Advanced Care Research Centre

Income Trajectories and Precarity in Later Life

Our latest publication finds that widespread and persistent low income in later life in England, is closely related to unstable environments.

Income Trajectories and Precarity in Later life, Journal of Population Ageing, 24 Jan 24 Alan Marshall, Chima Eke, Bruce Guthrie, Carys Pugh, Sohan Seth, DOI:

A new paper from the ACRC is now published in the Journal of Population Ageing and finds widespread and persistent low income in later life in England, that is intertwined with broader precarities in housing, relationships, care, retirement and pension access.

Precarity refers to experiences of life that are marked by uncertainty and instability in many areas, such as housing, employment or relationships.

In the paper, around half the older population in England are classed as ‘Always Poor’ with an income during later life that is typically sufficient to cover only essential costs of living such as groceries and public transport. This group are the most likely to experience a diverse set of precarities in later life including always renting their accommodation, retiring involuntarily due to poor health or due to job loss, relying solely on the State pension and other benefits without access to occupational or private pensions, giving high levels of care to others and experiencing partnership dissolution due to divorce or the death of a spouse. In short low income and precarity in many other areas of later life are intertwined, self-reinforcing, and likely lead to vulnerabilities in health and wellbeing.

At the other end of the income spectrum, we identify around 14% of the older population in a ‘Luxury’ group, who are least likely to experience such precarity in later life with an income that is sufficient for expenditure including long-haul overseas holidays, running a new car, leisure club membership and employing a gardener or cleaner. Women and those from lower social backgrounds are least likely to be part of this Luxury group and the most likely to be Always Poor. Social disadvantage in access to later life income accumulates from childhood and across the life-course. Women are particularly disadvantaged in terms of income following divorce and the death of a spouse.  

We, and others, have pointed to the likely harmful impact of austerity on experiences and outcomes in later life in areas such as frailty, life expectancy and social care provision. Our new paper identifies the Always Poor as a group of older people who are likely particularly vulnerable to such cuts because of their low income, their housing circumstances, their caring obligations, their partnership status and the nature of their retirement decision. Our findings are in line with other arguments that recommend caution in response to the current cost-of living crisis and in maintaining the pension triple lock given the vulnerabilities experienced by a significant portion of the older population.

You can read the paper in full, here.