OBJECTIVES: To compare transitions from private households to institutions between 1971-81 and 1981-91 among elderly people and see whether (1) differentials in the risk of institutionalisation changed and (2) whether the risk was higher in the second period. DESIGN: Cross sequential analysis of data from the Office of National Statistics longitudinal study, a record linkage study which included individual level data from three national censuses, (1971, 1981, and 1991) and linked vital registration data. SUBJECTS: Altogether 26,400 people aged 65 and over in 1971-81 and 32,500 persons aged 65 and over in 1981-91. These samples represent 1% of the population of England and Wales. RESULTS: In both periods models including age, housing tenure, and marital status or household/family type terms fitted the data reasonably well. The effect of age was stronger in the second decade, while that of marital status was reduced. The risk of transition to an institution was nearly 33-52% higher in the second decade after controlling for these factors. CONCLUSIONS: During the 1980s the availability of state financed institutional care increased substantially; a growth which the 1990 NHS and Community Care Act was designed to reverse. Increased access to institutional care undoubtedly is one factor underlying the higher transition rate to institutions observed in 1981-91 than for the previous decade. During 1981-91, transitions to live with relatives also declined substantially. It is not clear whether this simply represents the continuation of a previous trend or whether the increased availability of institutional care led to some substitution for family care. Either interpretation has worrying implications for policy makers keen to promote care in the community.
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