Quality of life problems differ by age group and social class

Research conducted by the ESRI and published in a report by the Department of Social Protection today (Wednesday 13 July) examined how quality of life in Ireland varies by age group and social class, using CSO data available for 2013. Using 11 indicators to measure different aspects of quality of life, the research found significant differences across age groups in the extent and type of problems reported. The research also found large differences in the extent of problems reported across different social classes but very little variation in the types of problems.

Multidimensional quality of life problems

  • The paper focuses on 11 types of quality of life problems: income poverty, being unable to afford basic goods and services, financial strain, poor health, mental distress, housing quality problems, crowded accommodation, neighbourhood problems, mistrust in institutions (such as the political system, legal system and police), lack of social support and feeling unsafe in the local area.
  • The research measured the number of people who experience multiple (three or more) issues and examined how the types of problems experienced by people within this group vary by age group and social class.

How many people experience multiple quality of life problems?

  • About one quarter of adults (25.5 per cent) reported problems on at least three of the 11 indicators.
  • Within this group, seven issues each accounted for 10 to 11 per cent of the total issues reported: financial strain, mental distress, health problems, neighbourhood problems, housing quality problems, deprivation and mistrust in institutions.
  • Crowding, income poverty and lack of safety were less common, accounting for 6 to 8 per cent of issues.
  • Lack of social support was the least commonly reported issue, representing 4 per cent of the issues reported.

Differences by age group

  • Young adults, especially those under 30, were most likely and adults over 70 were least likely to experience multiple problems. The rate of multiple problems was 1.8 times higher for the younger than the older age group.
  • Poor health and lack of safety were more likely to be reported by older adults (over 70), with poor health accounting for 19 per cent of the issues reported by multiply deprived adults in this age group.
  • Younger adults were more likely to report issues with financial strain, crowded accommodation and deprivation, each of which accounted for 11 to 13 per cent of the issues reported by multiply deprived adults under 30.
  • Three issues were of medium importance across all age groups: housing quality problems, mental distress and mistrust in institutions, accounting for 9 to 12 per cent of all issues reported.

Differences by social class

  • Differences in the level of multiple problems by social class are even more pronounced than differences by age group, with those in the manual/lower social class 2.6 times more likely to report multiple problems than those in the professional/managerial class.
  • There is less variation across social classes in the types of problems experienced. When people in different social classes have multiple problems, they tend to experience the same kinds of issues.  The one exception was that financial strain and income poverty tended to account for a greater proportion of the issues faced by the self-employed and farmer social classes (14 per cent and 11 per cent, compared to overall averages of 11 per cent and 8 per cent respectively).

Policy implications

The paper highlights the importance of considering a range of issues, in addition to income and material living standards, when measuring quality of life. Report author Dorothy Watson notes “Policies aiming to maximise quality of life should consider how numerous issues, including health and housing, are experienced differently across age groups, particularly among those who are most disadvantaged.”