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Planning Retirement Online

Exploring the later-life crisis

June 2013

Exploring the later-life crisis: Findings from a survey by the University of Greenwich in conjunction with

Oliver Robinson and Alexander Stell

Later Life in CrisisWe’ve all heard of the midlife crisis, but is there a later-life crisis too? Our research suggests that there is. 282 people (108 men and 174 women) over the age of 60 participated in our online survey, publicised through and a social networking site. We found that 33% of this sample reported having had a crisis between the age of 60 and 69. Although others reported crises in their seventies, there were not enough participants to focus our analysis on, so we decided to focus on those in the 60-69 bracket.

In the questionnaire, aside from being asked whether they had experienced a crisis, participants were also asked what happened during these crises. The most frequent feature was bereavement (in about 50% of all later-life crises), followed by illness/injury to self, illness/injury to other, and caring for an ill/disabled loved-one. Crises related to work were also common, but were more prevalent for respondents in the 60-64 age range than for those aged 65-69. Finally, some participants also mentioned divorce or relationship break up, financial difficulties and family conflicts.

Previous research has shown that crisis events in other age groups can often lead to positive changes in a person’s life once the events of the crisis begin to settle down. Did these later-life crises also have a ‘silver lining’? The answer to this question is mixed. For some people they did, but for others they didn’t. 51% of crises in the 60-64 range were described as leading to positive changes in life. In the 65-59 age range, this figure was 40%. Crisis in later life therefore seems to be a double-edged sword that can lead to positive or negative changes. It is therefore important to try and understand why some crises are interpreted as positive while others are regarded as having negative effects in a person’s life.

With this question in mind, we set-up interviews with 21 of our participants, of which 8 were men and 13 were women. From the interviews, it was found that crisis episodes appear to always involve two or more stressful life events that occur in combination. While both of these lead to a sense of loss, at least one will be a ‘mortality-awareness-raising event’. This is a life event that causes a person to become especially conscious of frailty and death and could be due to a major illness, health complications in oneself or close others, or perhaps the bereavement of a partner, child or parent.

The interviews informed us that when such events occur together, or at least in close proximity, a person’s capacity to cope is overwhelmed, and a later-life crisis is precipitated. During it, a person seems to become more conscious of their own mortality, and this tends to lead to questions about their lifestyle, goals and even their sense of self. This, in turn, brings about a struggle between feelings of optimism and pessimism, and a debate with oneself about whether it is better to look for new work or productive roles, or to scale back roles and activities to spend more time relaxing and enjoying the present moment. Crisis after midlife is therefore always transformative, but this transformation can lead towards growth or decline.

If you think you may be going through a later-life crisis, the good news is that you are by no means alone. It is a very common thing to experience a stressful and challenging period in your sixties during which you go through a number of challenging events, and feel a sense of ‘existential angst’ about life more generally. If you think your life is in crisis, and you are feeling down or anxious, don’t be afraid of seeking professional help or looking online for support groups. Seeking help is in many ways a sign of strength. Our more general advice would be this: don’t be afraid of change, because the only way to deal with crisis is to adapt yourself to the changes outside of you. It’s never too late to try something new.


The University of Greenwich are also running a new study to investigate how people interpret mental health issues. The study takes about 5-10 minutes to complete and your answers are completely anonymous. If you take the survey, you can win a £20 Amazon voucher. If you would like to take part, please follow the link below. All the information you need to take part is provided on the webpage. The overall results will be made available on Many thanks!

and if you didn't see it at the time you might like to see the results of the University's retirement survey which was done in conjunction with

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