Over three-quarters of 45-54 year olds report debt worries during the pandemic

Man on laptop reading payment card details
  • A quarter of 45-54 year olds surveyed, equivalent to 2.25 million people1, say total amount of debt has increased over the past 12 months
  • Majority (78%) of 45-54 year olds worry2 about debt, with 21% of them worrying ‘often’ or ‘all the time’
  • A quarter (24%) of 45-54 year olds do not know how much debt they have
  • A third (34%) of 45-54 year olds have debts they do not know how to pay off
  • One in five (20%) 45-54 year olds who worry about money, think about it every day
  • A quarter (24%) of this generation don’t talk to anyone about money worries

New research from Aviva reveals that a quarter (25%) of the sandwich generation3 (equivalent to 2.25 million people) say their total debts have increased in the 12 months to April 2021.  This is despite headline figures claiming that Brits have saved more than £180bn during the Covid-19 pandemic.4

One in five (18%) of 45-54 year olds whose current debt has increased over the past 12 months have borrowed to pay off other existing debt or to help a family member, and a similar number took a credit card/ mortgage repayment holiday and interest has accrued (19%).

Money worries

The majority (78%) of 45-54 year olds surveyed worry about the level of debt they have accrued, with 21% saying they worry about it ‘often’ (14%) or ‘all the time’ (8%). While the largest proportion (26%) of this group speak to their partner/ spouse about their money worries, an alarming number (24%) do not talk to anyone at all.

A quarter (24%) of this population do not know how much debt they have and worryingly, over a third (34%) have debts they do not know how to pay off. One in five of them (18%) feels their debt is ‘out of control’ when it comes to paying off the debt they have built up during the pandemic.

The 45-54 year olds remain the most worried about their finances with a fifth of those with money worries admitting to thinking about money worries every day.

When asked why they feel their debts are out of control, the 45-54 year olds say it is mainly down to reduced income or benefits, but almost a quarter (23%) put it down to poor financial skills and one in five (18%) say there is ‘no main reason why their debt is out of control, it just is’.5

Alistair McQueen, Head of Savings and Retirement at Aviva says:

"Those in mid-life represent the least happy and most anxious age group in the UK."

“Those in mid-life represent the least happy and most anxious age group in the UK – balancing their own needs with younger and older members of their family6 and we know that when people feel their debt is out of control it causes huge anxiety. What’s important to remember is that there is a range of completely free, confidential and impartial services available to help you if debt is becoming a problem. Whatever level of debt you’re in, organisations like StepChangeMoney Advice Service and CAP  are qualified to point you in the right direction.

“You can also download Aviva’s free Mid Life MOT app7 - specifically designed to help those aged 45+ to take stock of their current situation, with a self-led check up on their wealth, work and wellbeing.  By taking control of these different aspects of our lives at regular intervals we will hopefully all be better placed, whatever 2021 brings.” 

"Aviva’s free Mid Life MOT is specifically designed to help those aged 45+ take stock of their current situation, with a self-led check up on their wealth, work and wellbeing."

Methods used to reduce debt

Encouragingly, despite an increase in their debt levels during 2020, the 45-54 year olds did more than any other age group to resolve their money problems in 2020:             

  • Almost a third (31%) cut back on non-essentials like luxury goods, holidays, entertainment ( vs 26% national average)
  • A quarter (25%) cut back on spending for food and non-alcoholic drinks (vs 18% national average)
  • One in six (17%) sold possessions (vs 12% national average)
  • More than one in ten (12%) got a second job or worked overtime
  • A similar number (12%) bought a lottery ticket8, despite the odds of winning the jackpot being one in 45 million7. This method is most used amongst the 35-44 year olds (18%).
  • Other strategies employed include 11% consolidating debts in one place to reduce monthly payment, 8% taking advice from debt helplines/service and 6% used financial planning/ debt management apps or online tools.                   



Research commissioned by Aviva was carried out by Censuswide between 15-17th March 2021 of 2010 nationally represented consumers. Censuswide abides by and employs members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.


  1. 2.25million people - 9,063,137*0.252 = 2,283,911 based on ONS Mid Year Estimates 2019 for 45-54 year olds
  2. 78% of 45-54 year olds worry about debt- Calculated by combining ‘Rarely, ‘Sometimes’, ‘Often’ and ‘All the time’ for the corresponding statement.
  3. Sandwich generation defined as those aged between 45-54 years.
  4. Bank of England Money and Credit report – January 2021
  5. This is based on a small subgroup of respondents (less than 50) who agreed they were in debt and not in control of it.
  6. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/
  7. The free Mid-Life MOT app - download here.
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Lottery_(United_Kingdom)

Fiona Whytock

Retirement, Savings and Investments

Media Enquiries

Notes to editors:

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