Social exclusion among shift workers and older people

December 13, 2011

Older people and those who work non-standard hours are less likely to feel integrated into society, according to a study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

"Feeling part of society usually involves participating in certain activities such as sports, the arts, volunteering or ," says Dr Matt Barnes who led the research. "Our research shows that and those who work unusual hours face particular barriers to participating in such activities."

The study points out that the Government promotes work as the best route to personal well-being, with worklessness going hand in hand with low income and . Yet, Dr Barnes' research shows that working uncommon hours can also have implications for people's opportunities to engage and feel integrated in society.

Two-thirds of workers work at unusual times. Although shops and other facilities are beginning to adapt, such workers still find their constrained by the limited availability of services, as well as other people with whom to spend their free time.

Compared with people who work a standard week (Monday to Friday, between 8am and 7pm), these workers spend less time on face-to-face social and relational activities, particularly if they work in the evening or at the weekend. On average, evening workers spend six hours 43 minutes on participatory activities per week and Sunday workers just over five hours, compared with over eight hours for those who work normal hours.

"By getting people to keep a diary and analysing the way they spend their time over a 24 hour period," says Dr Barnes, "we have been able to understand how they 'participate' and what might be done to create greater social inclusion."

The study also found that older people face barriers to participatory activities. Over one million older people experience poor social relations and social exclusion.

Spending time with friends is an important way of building social networks and support. They can be crucial for older people dealing with life-changing events such as retirement, bereavement or illness – each of which can pose an increased risk of social isolation. Spending time with people outside the household can also provide the elderly with a sense of independence.

The study found that older people who live alone spend a lot of time with friends and acquaintances, but on average, they can also spend eleven hours alone on a week day and ten and a half hours alone at weekends (excluding sleep).

Over a third of the time that older people spend with their friends is devoted to participatory activities - most often social networking such as visiting or receiving visitors, celebrating birthdays and catching up over the phone. Religious activity and doing acts of kindness involving friends are also important participatory activities.

The research also showed that women are more likely than men to spend time with friends on social networking activities. Their ability to participate, however, is limited by housework, caring for others and personal care.

"It is clear that social participation is important for an improved quality of life, both in older age and among those still working," says Dr Barnes. "Improving the accessibility of public transport and other facilities and services would go a long way towards increasing social inclusion in Britain."

These results suggest that local government and charities need to recognise that social participation is important to improve people's quality of life. "Local governments can encourage public leisure complexes and public transport services to operate wider hours or 24/7. Charities could be more aware of these groups when arranging social clubs targeting shift workers and elderly people", Dr Barnes concludes.

Explore further: Older Americans are more socially engaged than many people may think

More information: The study 'Making time use explicit in an investigation of social exclusion in the UK' was carried out by Dr Matt Barnes, Lizzie Becker, John d'Souza and Andreas Cebulla of the National Centre for Social Research.

Related Stories

Research finds aging is satisfying

June 16, 2008

University of Queensland research is turning conventional wisdom on its head when it comes to grumpy old men and women.

Recommended for you

Rare braincase provides insight into dinosaur brain

October 8, 2015

Experts have described one of the most complete sauropod dinosaur braincases ever found in Europe. The find could help scientists uncover some of the mysteries of how dinosaur brains operated, including their intellectual ...

48-million-year-old horse-like fetus discovered in Germany

October 7, 2015

A 48 million year-old horse-like equoid fetus has been discovered at the Messel pit near Frankfurt, Germany according to a study published October 7, 2015 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Jens Lorenz Franzen from Senckenberg ...

How much for that Nobel prize in the window?

October 3, 2015

No need to make peace in the Middle East, resolve one of science's great mysteries or pen a masterpiece: the easiest way to get yourself a Nobel prize may be to buy one.

The dark side of Nobel prizewinning research

October 4, 2015

Think of the Nobel prizes and you think of groundbreaking research bettering mankind, but the awards have also honoured some quite unhumanitarian inventions such as chemical weapons, DDT and lobotomies.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.