Insights on Canadian Society
Life satisfaction among Canadian seniors

by Sharanjit Uppal and Athanase Barayandema

Release date: August 2, 2018

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Overview of the study

This study uses the 2016 General Social Survey on Canadians at Work and Home to provide a recent assessment of the life satisfaction of seniors in Canada. It includes information on overall life satisfaction, as well as information on nine domains of life: standard of living; health; life achievements; personal relationships; feeling part of the community; time available to do things you like doing; quality of local environment; personal appearance; and feeling safe. The paper also explores the factors associated with life satisfaction and examines several measures of resilience among Canadian seniors.

  • Seniors are more satisfied with their lives than those in younger age groups. Men and women in their 60s, 70s and 80s had higher average life satisfaction scores than men and women aged 20 to 59.
  • Senior women had higher levels of life satisfaction than senior men. Furthermore, among seniors, life satisfaction levels increase with age.
  • Of the nine domains of life examined in this study, seniors were most satisfied with their safety (with an average score of 8.4), the quality of their local environment (8.3) and their personal relationships (8.3). Seniors, however, were least satisfied with their own health (7.2).
  • Family income was not significantly associated with life satisfaction among seniors. However, those who stated that their retirement income was insufficient had lower levels of life satisfaction.
  • More than 8 in 10 seniors reported that they “always” or “often” had someone they could depend on to help when they really needed it. Seniors who were in this situation had higher levels of life satisfaction.

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Introduction

In 2016, 17% of the Canadian population was aged 65 and over. This proportion is expected to increase to around 24% by 2036.Note  Seniors represent a growing segment of the overall population and, as such, examining what determines the well-being of this group of older Canadians is of significant importance.

The economic well-being of Canadian seniors has been studied in the past using income data to look at replacement rates.Note  While income is no doubt important, it represents only one component of overall quality of life. Studying quality of life requires multiple economic and social indicators, including information based on subjective questions. Subjective information on personal preferences can play a role in guiding economic policy,Note  as well as complement other economic and social indicators used to assess quality of life.Note 

The importance of measuring subjective well-being was reflected in a United Nations resolution that was adopted in 2011. The United Nations requested member countries to undertake steps that would give more importance to subjective well-being in the measurement of social and economic development. In 2013, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released a set of guidelines for national statistical offices to measure subjective well-being. Among their recommendations was suggested a life satisfaction question, using a scale of 0 to 10, as the primary measure of subjective well-being.

Canadian surveys such as the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) and the General Social Survey (GSS) have long included a question on life satisfaction. This study, however, uses recent data from the 2016 GSS (see the Data sources, methods and definitions section for a description of the survey), which includes new information on a number of dimensions. First, in addition to a question on satisfaction with life as a whole, the 2016 GSS includes questions on satisfaction with various domains of life including standard of living; health; life achievements; personal relationships; feeling part of the community; time available to do things you like doing; quality of local environment; personal appearance; and feeling safe. Second, the GSS includes a set of new questions related to resilience.

While some research has been devoted to life satisfaction among adult Canadians,Note  the focus of this study is on seniors.Note  Factors that affect the life satisfaction of seniors might be different from those that affect the life satisfaction of younger people. For example, while employment is likely a key concern for many people aged 25 to 54, this is generally not the case among those aged 65 and over. Among seniors, health is likely to take greater precedence.

The first part of this paper contains descriptive statistics on overall life satisfaction and its various domains and draws some comparisons with younger age groups. In the second part, a model is used to study associations between life satisfaction and various socioeconomic characteristics. The last part examines the answers provided by seniors to a set of questions that are related to resilience, and how they relate to life satisfaction. Since the GSS is not conducted in institutions, the study excludes seniors who were living in institutions at the time of the survey (see the Data sources, methods and definitions section).

Seniors are more satisfied with their lives than adults in younger age groups

Life satisfaction is a personal subjective assessment of global well-being. In the 2016 GSS, respondents were asked to rate their life satisfaction on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 means “very dissatisfied” and 10 means “very satisfied”. Compared with people aged 20 to 59, people in their 60s, 70s and 80s had higher average life satisfaction scores (Chart 1). The relationship between life satisfaction and age appears to follow a U‑shape, as people aged 15 to 19 had life satisfaction levels that were comparable to older individuals.Note  Note  This result is more apparent for men.

