Research shows that, in developed countries, the subjective experience of financial strain has been more strongly associated with health and quality of life ratings than actual income levels. This research also shows that older adults are more likely to report feelings of their income being adequate than younger adults, even at low income levels. One explanation suggested is that even low-income older adults in developed countries have reached “an income threshold beyond which the relationship of income and well-being diminishes.”
Recently, researchers looked into whether these patterns existed in low and middle income countries, where older adults may be more economically vulnerable than their counterparts in richer, more developed countries with more of a social safety net. To answer this question, they looked at the impact of feelings of income adequacy in China, Ghana, India, Mexico, Russia, and South Africa. With such diverse countries, researchers could also investigate the potential role of culture.
In all the countries examined, feelings of income insecurity were associated with lower self-rated health and lower quality of life scores. This suggests that this phenomenon is not limited to countries where there is a higher standard of living. It is also notable that cultural factors do not appear to play a role in this association.
When examining the relationship of feelings of financial strain and age, different patterns emerged. In South Africa and Mexico, no associations were found. In Russia and China, findings looked similar to developed countries. However, in Ghana and India, the opposite pattern was found, with younger adults being more likely to report that their income was adequate. The authors suggest that this may be due to less of a social safety net that can meet the needs of older adults in these countries or an escalating cost of living.
It appears that across nations and incomes, not only income itself, but also feelings of financial strain, need to be taken into account in order for policy and providers to best support health and quality of life in older adults.
Gildner TE, Liebert MA, Capistrant BD, et al. Perceived income adequacy and well-being among older adults in six low- and middle-income countries. Journals of Gerontology B Series: Psychological Science Social Science. (2016). DOI:10.1093/geronb/gbw145