Who will love me, when I’m 64?

The UK is experiencing a huge demographic shift. The number of people over 65 is set to double in the next 20 years to over 16 million people, as a generation of ‘baby boomers’ move into retirement. This will result in the rising cost of social care, long-term health conditions, pensions and benefits, placing unprecedented demands on the rest of society.

Good quality personal relationships are important to everyone at all stages of life: they are associated with happiness and wellbeing, and have also been shown to protect against the negative consequences of stress. On a practical level, they are often a source of care and can decrease the risk of wealth inadequacy in older age. Therefore, positive relationships are not only good for individuals, but good for society too.

This report explores the importance of couple, family and social relationships in the context of ageing, and how baby boomers’ relationships may be put under strain in older age.

The baby boomer generation—born between the mid 1940s and the mid 1960s—married young and in great numbers, but they were far more likely to divorce than their parents. The latter half of the twentieth century also saw an increase in cohabitation and remarriage, and the formation of stepfamilies and extended families. In general, the couple and family relationships of baby boomers have been characterised by greater fluidity than those of their parents’ generation, which will affect how they age.

Despite the Older People’s Manifesto launched in 2010, the government has paid little attention to issues affecting older people. We argue that good relationships should be considered an essential pillar of ageing, alongside financial security and good health, and that government should develop new approaches that are suitable for the baby boomer generation and its likely future needs.

The final section of the report outlines our recommendations for how government, local authorities, clinical commissioning groups, charities and older people themselves can work together to help our society prepare better for ageing. This includes the call for a new and comprehensive government ageing strategy and a Cabinet-level Minister of State for Ageing Society to drive it.