Chart 1 Satisfaction with life as a whole among persons aged 15 and over, by age group, 2016

Data table for Chart 1
Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Satisfaction with life as a whole among persons aged 15 and over. The information is grouped by Age group (appearing as row headers), Overall life satisfaction , Men and Women, calculated using Average score and Confidence interval units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Age group Overall life satisfaction
Men Women
Average score Confidence interval Average score Confidence interval
15 to 19 8.5 0.174 8.0 0.188
20 to 29 7.7 0.166 7.8 0.133
30 to 39 7.8 0.101 7.8 0.095
40 to 49 7.6 0.121 7.8 0.111
50 to 59 7.7 0.106 7.7 0.111
60 to 69 8.0 0.108 8.0 0.090
70 to 79 8.1 0.127 8.3 0.101
80 and over 8.2 0.228 8.2 0.159

It is also important to look at the distribution of scores, which reveals that life satisfaction scores tend to be skewed to the right, regardless of age (Chart 2). More than 60% of individuals in every age group reported scores of 8 or higher. The most common score was 8 for all age groups other than for those aged 80 and over. For this age group, the most common score was 10. Overall, the youngest (aged 15 to 19) and oldest (70 and over) age groups were the most likely to rank their life satisfaction at 10.

Chart 2 Percentage distribution of life satisfaction scores among persons aged 15 and over, by age group, 2016

Data table for Chart 2
Data table for Chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Percentage distribution of life satisfaction scores among persons aged 15 and over. The information is grouped by Score (appearing as row headers), Age group, 15 to 19, 20 to 29, 30 to 39, 40 to 49, 50 to 59, 60 to 69, 70 to 79 and 80 and over, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Score Age group
15 to 19 20 to 29 30 to 39 40 to 49 50 to 59 60 to 69 70 to 79 80 and over
percent
6 and below 9.0 17.8 13.5 16.8 16.9 14.2 11.2 13.6
7 17.4 21.2 21.3 20.8 17.9 15.0 12.3 11.4
8 28.3 30.7 36.1 32.9 34.4 31.6 31.2 28.9
9 21.4 16.2 16.8 16.2 15.7 20.0 19.8 14.6
10 23.8 14.1 12.3 13.3 15.1 19.3 25.5 31.6

For the first time, the 2016 GSS included nine new questions asking Canadians how they felt about specific aspects of life, using the same scale as the life satisfaction question. These questions asked about respondents’ satisfaction with standard of living; health; life achievements; personal relationships; personal appearance (weight, height and features); safety; feeling part of the community; time available to do things you like doing; and quality of local environment (access to green space, and air or water quality).

With the exception of satisfaction with health, the other domains of life also exhibited a U‑shaped relationship with age.Note  In Chart 3, results are shown by age group for three categories: standard of living, personal relationships and health. The data show that satisfaction with health decreases with age. The average satisfaction with health varies from 8.1 for the youngest age group (15 to 19) to 7.1 for age groups 50 to 59 and 80 and over.

Chart 3 Satisfaction with standard of living, personal relationships and health among persons aged 15 and over, by age, 2016

Data table for Chart 3
Data table for Chart 3
Table summary
This table displays the results of Satisfaction with standard of living. The information is grouped by Age group (appearing as row headers), Standard of living, Personal relationships and Health, calculated using Average score and Confidence interval units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Age group Standard of living Personal relationships Health
Average score Confidence interval Average score Confidence interval Average score Confidence interval
15 to 19 8.6 0.152 8.1 0.1666 8.1 0.173
20 to 29 7.9 0.109 7.7 0.1289 7.7 0.137
30 to 39 7.6 0.084 7.9 0.0886 7.5 0.078
40 to 49 7.4 0.100 7.7 0.1046 7.2 0.104
50 to 59 7.5 0.088 7.8 0.0861 7.1 0.089
60 to 69 7.7 0.077 8.1 0.0804 7.2 0.087
70 to 79 7.9 0.097 8.3 0.0795 7.2 0.115
80 and over 8.1 0.123 8.5 0.1298 7.1 0.168

Satisfaction with standard of living, by contrast, was relatively higher among the youngest and oldest age groups, revealing a U‑shaped relationship similar to overall life satisfaction. Individuals aged 15 to 19 reported the highest satisfaction with their standard of living, a result likely attributable to the fact that most are still living with their parents at this age.

With respect to personal relationships, seniors had higher levels of satisfaction than all of the other age groups. Seniors aged 80 and over (8.5) and those aged 70 to 79 (8.3) had the highest average satisfaction. Satisfaction with personal relationships was also relatively high among those in the youngest age group (15 to 19), whose satisfaction level was comparable to that of individuals aged 60 to 69 (8.1 for both).

The rest of the paper focuses on individuals aged 65 and over. Seniors did not report the same level of satisfaction for each domain of life. The average satisfaction scores for feeling safe (8.4), quality of local environment (8.3) and personal relationships (8.3) were higher than for life as a whole (8.2) (Chart 4). For the remaining domains, the levels were lower, particularly for health (7.2).

