Older women living alone in the United Kingdom: a mixed methods study exploring health and wellbeing

Forward, Catherine Anne (2021) Older women living alone in the United Kingdom: a mixed methods study exploring health and wellbeing. Doctoral thesis, University of West London.

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Abstract

This thesis presents the results from a mixed methods study examining the health and wellbeing of older women in the UK. In the context of an ageing population, understanding the determinants and nature of health and wellbeing in later life is important in improving health service provision. Women are more likely to live alone in later life in addition to experiencing different life course trajectories to men. Gender variations in the outcomes and experience of later life are well recognised. Living alone poses particular challenges in later life in terms of social and practical support and the existing evidence does not explore the implications for this for older women in the UK.
The original research carried out for this thesis consists of two main phases in addition to a scoping review of existing literature. Quantitative analysis of data from the Understanding Society dataset was followed by qualitative analysis of transcripts gathered in 1:1 interviews with seven women between the ages of 65 and 80 who live alone in the UK. These interviews were undertaken during the summer of 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic.
One of the main findings is that women who live alone in the UK are older and in poorer health on average than their co-habiting counterparts. This highlights an important potential vulnerability in this population. Logistic and linear regression analyses indicate that household composition is not a predictor of poorer health and wellbeing once socioeconomic factors are included in the models.
Another key finding from the regressions is the comparison of determinants of health between those who live alone and those who cohabit. The determinants of health and wellbeing differ between those two groups, suggesting different needs for support. Of particular interest is that although volunteering rates were comparable for the two groups, volunteering was a significant predictor of better health and wellbeing for those who live alone but not for those who live with others. This indicates that social factors influence the health and wellbeing of older women differently depending on their household composition: it also points to the importance of supporting older women who live alone to be able to engage in such civic activities if desired.
The results of the qualitative analysis provide complementarity to the statistical analyses by providing a richer picture of the experience and life course trajectories of older women who live alone in the UK. The examination of the qualitative data was undertaken in two separate analyses. The first analysis used an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis to examine the lived experience of living alone in later life. This was particularly important given the timing, during the Covid-19 pandemic. Three overarching themes were Productivity, Ownership, and Interconnectedness. The second round of analysis of the qualitative data used Critical Narrative Analysis. This enabled the use of a life course approach and a critical theoretical lens – in this case, critical feminist gerontology – to examine the data further. The three key themes from this analysis were Rootedness, Busyness and New Paths.
Finally, the findings from each of the analyses were synthesised with the existing empirical and critical literature. This study contributes to the existing knowledge regarding the health and wellbeing of older women living alone in the UK in several ways. Firstly, it confirms that older women who live alone are a more vulnerable group, reporting poorer health and wellbeing overall. However, it also confirmed the importance of socioeconomic factors in mediating the effect of household composition in terms of health and wellbeing outcomes. The role of volunteering as a promoter of health and wellbeing in this population is demonstrated and this is added to by the results of the qualitative analysis which underscored the value of volunteering for older women living alone. Valuable insights are also gained regarding the experience of living alone as an older woman during the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK which posed additional challenges to issues around social connectivity and independence. Indications for future research and implications for policy and practice are given. For example, further research is needed on the effect of volunteering on health and wellbeing in addition to exploring ways in which to maximise health benefits in older women, especially those who live alone. Policy and public health practice should consider how volunteering and other time-use variables are related to health and wellbeing whilst also being mindful of the effect such a drive might have on those unable to participate.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: Medicine and health
Depositing User: Camille Regnault
Date Deposited: 14 Jul 2021 13:53
Last Modified: 14 Jul 2021 13:53
URI: http://repository.uwl.ac.uk/id/eprint/8127

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