing, maintaining personal hygiene, grooming, and dressing, as well as instrumental ADL (IADL), such as cooking, financial management, shopping, housekeeping, and taking prescribed medications regularly. Older people with more number of children tend to receive greater support in maintaining their ADL and IADL; however, the support did not involve financial support. Very few people in the United Kingdom take financial support from children. Obtaining social support beyond the family or from social/health services is less common for older people residing with family members. The study also showed that the social/health services are majorly assessed by the older people staying alone, in case of the United Kingdom. It has been found that relatives beyond the household, neighbors and friends provide support in later life, in case of the older people residing alone.

Aging is not only influenced by multiple aspects in different stages of life but it also, in turn, influences various aspects of later life. The events throughout an individual's life course might have a cumulative advantageous/disadvantageous effect [6],[7],[8],[9] on their resources (health, money, and status) at later life. The availability of resources becomes most extreme at old age, with a huge gap between the poor and the rich.[10] The percentage of pensioners in the bottom and top fifth of the population in the United Kingdom is 14% and 19%, respectively.[11]

The material and social well-being of an older person is intermittently linked to their life course. For example, the decision about the retirement timing of an older person might be the outcome of the individual situations throughout her/his life course and its impact on the current material and social situations, such as the health and social condition of the individual and her/his family members, along with her/his societal/employers norms, e.g., golden parachute.[1] Besides, the retirement decisions are often based on linked lives and social ties with other family members. For example, older people often undertake a large share of grandchild care responsibilities.[11] Grundy [5] showed a recent trend where large numbers of older parents are providing support than receiving support. The trend toward providing support to children is more common among young olds while the need for receiving care from children rises with age.[5] Life course experiences of an individual based on their age, gender, ethnic background, and occupational status influence their material resources at old age. The sources of income in later life and the chances of belonging to an economically disadvantaged group differ according to older people's demographic characteristics throughout their life course. The real value of basic state pension has declined, and the state earnings-related pension scheme has reduced its compensation for women and other groups which are less advantaged in the labor market.[1] [Figure 2] shows that the recently retired pensioner's income has increased (statistically) in 2015–2016, in comparison to 2005–2006.[11]
Figure 2: The Income of recently retired Pensioners has increased since 2005–2006. Source: Department of Work and Pension, Pensioners Income Series 2015–2016, p. 5

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The access to material resources varies according to age, gender, disability, marital status, ethnicity, and occupational cadre. The Department of Work and Pension, 2017 report also revealed decrease in income with age as shown in [Figure 3].[11]
Figure 3: Older pensioners have lower income than younger pensioners. Source: Department of Work and Pension, Pensioners Income Series 2015–2016, p. 3

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The gender difference between the pensioners is shown in [Figure 4] (Department of Work and Pension, 2017).[11]
Figure 4: Single women have less income than single men. Average (median) weekly income of pensioners in 2015/16 prices (£) Source: Department of Work and Pension, Pensioners Income Series 2015–2016, p. 4

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Marital status has also shown to influence the pension income as shown in [Figure 5].[11]
Figure 5: Pensioner couples' incomes were over twice that of single. Average (median) weekly income of pensioners in 2015/16 prices (£) Source: Department of Work and Pension, Pensioners Income Series 2015–2016, p. 4

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Burholt and Windle [12] identified the predictors of inadequate material resources in later life in the United Kingdom, by comparing income, material resources, and material well-being of various groups of older people. The individuals with lower education, poorer health, residing in a disadvantaged neighborhood, staying alone (because of widowhood, divorce, or separation), and women were more likely to have fewer material resources at old age. An individual's material resources tend to decrease with age however their financial satisfaction increases with age.