Chart 4 Satisfaction with different domains of life, persons aged 65 and over, 2016

Data table for Chart 4
Data table for Chart 4
Table summary
This table displays the results of Satisfaction with different domains of life. The information is grouped by Domains of life (appearing as row headers), Average score and Confidence interval (appearing as column headers).
Domains of life Average score Confidence interval
Feeling safe 8.4 0.059
Quality of local environment 8.3 0.055
Personal relationships 8.3 0.061
Time available to do things you like doing 7.9 0.077
Standard of living 7.9 0.060
Life achievements 7.8 0.065
Feeling part of the community 7.6 0.068
Personal appearance 7.5 0.064
Health 7.2 0.074
Life as a whole 8.2 0.058

An alternative way to view life satisfaction and domains of life is to estimate the proportion of seniors who are in the top (or bottom) of the 11-point scale even though there are no absolute thresholds over (or under) which individuals should be deemed to be satisfied or dissatisfied. The proportion of seniors who rated their satisfaction as 9 or 10 was the largest for feeling safe (53%), followed by satisfaction with quality of local environment (51%) and personal relationships (50%).Note  On the other hand, it was the lowest for satisfaction with health (27%), personal appearance (29%), and feeling part of the community (35%).Note 

Life satisfaction and satisfaction with various domains of life are positively correlated

Which one of the nine aspects of life are the most correlated with overall life satisfaction among seniors? In this section, the Pearson correlation coefficient is used to assess the level of correlation between overall life satisfaction and each of the nine domains of life for which respondents provided information in the 2016 GSS. A coefficient of 1 means a perfect correlation between two variables, while a coefficient of 0 indicates no correlation at all.

With a coefficient of 0.60, the highest correlation was between life satisfaction and life achievements (Table 1). The correlations between life satisfaction and health (0.55), standard of living (0.55), personal relationships (0.52), community (0.51) and time (0.50) domains were also relatively high. The lowest correlation was between satisfaction with life as a whole and quality of local environment, with a coefficient of 0.40.

Table 1
Pearson's correlation coefficients between satisfaction with life as a whole and satisfaction with different domains of life, persons aged 65 and over, 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Pearson's correlation coefficients between satisfaction with life as a whole and satisfaction with different domains of life. The information is grouped by Domains of life (appearing as row headers), Life as a whole, Standard of living, Health, Life achievements, Personal relationships, Personal appearance, Feeling safe, Feeling part of the community, Time available to do things you like doing and Quality of local environment, calculated using coefficients units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Domains of life Life as a whole Standard of living Health Life achievements Personal relationships Personal appearance Feeling safe Feeling part of the community Time available to do things you like doing Quality of local environment
coefficient
Life as a whole 1.00
Standard of living 0.55 1.00
Health 0.55 0.46 1.00
Life achievements 0.60 0.54 0.50 1.00
Personal relationships 0.52 0.43 0.38 0.51 1.00
Personal appearance 0.47 0.40 0.47 0.46 0.44 1.00
Feeling safe 0.46 0.44 0.36 0.38 0.39 0.41 1.00
Feeling part of the community 0.51 0.42 0.39 0.48 0.45 0.41 0.46 1.00
Time available to do things you like doing 0.50 0.40 0.39 0.42 0.36 0.37 0.39 0.45 1.00
Quality of local environment 0.40 0.39 0.31 0.35 0.32 0.30 0.43 0.39 0.40 1.00

Some other domains of life are also correlated. With a coefficient of 0.54, the highest correlation was between standard of living and life achievements, followed by the correlation between life achievements and personal relationships (0.51), and life achievements and health (0.50). The level of satisfaction with the local environment was less correlated with other domains.

Regression results from a model with satisfaction with life as a whole as the dependent variable and satisfaction with domains as independent variables revealed that other than satisfaction with personal appearance, satisfaction with each of the other domains was positively associated with overall satisfaction (Table 2). Satisfaction with standard of living, life achievements, personal relationships and health had a relatively stronger association with satisfaction as a whole.

Table 2
Results from a linear regression model where the dependent variable is satisfaction with life as a whole and independent variables are satisfaction with other domains of life, persons aged 65 and over, 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Linear regression results. The information is grouped by Domains of life (appearing as row headers), Coefficient (appearing as column headers).
Domains of life Coefficient
Standard of living 0.15Note *
Health 0.13Note *
Life achievements 0.15Note *
Personal relationships 0.14Note *
Personal appearance 0.03
Feeling safe 0.05Note *
Feeling part of the community 0.08Note *
Time available to do things you like doing 0.12Note *
Quality of local environment 0.05Note *

As other studies have shown, sociodemographic characteristics such as sex, age, employment status, health status, immigration status, marital status, family income and education are associated with life satisfaction.Note  The 2016 GSS also includes questions about satisfaction with the amount and quality of time spent as a family, perceived social class, having people to depend on, level and main source of stress, and importance of religious or spiritual beliefs, all of which may also be related to life satisfaction. The next section will examine the association between life satisfaction and these variables for Canadian seniors.

