THURSDAY, April 15, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- It's said that one of the joys of old age is taking pleasure in your grandchildren, but an English research team begs to differ.
An active social life, being married and having a partner who is also retired all make a huge difference in seniors' enjoyment of life, but having children or grandchildren matters little, the University of Greenwich team found in its study of 279 British retirees.
Grandchildren are a source of pride, but there are trade-offs to having them, said lead researcher Oliver Robinson, of the university's department of psychology and counseling.
"There are both benefits and drawbacks to the presence of children and grandchildren in retirement, which balance each other out," Robinson said. "The positives are that having children and grandchildren imparts a sense of purpose and meaning, while the drawback is the frequent commitment for child care that can potentially interfere with the sense of freedom and autonomy that is at the heart of a positive retirement."
Robinson and his team were to report their findings Thursday at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Study participants, who were recruited from a retirement Web site and online newsletter, answered questions about family, friends and their life in retirement. They also completed a scale designed to measure their satisfaction with their lives.
The researchers found no difference in life satisfaction between retirees who have children and grandchildren and those who don't.
But a strong social network tended to have a major positive effect on retirees' enjoyment of life. Seniors with high levels of life satisfaction strongly agreed with the statement, "I have active social groups I enjoy spending time with." Conversely, seniors who aren't enjoying life much strongly agreed with the statement, "I miss the socializing of working life."
"Social groups in retirement, particularly those that revolve around shared interests, can provide a retiree with a number of basic psychological needs -- a sense of connectedness, of purpose, and of mastery if there is a skill involved," Robinson said. "The great retirement trap is loneliness, and active social groups negate the possibility of that."
American retirees have expressed similar sentiments regarding what makes their life most enjoyable, said Rosemary Blieszner, associate dean of the graduate school at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and director of the Center for Gerontology.
"Older adults are very interested in their grandchildren and want them to succeed, but really, I think that most of your happiness and psychological well-being is going to come from your peers," Blieszner said. "For many stages of life, not just old age, people feel like their age peers understand what they're going through and give them that social support that comes from friendship and understanding."
Having a spouse or a longtime partner also matters significantly when it comes to enjoyment of retired life, the British team found. Seniors who are widowed, never married, divorced or separated reported lower levels of life satisfaction than people in long-term relationships.
It also makes a difference whether your partner is retired along with you. The study found that retirees whose spouse or partner is still working enjoyed their life less than those who have been joined in retirement by their partner.
"Those retirement individuals whose partner is not retired miss their work lives more, perhaps because they are unable to fully engage with retirement," Robinson said.
"They are in a kind of limbo state, unable to make plans for long holidays or a substantial change of life until the retirement of their partner happens," he added. "When a couple retire together, they can plan aspirationally together, and help each other adapt to the new life phase."
For more on retirement, visit the U.S. National Institute on Aging.