Women Over 85 Are Happier Because Their Partner is Dead By Then, Psychiatrists Say

Elderly holidaymakers enjoy a traditional ice cream cone on the South Beach on July 17, 2014 in Lowestoft, England. Getty

Women become progressively happier as they age, according to a health survey conducted in England. They have higher rates of poor mental health than men throughout much of their lives, until over the age of 85, when women's overall happiness increases and men's decreases.

With the exception of the elderly set, women were more likely than men to have poor mental health at nearly every age. Overall, 21 percent of women reported mental health problems, compared to 16 percent of men. The change that occurred over a lifetime—leading to less mental health concerns among women—was likely due to the specific burden of responsibilities that women often carry, according to the dean of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Kate Lovett. Further, many women are widowed by then, which psychiatrists say may also be a factor.

Women "are still more likely to bear the brunt of domestic and caring responsibilities," Lovett told the Times. As women age, that burden may lessen as they are no longer responsible for children and elderly parents.

"Men who are single, windowed or divorced are more vulnerable to developing depression and men who are in this age bracket may be more likely to be on their own," Lovett said. "Paradoxically married women are often more likely to develop depression."

The survey for mental health conducted by the National Health Survey in England asked 8,000 people 12 questions about happiness, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance and self-confidence. People answered each question with a score between zero and 12, with a score of four or more indicating probable mental health problems. A vast majority of adults did not report poor mental health, according to the survey. Over half of adults had a score of zero and 28 percent had a score of one to three. But 19 percent of all adults had a score over four, indicating probable mental health problems.

"Across the age groups, but particularly in the young, it is a cause for serious concern for us as a society," Lovett said.

Dawn breaks behind the Houses of Parliament and the statue of Winston Churchill in Westminster, London, Britain June 24, 2016. Reuters

The highest rates of poor mental health were among young women between aged 16 and 24 years, at 28 percent. Between 25 and 34, 18 percent of women reported poor mental health. The percentage spiked again to 24 percent for women aged 45 to 54. By the time women were 85 and over, the percentage of women reporting poor mental health dropped to 14 percent.

Men, however, were nearly consistently happy their whole lives, according to the survey, though it does not mean some men did not suffer poor mental health. Between ages 16 and 64, the prevalence of poor mental health was between 16 and 18 percent. For men between the ages of 65 and 84, it declined to 13 percent. After age 85, the percentage of poor mental health among men spiked to 19 percent.

An important point to note is that men have higher rates of suicide than women, as much as three times higher, reported the Times. This is likely because women are more likely than men to seek out help for their mental health problems.

"Thankfully women are more likely to also speak out about their mental health and seek support from services," Stephen Buckley, spokesman for the U.K.-based mental health charity, Mind, told the Times. "We are facing a mental health crisis for children and young people. We know that teenagers are facing a wide range of pressures, including stress at school, bullying, body issues and the added pressure of the 24/7 online world. Girls may also be affected by sexualization, and the feeling that their life needs to be as perfect as pictures in newsfeeds."

The survey also found that poorer people had higher rates of poor mental health. Researchers standardized for differences between ages, and found that those with the lowest income had nearly double the percentage of people with poor mental health.

The disparity between men and women remained, regardless of household income.