Seniors who reported that their health was “excellent” or “very good” had higher levels of life satisfaction

Even among seniors aged 65 and over, there is a relationship between age and life satisfaction. Life satisfaction was the lowest among seniors in younger age groups. Among those aged 65 to 69, the average score for overall life satisfaction was 8.0, compared with 8.3 for those aged 75 to 79, and 8.2 for those in older age groups.

Previous studies have examined the association between health and well-being and concluded that health is one of the key factors related to life satisfaction. People with poor health experience lower levels of well-being. This factor is likely to be very important for seniors as health generally deteriorates with age.

In 2016, 45% of seniors stated that their general health was excellent or very good while 61% said that their mental health was excellent or very good. On the other hand, 20% and 6% stated that their general health and mental health were fair or poor. These proportions were similar for men and women.

For both general health and mental health, seniors who stated that they were in “excellent” or “very good” health had a higher level of satisfaction with life as a whole (Chart 5). For general health, the average life satisfaction score ranged from 8.9 for those in excellent health to 6.2 for those in poor health. Results were similar for mental health. The average life satisfaction scores for excellent and poor mental health were 8.7 and 5.3, respectively. The results were nearly identical for men and women.

Chart 5 Satisfaction with life as a whole by self-rated health, persons aged 65 and over, 2016

Data table for Chart 5
Data table for Chart 5
Table summary
This table displays the results of Satisfaction with life as a whole by self-rated health. The information is grouped by Self-rated health (appearing as row headers), Health in general and Mental health, calculated using Average score and Confidence interval units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Self-rated health Health in general Mental health
Average score Confidence interval Average score Confidence interval
Excellent 8.9 0.151 8.7 0.101
Very good 8.6 0.067 8.4 0.080
Good 8.0 0.105 7.8 0.110
Fair 7.4 0.151 6.6 0.336
Poor 6.2 0.382 5.3 0.843

Separated seniors were less satisfied with life

Marital status is another standard covariate in subjective well-being studies. Among seniors, two-thirds were married or living common law and one-fifth were widowed. These proportions varied by gender. About four-fifths of men were married or living common law compared with slightly more than one-half of women. On the other hand, around 29% of women were widowed compared with 7% men. Among both men and women, around 2% were separated.

Previous studies have found that married individuals reported higher levels of life satisfaction compared with those who were divorced, separated or widowed, or who never married.Note  The 2016 GSS data confirm this result for seniors (Chart 6). In comparison with married seniors and those living common law, separated seniors were the least satisfied (7.5 versus 8.3). The average score for divorced seniors was also relatively lower (7.7). Similar results were found for both men and women.Note 

Chart 6 Satisfaction with life as a whole by marital status, persons aged 65 and over, 2016

Data table for Chart 6
Data table for Chart 6
Table summary
This table displays the results of Satisfaction with life as a whole by marital status. The information is grouped by Marital status (appearing as row headers), Average score and Confidence interval (appearing as column headers).
Marital status Average score Confidence interval
Married or living common law 8.3 0.074
Separated 7.5 0.518
Divorced 7.7 0.184
Widowed 8.0 0.125
Single, never married 7.9 0.238

Family income is not significantly associated with life satisfaction among seniors

Some of the individual characteristics are likely to be correlated. For example, health status is correlated with age, income and education. To analyze the association of a particular attribute while controlling for the other characteristics, linear regression models were estimated with life satisfaction as a dependent variable and personal characteristics as independent variables.Note  The coefficients indicate the extent to which the score associated with a given characteristic differs from the reference category, and are presented in Table 3.

