Ageing and Society

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Ageing and Society (2009), 29:687-707 Cambridge University Press
Copyright © 2009 Cambridge University Press

Research Article

Not just old and sick – the ‘will to health’ in later life


a1 Division of Research Strategy, University College London.
a2 Division of Community Health Services, St George's, University of London.
a3 Primary Care and Population Sciences, University College London.
a4 School of Social Science, Bangor University.
Article author query
higgs p [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
leontowitsch m [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
stevenson f [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
jones ir [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]


The end of the ‘Golden Age’ of welfare capitalism in the 1970s was the prelude to a period of greater individualisation within societies and was accompanied by an increase in the importance of consumption as a way of organising social relations. During the same period there was also an expansion in the discourses aimed at enhancing the government of the autonomous self. One such discourse operates around what has been termed the ‘will to health’: it suggests that health has become a required goal for individual behaviour and has become synonymous with health itself. The generational groups whose lifecourses were most exposed to these changes are now approaching later life. We explore the extent to which social transformations related to risk, consumption and individualisation are reflected in the construction of later-life identities around health and ageing. We examine how the growth in health-related ‘technologies of the self’ have fostered a distinction between natural and normal ageing, wherein the former is associated with coming to terms with physical decline and the latter associated with maintaining norms of self-care aimed at delaying such decline. Finally, we consider anti-ageing medicine as a developing arena for the construction of later-life identities and discuss the implications of the social changes for researching later life.

(Accepted November 11 2008)

(Online publication April 07 2009)

Key Words:ageing; individualisation; ‘will to health’; third age


c1 Address for correspondence: Paul Higgs, Division of Research Strategy, University College London, First Floor, Charles Bell House, 67-73 Riding House Street, London W1W 7EY. E-mail: