Living in an almshouse can increase the lifespan of residents by as much as two and a half years compared to their counterparts in the general population, according to a new Bayes Business School report.
Almshouses provide affordable community housing for local people in housing need. They are usually designed around a courtyard to provide a “community spirit”, which is synonymous with the commoners movement. They offer independent living, but provide friendship and support when needed.
By analyzing up to 100 years’ worth of residents’ records from various almshouses in England, the research suggests that living in these communities can reduce the negative impact on health and social well-being often experienced by the older population in lower socio-economic groups, particularly those people living in isolation.
The results are very encouraging. They show that for several of the almshouses included in the study, residents can expect to live as long as the wealthier members of the general population despite coming from the most vulnerable quintile. This shows that the difference in longevity and health outcomes can be reduced even after one has reached retirement age, provided that a suitable social infrastructure can be established.
The report, authored by Professor Ben Rickayzen, Dr David Smith, Dr Anastasia Vikhanova and Alison Benzimra, concludes that almshouses can help the government’s aim to reduce mortality inequalities, which are observed between socio-economic groups, by reducing the social isolation experienced by many in the elderly population.
Entitled ‘Almshouse Longevity Study – Can living in an almshouse lead to a longer life?’, the report’s main findings are:
- Residents of almshouses in England experience an increase in life expectancy compared to people from the same socio-economic group from the wider population.
- The best performing almshouses in the study so far have shown an increase in life expectancy that increases life expectancy to that of a life in the second highest socio-economic quintile – a remarkable result.
- As an example, the authors estimate that a 73-year-old man entering an almshouse such as The Charterhouse today would have a life expectancy gain of 2.4 years (an extra 15% of future life expectancy once he joined) compared to peers from the same socio-economic group, and 0.7 years compared to an average 73-year-old from the general population.
- This increase in life expectancy can be due to both the strong sense of community and social belonging in public housing which leads to better physical and mental health. Improved well-being helps to reduce loneliness that is endemic in older age groups.
Professor Ben Rickayzen, Professor of Actuarial Science at Bayes Business School, said:
“It is well known that the lower a person’s socio-economic status is, on average, the lower their life expectancy. But interestingly, our research has found that this need not be the case. We discovered that many residents of the almshouse live a long life compared to peers of the same socio-economic status from the wider population.
“More research is needed to find out exactly which factors make residents of the almshouse live longer; however, we postulate that it is the sense of community that is the strongest ingredient. For example, a common theme in the almshouses included in the study is that they encourage residents to take on social activities and responsibilities on behalf of their fellow residents. This is likely to increase their sense of belonging and give them a greater sense of purpose in their everyday lives, while reducing social isolation.
“We would encourage the government to invest in retirement communities, such as almshouses, which would be in line with their overall equalization agenda. Although this agenda is often associated with strengthening gender equality on a regional basis, it is important that upgrading should also aim at to combat health inequalities experienced by people from lower socio-economic groups across the country. There is an opportunity to improve the Government’s equalization agenda by incorporating the best features of communal living into their social housing policies. This should make a significant difference to the quality of life experienced by the older population across the UK.
“The findings from this research are important as they may offer solutions to the social care problems currently experienced in the UK.”
Alison Benzimra, a co-author of the report and head of research at United St Saviour’s Charity, said:
“Many trustees and staff believe anecdotally that it is beneficial to the residents. The results of this study show that the community spirit of the common houses actually results in longer life expectancy. These findings are encouraging for those who live and work in the commons and provide motivation to continue to explore what it is about commons’ physical design and support services that result in positive outcomes for older residents. This study strengthens the case that this historic form of housing addresses the evolving needs of older people living in our modern society.”
Nick Phillips, Chief Executive, The Almshouse Association, said:
“We are delighted to read this report. It is further evidence that the almshouse model – 1,000 years after its inception – seems to add something special to the lives of residents. There is a growing body of research that suggests this model of communal housing looks to be right for the future. This must now beg the question, where are the philanthropists who will lead this robust charitable housing model into the next century?”
Susan Kay, chief executive of Dunhill Medical Trust, said:
“It has been great to support this work and to see it take its place in the wider work on the characteristics of age-friendly living spaces and supportive communities. A century-long life is now a realistic expectation and we need to build on this learning to create the homes and communities that will be so important to the health and well-being of us all.”
Nigel Hulme, a resident of United St Saviour’s Charity almshouse, explained how much living in the almshouse has helped him in his later years:
“Moving to Hopton’s Gardens has been a gift. Having a roof over my head has helped me deal with my addiction issues and having the support of my staff and neighbors has made my recovery possible.”
The study was sponsored by Dunhill Medical Trust and Justham Trust and was supported by The Almshouse Association