Table 3
Linear regression model results on life satisfaction, persons aged 65 and over, 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Linear regression model results on life satisfaction Model 1, Model 2, Model 3, Model 4 and Model 5, calculated using coefficient units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Model 1 Model 2 Model 3 Model 4 Model 5
coefficient
Intercept 8.02Note * 7.43Note * 7.57Note * 7.78Note * 8.60Note *
Sex
Male -0.20Note * -0.20Note * -0.15Note * -0.14Note * -0.20Note *
Female ref. ref. ref. ref. ref.
Age group
65 to 69 ref. ref. ref. ref. ref.
70 to 74 0.22Note * 0.20Note * 0.19Note * 0.16Note * 0.18Note *
75 to 79 0.32Note * 0.31Note * 0.28Note * 0.24Note * 0.24Note *
80 to 84 0.42Note * 0.40Note * 0.39Note * 0.32Note * 0.27Note *
85 and over 0.46Note * 0.42Note * 0.39Note * 0.33Note * 0.26Note *
Highest level of education
Less than high school ref. ref. ref. ref. ref.
High school diploma -0.24Note * -0.24Note * -0.23Note * -0.27Note * -0.24Note *
Trades/college certificate -0.26Note * -0.24Note * -0.24Note * -0.30Note * -0.25Note *
University degree -0.35Note * -0.33Note * -0.33Note * -0.43Note * -0.37Note *
Marital status
Married or living common law ref. ref. ref. ref. ref.
Separated -0.49Note * -0.35 -0.33 -0.28 -0.30
Divorced -0.51Note * -0.39Note * -0.37Note * -0.33Note * -0.34Note *
Widowed -0.39Note * -0.28Note * -0.27Note * -0.28Note * -0.34Note *
Single, never married -0.20 -0.11 -0.12 -0.08 -0.17
Immigrant status
Immigrant 0.28Note * 0.28Note * 0.27Note * 0.28Note * 0.25Note *
Canadian-born ref. ref. ref. ref. ref.
Self-rated health in general
Excellent 0.54Note * 0.53Note * 0.52Note * 0.50Note * 0.40Note *
Very good 0.39Note * 0.37Note * 0.35Note * 0.33Note * 0.30Note *
Good ref. ref. ref. ref. ref.
Fair -0.50Note * -0.47Note * -0.47Note * -0.45Note * -0.37Note *
Poor -1.52Note * -1.45Note * -1.44Note * -1.39Note * -1.35Note *
Self-rated mental health
Excellent 0.66Note * 0.66Note * 0.65Note * 0.61Note * 0.50Note *
Very good 0.34Note * 0.32Note * 0.32Note * 0.29Note * 0.27Note *
Good ref. ref. ref. ref. ref.
Fair -0.89Note * -0.88Note * -0.88Note * -0.83Note * -0.74Note *
Poor -1.69Note * -1.65Note * -1.65Note * -1.64Note * -1.57Note *
Main activity in the past 12 months
Working at a paid job or self-employed ref. ref. ref. ref. ref.
Retired -0.10 -0.14 -0.13 -0.15 -0.21Note *
Other -0.22 -0.26 -0.26 -0.26 -0.32Note *
Home owner
Yes 0.05 0.03 0.05 0.01 -0.02
No ref. ref. ref. ref. ref.
Adjusted family income before tax
Decile 1 -0.03 -0.04 -0.05 0.00 -0.05
Decile 2 -0.03 -0.03 -0.04 0.01 -0.03
Decile 3 -0.01 0.00 -0.01 0.02 -0.04
Decile 4 -0.01 -0.02 -0.03 0.00 -0.01
Decile 5 ref. ref. ref. ref. ref.
Decile 6 0.06 0.06 0.05 0.04 -0.01
Decile 7 -0.04 -0.03 -0.02 -0.03 -0.02
Decile 8 0.06 0.07 0.06 0.04 0.01
Decile 9 0.11 0.12 0.13 0.07 0.03
Decile 10 0.01 0.00 0.01 -0.09 -0.07
Province
Newfoundland and Labrador 0.30Note * 0.30Note * 0.27Note * 0.26Note * 0.19
Prince Edward Island 0.24Note * 0.23Note * 0.21Note * 0.18 0.15
Nova Scotia 0.38Note * 0.36Note * 0.33Note * 0.35Note * 0.31Note *
New Brunswick 0.30Note * 0.30Note * 0.28Note * 0.29Note * 0.28Note *
Quebec 0.00 0.00 0.06 0.01 -0.06
Ontario ref. ref. ref. ref. ref.
Manitoba 0.13 0.14 0.14 0.14 0.09
Saskatchewan 0.16 0.15 0.13 0.16 0.13
Alberta 0.10 0.09 0.11 0.14 0.11
British Columbia 0.09 0.10 0.12 0.12 0.12
Satisfaction with amount of time spent with family
Very satisfied/satisfied Note ...: not applicable 0.74Note * 0.73Note * 0.73Note * 0.62Note *
Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied/dissatisfied/very dissatisfied Note ...: not applicable ref. ref. ref. ref.
Valid skip Note ...: not applicable 0.53Note * 0.51Note * 0.50Note * 0.43Note *
Importance of religious or spiritual beliefs
Very important Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable ref. ref. ref.
Somewhat important Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable -0.23Note * -0.24Note * -0.22Note *
Not very important Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable -0.38Note * -0.38Note * -0.37Note *
Not at all important Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable -0.28Note * -0.24Note * -0.29Note *
Self-reported social class
Upper/upper-middle Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable 0.21Note * 0.18Note *
Middle Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable ref. ref.
Lower-middle Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable -0.51Note * -0.44Note *
Lower Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable -0.85Note * -0.79Note *
Main source of stress in life
No stress Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable ref.
Work Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable -0.61Note *
Financial concerns Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable -0.98Note *
Family Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable -0.79Note *
Not enough time Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable -0.46Note *
Own health Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable -0.82Note *
Other Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable -0.59Note *

Several model specifications were used. The first model includes standard covariates that are commonly used in life satisfaction studies, including gender, age, highest level of education, marital status, immigrant status, self-rated general and mental health, family income adjusted for household size, home ownership and province of residence (Model 1). In subsequent models, additional variables measuring other aspects of seniors’ well-being were added: satisfaction with amount of time with family (Model 2); importance of religious beliefs (Model 3); self-reported social class (Model 4); and main source of stress in life (Model 5).

