Understanding Society Scientific Conference 2019 - , University of Essex

Adaption to disability: evidence from the UK

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Day:Thu 4 Jul
  • An Thu Ta, University of Sheffield

Do people adapt to disability? This study focuses on the phenomenon of hedonic adaptation, which refers to a process where an individual’s subjective wellbeing responds to a good or bad change in life circumstance, but gradually reverts to its original level over time, even when the changed circumstance remains the same. Little work has examined hedonic adaptation to disability, especially by looking at physical and mental disability separately. This study is the first to investigate the effect of physical, mental, and general disability on subjective well-being (SWB), conditional on an observed reduction in SWB at onset of disability, and its heterogeneity across age at onset and gender.

Using a fixed effects (FE) lag model, this study analyses data from The UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) 2009-2016. If there is no observed drop in SWB level following onset, there is no scope for observed adaptation to disability. Therefore, the main sample is restricted to only those individuals who reported a drop in SWB at onset.  In all cases, there are approximately 60% of the observations are at onset, 20% for one to two years, 10%  for two to three years and 10% for three or more years of disability. Furthermore, the analysis compares males and females by running FE regressions separately for the two genders. The study also looks at heterogeneity across age at onset, by grouping the observations based on the tertiles of age at onset.

Mental disability has larger negative impacts on SWB than physical disability at onset. There is evidence of partial adaptation (20% to 80%) to both physical and mental disability at three years or more after onset conditional on an observed reduction in SWB at onset. The impact of disability onset on SWB depends on gender and age at onset. Females and the middle-aged experience larger negative impacts. Regarding adaptation after onset, across most age groups, there is no evidence for adaptation to disability. The exception is the youngest onset group, which partially adapt to general disability after three or more years after onset. There appears to be no difference in hedonic adaptation to disability by gender.

The analyses finds no evidence for adaptation to disability in most cases after three or more years after onset. This is in line with previous studies. Many previous research show evidence for adaptation after five or more years, although they do not find evidence for adaptation around three years after onset. The UKHLS is relatively short compared to other panels used in previous studies, which leaves more room for future research on the variation in SWB related to onset of disability.