This research assessed the evidence of the effectiveness of gendered social activities and in particular the Men in Sheds programme on the health and wellbeing of older men. The final report has now been published.
Who undertook the research?
The review was undertaken by LiLaC in collaboration with York University and with Age UK. The project was led by Christine Milligan, Centre for Ageing Research, Lancaster University.
Why was this research carried out?
The state of older men’s health is a greatly overlooked public health challenge. 1:5 of the UK population is aged 65+ and although men report better health than women, mortality rates for older men are higher. Loneliness and social isolation is a concern for this age group, it can contribute to poor physical and mental health, higher risk of disability, poor recovery from illness and early death. Amongst older adults, the effects of social isolation and loneliness on mortality are believed to be of similar size to that of cigarette smoking.
Compared to older women, older men also use fewer community-based health resources and are less likely to participate in preventative health services. They also find it harder to make friends in later life and are less likely to join community-based social groups which tend to be dominated by women.
What is Men in Sheds?
Men in Sheds is one of the most recent and fastest growing innovations for older men in the UK. Shed programmes originated in Australia in the 1990s, but there are now over 80 Sheds established in the UK and Ireland. Sheds provide a space to meet, socialise, learn new skills, and engage in meaningful activity with other older men. Generally tailored to local contexts rather than conforming to a standardised programme, most Sheds are equipped with a range of workshop tools. Some provide health-related information and ‘signpost’ men to relevant services. Sheds aim to improve men’s physical, emotional, social and spiritual health and wellbeing. However, despite their success, there is little robust evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of Sheds in improving older men’s health and wellbeing.
How was the research carried out?
- Age UK collaborated with the research team to identify, characterise and map all Sheds in England in preparation for the proposed second stage evaluation.
- A systematic review using the principles of the ESRC narrative synthesis guidance. The review included: all published research; third sector, local and central government reports; and grey literature focused on Men’s Sheds and related gendered social activities for older men.
- 25 studies met the inclusion criteria, 14 for Men in Sheds and 11 for other gendered interventions.
What did the research find?
- 12 of the 14 studies found attending Men’s Sheds to have a direct or indirect positive impact on older men’s mental health and their social and emotional wellbeing.
- Beneficial effects of Men in Sheds appear to be mediated through reductions in social inclusion and isolation, with voluntary participation leading to the building of friendships, strengthening of social networks and providing a sense of purpose and identity.
- There was considerable heterogeneity in the outcome measures used across studies - most (but not all) studies were qualitative.
- None of the studies used validated measures to assess physical, or functional change, hence there was limited evidence that involvement in Men’s Sheds or other gendered interventions has a significant effect on the physical health of older men.
- There was limited evidence about the acceptability, accessibility and effectiveness of Men in Sheds or other gendered interventions for older men from differing cultural or ethnic backgrounds, or with specific health conditions.
- Despite lack of definitive research evidence about the positive impact of Sheds on the H&WB of older men, Sheds are growing rapidly across the UK, Ireland and Australia. In Ireland and Australia, Sheds are now integral to public health strategies for older men.