The results from the first model (Model 1) confirm that there is a significant association between personal characteristics and life satisfaction. Life satisfaction was lower among senior men; younger seniors;Note  and separated, divorced or widowed seniors. Conversely, life satisfaction was higher among immigrant seniors (see the Satisfaction with life in Canada among immigrants section for additional information),Note  and seniors residing in the Atlantic provinces.Note  In addition, the results revealed a significant association between self-rated health status and life satisfaction. Seniors who rated their general health as “excellent” had life satisfaction scores around two points higher than those who rated their health as “poor,” even after other factors were taken into account. Similar results were found for self-rated mental health. Higher levels of education were associated with lower levels of life satisfaction, a result also found in other studies based on the general population.Note 

However, family income adjusted for household size (included as deciles) was not significantly associated with life satisfaction among seniors (various other specifications of income yielded similar results).Note  Note  The result related to family income and life satisfaction among seniors is in contrast to that found for the entire adult population. Existing studies based on individuals aged 15 and over have found life satisfaction to be positively associated with family income.Note  It is possible that, for the senior population, what matters more are family savings or wealth as opposed to family income as later-life consumption is mostly financed out of accumulated savings. While data on savings or wealth are not available in the GSS, there is information on income self-sufficiency in retirement (“Is your retirement income sufficient to comfortably cover your monthly expenses?”). Adding this variable to the model revealed a positive association between life satisfaction and income self-sufficiency.Note 

In Model 2, a variable indicating whether seniors are satisfied with time spent with family was included.Note  This variable was positively associated with life satisfaction.Note  On inclusion of this variable, the conclusions regarding other characteristics remained the same, except for marital status. Specifically, the result for “separated” became statistically insignificant whereas the coefficients for divorced and widowed registered notable declines. Thus, part of the difference in life satisfaction scores among the married and the other groups can be explained by time spent with family.

Model 3 added a variable about religious behaviour, which might also be associated with subjective well-being.Note  In the 2016 GSS, a question asked respondents how important religious or spiritual beliefs were to the way they lived their lives. About 37% stated that such beliefs were very important and 34% said that they were somewhat important. The remaining 17% and 11% stated that they were not very important and not at all important, respectively. Results revealed that individuals who stated that religious and spiritual beliefs were very important were likely to have higher life satisfaction than the others.Note 

Model 4 added a variable about perceived social class, which was included for the first time in the 2016 GSS. The majority of seniors (67%) stated that they belonged to the middle class. Another 15% and 12% said they belonged to the upper-middle and lower-middle classes, respectively. Only 1% said upper class, while 3% said lower class.Note  Regression results showed that those who felt that they belonged to a relatively higher social class had higher levels of life satisfaction.Note 

Lastly, Model 5 included sources of daily life stress in addition to all other variables mentioned previously. Nearly three-quarters of seniors reported some degree of stress. Within this population, the two main sources of stress were family issues (33%) and health issues (24%). Regardless of the source, individuals with stress had lower life satisfaction levels than those without stress. Stress over financial concerns had the strongest negative association with the life satisfaction of seniors.Note  Note  Note 

Resilience is positively associated with life satisfaction

The 2016 GSS includes a set of new questions dealing with resilience (Chart 7).Note  In all questions, other than “had a hard time accepting difficulties in life and moving on,” the responses “always” and “often” can be considered to be indicators of resilience. At least two-thirds of seniors stated “always” or “often” to each of those resilience questions. For example, more than 8 in 10 Canadian seniors reported that they “always” or “often” had someone they could depend on to help when they really needed it. For the question “had a hard time accepting difficulties in life and moving on,” the responses “never” and “rarely” would be indicators of resilience—more than one-third of seniors chose these responses.

