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01-11-2014 | Uitgave 9/2014

Quality of Life Research 9/2014

Determinants of socioeconomic inequalities in subjective well-being in later life: a cross-country comparison in England and the USA

Quality of Life Research > Uitgave 9/2014
Stephen Jivraj, James Nazroo



To explore country-specific influences on the determinants of two forms of subjective well-being (life satisfaction and quality of life) among older adults in England and the USA.


Harmonised data from two nationally representative panel studies of individuals aged 50 and over, the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) and the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), are used. Linear regression models are fitted separately for life satisfaction and quality of life scales using cross-sectional samples in 2004. The ELSA sample was 6,733, and the HRS sample was 2,300. Standardised coefficients are reported to determine the country-specific importance of explanatory variables, and predicted values are shown to highlight the relative importance of statistically significant country-level interaction effects.


Having a disability, been diagnosed with a chronic conditions or having low household wealth are strongly associated with poorer life satisfaction and quality of life. These statistical effects are consistent in England and the USA. The association of years spent in education, however, varied between the two countries: educational inequalities have a greater adverse effect on subjective well-being in the USA compared with England.


Interventions are required to counterbalance health and socioeconomic inequalities that restrict sections of the population from enjoying satisfying and meaningful lives in older age. The differential association between education and well-being in England and the USA suggests that the provision of welfare benefits and state-funded public services in England may go some way to protect against the subsequent adverse effect of lower socioeconomic status on subjective well-being.

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