The demographic changes in the family and thereby the social resources at old age are not only affected by the changes in the life course but also affect the life course of an individual. This leads to a continuous evolution of the family structure. A variety of factors shapes the family relationships, intergenerational support, social capital, and social networks throughout the life course of an individual. The socioeconomic and health condition, age of marriage, fertility, mortality, number of family members, time spent together by the family members, divorce, and migration determine the structure of families and thereby the availability of a family caregiver at old age. The changes in the social resources from the life course perspective at old age are the consequences as well as the causes of the demographic and structural changes in the family. The decline in the birth rates in both developing and developed countries,[13] childlessness, mortality rate, and increase in the life expectancy has influenced the social resources at later life. In spite of the declining fertility, the present-day older people have a greater chance of having a family caregiver than their previous generations due to greater chances of survival of their spouses, children, siblings, etc. Finch [14] studied the obligations and responsibilities of assistance provided by children to their parents at old age in Britain. The children's sense of obligation toward their older parents was identified, but there was lack of consensus about reasonable obligations and expectations. The study indicated that the people have an understanding of what would be generally accepted as reasonable obligations and expectations; however, it is used more as a standard to negotiate rather than practicing it as a rule. Evandrou and Glaser [15] investigated the association between the role responsibilities – such as caring for aged parents and young children along with maintaining paid work – and changes in material and social resources through mid-life in Britain. Multiple role responsibilities were found to negatively affect the pension entitlements considerably. As a result, many women who played the roles of carers for their parents and children tend to have low income at old age. The study indicated that the caring demands in mid-life may have negative health consequences in later life.

Although globalization has opened opportunities for expanding social and material resources, it has also brought new uncertainties to every individual, throughout their life. The acceleration of the globalization and economic recession in the 21st century along with the increased longevity and unequal old age has brought an unequal and divided trend in old age and has put some individuals in extremely disadvantaged positions at old age,[16],[17] thereby suggesting global risks and insecurities, as threats to the material and social resources, at old age.

Financial support and sponsorship

The author would like to thank Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, The United Kingdom for their financial support.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Arber S, Evandrou M, editors. Mapping the territory: Ageing, independence and the life course. In: Ageing, Independence and the Life Course. Gates Head: Athenaeum Press; 1997. p. 9-26.  Back to cited text no. 1
Warnes A. The future life course, migration and old age. In: Vincent JA, Phillipson C, Downs M, editors. The Futures of Old Age. London: Sage; 2006. p. 211.  Back to cited text no. 2
Elder GH. Children of the Great Depression. Chicago: Chicago University Press; 1974.  Back to cited text no. 3
Hareven TK, editor. Introduction: The historical study of the life course. In: Transitions: The Family and the Life Course in Historical Perspective. New York: Academic Press; 1978. p. 1-16.  Back to cited text no. 4
Grundy E. Ageing and vulnerable elderly people: European perspectives. Ageing Soc 2006;26:105-34.  Back to cited text no. 5
Merton RK. The Matthew effect in science: The reward and communication systems of science are considered. Science 1968;159:56-63.  Back to cited text no. 6
Dannefer D. Aging as intracohort differentiation: Accentuation, the Matthew effect, and the life course. Sociol Forum 1987;2:211-36.  Back to cited text no. 7
Dannefer D. Differential aging and the stratified life course: Conceptual and methodological issues. In: Maddox GL, Lawton MP, editors. Annual Review of Gerontology. New York: Springer; 1988. p. 3-36.  Back to cited text no. 8
Dannefer D. Cumulative advantage/disadvantage and the life course: Cross-fertilizing age and social science theory. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 2003;58:S327-37.  Back to cited text no. 9
Entwisle DR, Alexander KL, Olson LS. Keep the faucet flowing: Summer learning and home environment. Am Educ 2001;47:10-5.  Back to cited text no. 10
Department of Work and Pensions Pensioners' Incomes Series: An Analysis of Trends in Pensioner Incomes: 2017; 1994/95-2015/16. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/600594/pensioners-incomes-series-2015-16-report.pdf. [Last accessed 2017 Dec 06].  Back to cited text no. 11
Burholt V, Windle G. The Material Resources and Wellbeing of Older People. London: Joseph Rowntree Foundation; 2006.  Back to cited text no. 12
Rand Corporation Research Brief Population Implosion? Low Fertility and Policy Responses in the European Union; 2005. Available from: http://www.rand.org. [Last accessed on 2017 Nov 12].  Back to cited text no. 13
Finch J. Filial obligations and kin support for elderly people. Ageing Soc 1990;10:151-75.  Back to cited text no. 14
Evandrou M, Glaser K. Family, work and quality of life: Changing economic and social roles through the life course. Ageing Soc 2004;24:771-91.  Back to cited text no. 15
Cann P, Dean M, editors. Unequal Ageing: The Untold Story of Social Exclusion in Old Age. Bristol, England: Policy Press; 2009.  Back to cited text no. 16
Stiglitz JE, Kaldor M. The Quest for Security: Protection without Protectionism and the Challenge of Global Governance. New York: Columbia University Press; 2013.  Back to cited text no. 17


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5]


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