The shadow of the fourth age: older couples' financial planning for social care and death

As policy makers in the United Kingdom and many other countries grapple with financing the needs of an ageing population, financial planning for social care in later life is high on political agendas. In this paper we draw on qualitative research with heterosexual couples aged over 65 in the United Kingdom about their intimate money practices to analyse the day-to-day meanings attributed to money, saving and consumption in the context of financial planning for later life and death. We find that expenditure on funerals and home adaptations is discussed, negotiated and planned, as is ‘downsizing’ to release capital from the home for financing day-to-day expenses and leisure expenses. These outcomes are within easy contemplation and indeed money practice of older couples. In contrast, end-of-life planning for domiciliary or residential care was virtually non-existent across all socio-economic groups, and couples employed a range of techniques to avoid making these discussions ‘real’. Costs (while well known) are seen as astronomical, details are scarce, intensive domiciliary care is never discussed, and death is seen as preferable to residential care. Equity release was associated with worst-case scenarios. We theorise antipathy to care planning as a product of social and psychological construction of the ‘fourth age’ as a period of abjection, and therefore ‘wasted’ expenditure. Exhortations by policy makers for individuals to consider care costs will be ineffective without recognition of the cultural transformation of later life.