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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The effect of housing on the mental health of older people: the impact of lifetime housing history in Whitehall II

Philippa L Howden-Chapman1*, Tarani Chandola2, Mai Stafford3 and Michael Marmot4

Author affiliations

1 He Kainga Oranga/Housing and Health Research Programme, University of Otago, 23a Mein St, Wellington, 6021, New Zealand

2 The Cathie Marsh Centre for Census and Survey Research, University of Manchester, UK

3 MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing, University College London, UK

4 Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College, London, UK

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Citation and License

BMC Public Health 2011, 11:682  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-682

Published: 2 September 2011

Abstract

Background

This study describes differences in trajectories of self-reported mental health in an ageing cohort, according to their housing, while controlling for confounders.

Methods

The General Health Questionnaire was measured on six occasions as part of Whitehall II cohort study of office-based British civil servants (1985-2009); 10,308 men and women aged 35-55 at baseline.

Results

Home-ownership was the predominant tenure at baseline and increased over the life-course, but the social gradient remained. In the bivariate analysis, by phase nine, renters had higher (poorer mental health) GHQ scores (55.48) than owner occupiers (51.98). Those who reported difficulty paying bills or problems with housing had higher GHQ scores at baseline (financial difficulties 57.70 vs 54.34; house problems 58.06 vs 53.99) and this relative difference increased by phase nine (financial difficulties 59.64 vs 51.67; house problems 56.68 vs 51.22). In multivariate models, the relative differences in GHQ scores by tenure increased with age, but were no longer significant after adjusting for confounders. Whereas GHQ scores for those with housing problems and financial difficulties were still significantly higher as participants grew older.

Conclusion

The social gradient in the effect of home ownership on mental health, which is evident at baseline, diminishes as people get older, whereas housing quality and financial problems become relatively more important in explaining older people's health. Inequalities in housing quality and ability to deal with household financial problems will become increasingly important mental health issues as the population ages.

Keywords:
Housing; mental health; financial problems; older people