European Journal of Ageing

, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 123–136 | Cite as

Lay perceptions of successful ageing: findings from a national survey of middle aged and older adults in Britain

  • Ann BowlingEmail author
Original Investigation


The main aim of the research presented here was to identify perceptions of successful ageing among people in middle and older age groups. The method was a British population survey of 854 community-dwelling men and women aged 50 or more. Just over three-quarters of respondents rated themselves as ageing successfully (“very well” or “well”). Respondents’ definitions of successful ageing, and the reasons given for their self-ratings, based on open-ended questioning, illustrated the multidimensionality of the concept. Definitions varied with respondents’ characteristics. Self-rated health status and quality of life consistently retained significance in the multivariate models of predictors of self-rated successful ageing, while self-rated quality of life made the greatest contribution to the models. Reporting a longstanding, limiting illness was not significant. The overall models explained about a third of the variation in self-rated successful aging. Lay definitions of successful ageing were multidimensional. A biomedical perspective of successful ageing therefore needs balancing with a psycho-social perspective, and vice versa. This is particularly relevant for biomedical approaches which have largely ignored the rich tradition of social and psychological research on this topic. Self-rated successful ageing should be included in measuring instruments to enhance social relevance. This research, with the use of open-ended questioning, makes a novel methodological contribution to the literature, is unique in questioning middle aged as well as older people, and provides a British perspective on a largely US and German topic.


Successful ageing Ageing Quality of life Health status 



We thank the ONS Omnibus Survey staff and interviewers, in particular Sandra Short and Ian O’Sullivan for their much appreciated advice and help with designing the module, managing the survey, overseeing the coding and open coding, and processing the data. We are also grateful to the respondents themselves. Those who carried out the original analysis and collection of the data hold no responsibility for the further analysis and interpretation of them. Material from the ONS Omnibus Survey, made available through ONS, has been used with the permission of the Controller of The Stationary Office. The dataset is held on the data archive at the University of Essex. Conflict of interest: none. No financial interests. Ethical committee consent: the survey module was approved by the Office for National Statistics, Omnibus Survey Ethical Committee. Respondents gave their informed verbal consent to participate in the survey after written information had been given to them, in accordance with current ethical guidelines governing national surveys in Britain.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Primary Care and Population SciencesUniversity College LondonLondonUK

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