Chart 7 Responses to questions on resilience, persons aged 65 and over, 2016

Data table for Chart 7
Data table for Chart 7
Table summary
This table displays the results of Responses to questions on resilience. The information is grouped by Questions on resilience (appearing as row headers), Always, Often, Sometimes, Rarely and Never, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Questions on resilience Always Often Sometimes Rarely Never
percent
Have enough energy to meet life’s challenges? 27.9 41.0 25.3 4.6 1.2
Have a hopeful view of the future? 33.1 36.4 23.4 4.9 2.2
Are confident in your abilities, even when faced with challenges? 36.1 39.7 20.0 2.8 1.4
Are able to admit when you have done something wrong? 44.2 33.0 17.5 2.8 2.5
Have something to look forward to in life? 37.4 33.0 21.3 5.4 2.9
Have people you can depend on to help you when you really need it? 56.4 26.1 12.6 3.4 1.5
Are able to bounce back quickly after hard times? 37.5 41.0 18.5 2.2Note E: use with caution 0.9Note E: use with caution
Learned something from those [difficult] experiences? 45.5 36.1 15.8 1.8Note E: use with caution 0.8Note E: use with caution
Had a hard time accepting those difficulties in life and moving on with your life? 8.1 17.4 36.1 24.4 14.0
Were able to continue going about your life the way you normally do [after difficulties]? 40.9 39.5 16.4 2.1Note E: use with caution 1.1Note E: use with caution

Being resilient is positively associated with life satisfaction. The gap in life satisfaction scores among individuals who stated “always” and “never” was the largest for “have enough energy to meet life’s challenges” (3.0), “are confident in your abilities, even when faced with challenges” (2.7), and “have a hopeful view of the future” (2.6) (Table 4).

Table 4
Average life satisfaction scores by questions on resilience, persons aged 65 and over, 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Average life satisfaction scores by questions on resilience. The information is grouped by Questions on resilience (appearing as row headers), Always, Often, Sometimes, Rarely and Never, calculated using Average score units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Questions on resilience Always Often Sometimes Rarely Never
Average score
Have enough energy to meet life’s challenges? 8.9 8.2 7.7 6.7 5.9
Have a hopeful view of the future? 8.9 8.2 7.5 6.7 6.3
Are confident in your abilities, even when faced with challenges? 8.7 8.2 7.6 6.7 6.0
Are able to admit when you have done something wrong? 8.4 8.1 7.9 7.9 7.5
Have something to look forward to in life? 8.7 8.2 7.5 7.0 7.2
Have people you can depend on to help you when you really need it? 8.5 8.0 7.4 7.2 7.0
Are able to bounce back quickly after hard times? 8.7 8.2 7.3 7.0 7.0
Learned something from those [difficult] experiences? 8.5 8.1 7.5 7.6 7.3
Had a hard time accepting those difficulties in life and moving on with your life? 8.2 8.0 7.9 8.3 8.8
Were able to continue going about your life the way you normally do [after difficulties]? 8.7 8.0 7.5 6.7 6.6

To test for the robustness of the relationship between resilience and life satisfaction, separate regressions were estimated for each of the resilience questions given their correlation. The models also controlled for all characteristics included in Model 5 (Table 3) discussed before. The results confirmed the descriptive findings that being resilient was associated with higher life satisfaction (Table 5).Note  In almost all cases, those who answered “always” to the resilience questions had significantly higher levels of life satisfaction. In contrast, those who answered that they “never” had enough energy to meet life’s challenges, “never” had a hopeful view of the future and “never” were confident in their own abilities had significantly lower levels of life satisfaction. Such results suggest that personal perceptions of resilience, in addition to the personal characteristics described above, such as health, age and marital status, also play a role in the life satisfaction of seniors.

Table 5
Results from separate linear regression models on life satisfaction that included resilience indicators, persons aged 65 and over, 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Results from separate linear regression models on life satisfaction that included resilience indicators. The information is grouped by Measures of resilience (appearing as row headers), Always, Often, Sometimes, Rarely and Never, calculated using coefficient units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Measures of resilience Always Often Sometimes Rarely Never
coefficient
Have enough energy to meet life’s challenges 0.57Note * 0.21Note * ref. -0.61Note * -1.46Note *
Have a hopeful view of the future 0.87Note * 0.45Note * ref. -0.29Note * -0.85Note *
Are confident in your abilities, even when faced with challenges 0.60Note * 0.33Note * ref. -0.51Note * -1.12Note *
Are able to admit when you have done something wrong 0.17Note * 0.02 ref. -0.12 -0.40
Have something to look forward to in life 0.74Note * 0.43Note * ref. -0.29Note * -0.23
Have people you can depend on to help you when you really need it 0.61Note * 0.32Note * ref. -0.19 -0.49
Are able to bounce back quickly after hard times 0.68Note * 0.42Note * ref. -0.46Note * -0.26
Learned something from those [difficult] experiences 0.49Note * 0.30Note * ref. 0.03 -0.32
Had a hard time accepting those difficulties in life and moving on with your life 0.11 0.02 ref. 0.11 0.39Note *
Were able to continue going about your life the way you normally do [after difficulties] 0.56Note * 0.22Note * ref. -0.60Note * -0.72

Conclusion

Gross domestic product (GDP) has traditionally been used as the main measure of a population’s economic well-being. However, in recent decades, there has been a debate on the shortcomings of this approach.Note  Thus, many have proposed that measures of subjective well-being be used to complement material indicators such as GDP. Given that subjective well-being is being increasingly used to measure people’s welfare, it is important to study factors associated with subjective well-being. This article used data from the 2016 General Social Survey and looked at factors associated with life satisfaction among Canadians seniors. Generally speaking, life satisfaction is higher during the early years of adulthood and among seniors than among the other age groups.

One of the most notable findings of this paper is that family income was not associated with life satisfaction among seniors. However, retired individuals who stated that their retirement income was insufficient had lower life satisfaction scores than those who reported sufficient retirement income. Seniors who reported that financial concerns were a source of stress also reported lower levels of life satisfaction than those who did not report any stressors at all.

Hence, factors other than income seem to be more significant in the life satisfaction of seniors. Health status, in particular, is an important factor associated with life satisfaction, but not the only factor. Personal characteristics such as age, marital status, and location of residence also matter, along with other factors like stress levels, satisfaction with the amount of time spent with family, and the importance of religious and spiritual beliefs. Immigrant seniors also reported higher levels of satisfaction than Canadian-born seniors.

Lastly, the study also finds that resilience among Canadian seniors is an important correlate of life satisfaction, even after accounting for other factors. Such results suggest that, for seniors, non-monetary factors such as having a large network of family and friends, and having the capacity to face everyday challenges may matter even more to their life satisfaction than many other factors, including family income. With the aging of the Canadian population, achieving a better understanding of the factors that are driving their life satisfaction will continue to be an important research topic.

Athanase Barayandema is an analyst with the Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division at Statistics Canada, and Sharanjit Uppal is a senior researcher with Insights on Canadian Society at Statistics Canada.

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Data sources, methods and definitions

Data sources

The article uses data from the 2016 General Social Survey (GSS). The GSS is a voluntary annual cross-sectional survey that started in 1985. Each cycle contains a core topic and a standard set of sociodemographic questions. The theme for the 2016 cycle was “Canadians at work and home.” The survey takes a comprehensive look at the way Canadians live by incorporating the realms of work, home, leisure and overall well-being. In this cycle, a number of new questions were added to complement those previously asked on subjective well-being. Included are questions on purpose in life, opportunities, life aspirations, outlook and resilience.

The target population for the survey is non-institutionalized persons aged 15 and over, living in the 10 provinces of Canada. The survey was conducted from August 2016 to December 2016. The overall response rate to the survey was 50.8%, while the total sample size was 19,609. This article focusses on the senior population (aged 65 and over), which consisted of 5,577 observations after removing observations with missing information on life satisfaction.

The main variable of interest in the study is life satisfaction. In the survey, respondents were asked the following question: “Using a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 means ‘Very dissatisfied’ and 10 means ‘Very satisfied’, how do you feel about your life as a whole right now?” Similar questions were asked for satisfaction with the following domains of life: standard of living; health; life achievements (currently achieving in life); personal relationships; feeling part of the community; time available to do things you like doing; quality of local environment; personal appearance; and feeling safe.

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Satisfaction with life in Canada among immigrants

In the 2016 GSS, immigrants were asked a question on an additional domain of satisfaction: “How satisfied are you with your life in Canada?” Around 41% of immigrants aged 15 and over reported being completely satisfied (score of 10) with their life in Canada (Chart 8). The average score was 8.7.

Chart 8 Satisfaction with life in Canada, by age, immigrants aged 15 and over, 2016

Data table for Chart 8
Data table for Chart 8
Table summary
This table displays the results of Satisfaction with life in Canada. The information is grouped by Age group (appearing as row headers), Recent immigrants and Established immigrants, calculated using Average score and Confidence interval units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Age group Recent immigrants Established immigrants
Average score Confidence interval Average score Confidence interval
15 to 19 9.26 0.336 9.41 0.458
20 to 29 8.55 0.324 8.87 0.283
30 to 39 8.45 0.182 8.83 0.197
40 to 49 8.06 0.289 8.51 0.169
50 to 59 8.74 0.343 8.67 0.171
60 to 69 8.85 0.541 8.90 0.143
70 and over Note F: too unreliable to be published 0.654 9.18 0.128

Similar to the results obtained for overall life satisfaction, satisfaction with life in Canada had a U‑shaped relationship with age. The average scores for those aged 15 to 19 and 70 and over were 9.3 and 9.2 compared with 8.4 for those aged 40 to 49. Recent immigrants (immigrated within 10 years of the survey year) were slightly less satisfied with their lives than established immigrants (8.5 versus 8.8). The U‑shaped relationship held for both recent immigrants and established immigrants.

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