From left: Catherine Brown, CEO of Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, Dr Susan Feldman, Adjunct Associate Professor at Monash University, Sue Hendy, CEO of COTA Victoria
From left: Catherine Brown, CEO of Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation,
Dr Susan Feldman, Adjunct Associate Professor at Monash University, Sue Hendy, CEO of COTA Victoria

As Australia marked International Women’s Day this week, a new report shows half a million older Australian women are living in long-term income poverty, and calls for urgent affordable seniors housing.

Losing a job, becoming ill or injured, the breakup of a marriage or death of a spouse – these are among the most common triggers that plunge older women into poverty, new Australian research shows.

Some 34 per cent of single women over 60 lived in permanent income poverty, compared to 27 per cent of single older men and 24 per cent of couples, according to the research by Adjunct Associate Professor Dr Susan Feldman and Dr Harriet Radermacher from Monash University.

The study, commissioned by Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, showed that a “complex mix of circumstances” act to discriminate against women, including the casualisation of the workforce, the superannuation system, and family violence.

By age 65, women retire with about a third of the superannuation that men accrue, and government benefits account for 60 per cent of their income.

Dr Feldman, who has been researching the area of older women and ageing for more than 20 years, yesterday lamented that more progress has not been made on the issue.

She said government agencies and organisations were working with a limited understanding of the issue due to poor data.

“It’s quite depressing, because we are still collecting, analysing and dis-aggregating data based on the categories of 65-plus, with very little attention to cohort, gender and ethnicity,” Dr Feldman told Australian Ageing Agenda.

More broadly, Dr Feldman said that gerontology units all over the world were being closed and there had been a decline in university-based ageing research units that took a broader focus – into areas like older women and poverty – as research funding tended to favour bio-medical studies.

Older women need ‘a voice’

The study found that older women need “a strong national voice” articulating strategies to achieve gender equity in areas like superannuation, pay and flexible employment.

“Apart from service delivery organisations, local government, and advocacy networks that support women, women’s organisations are sparse and sometimes do not have a high profile,”said the research, which was based on a literature review and interviews with experts and service providers.

“I grew up in a period where we had a lot of information being shared through women’s organisations, face-to-face, we kept up to date with the latest things; we’ve lost that capacity to network, for older women particularly,” said Dr Feldman.

Action on affordable housing, employment

The report urged collaborations between government, community groups, researchers and the business sector to develop and implement innovative models of affordable housing, particularly for older women.

Dr Feldman also said she wanted to see the workplace become a more welcoming place and provide the same opportunities for women who wanted to remain working, through more flexible arrangements. Such efforts would not just boost women’s income but also bring about a sense of inclusion, she said.

The full study The Time of Our Lives? is available to read here.

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  1. Its a shame that all we do is talk about changing this legal form of discrimination. Why doesn’t parliament just propose and act which makes it illegal set pay rates on gender. It should be experience and qualifications regardless of the gender. But because its a womens issue nothing or little will be done about it.

  2. Income poverty is what I’m experiencing now. I have my own home and am just managing to pay expenses and services by being careful. Two years ago I further exacerbated my chronic lumbar spine pain with a fall and severe fracture in my leg. The expenses outside of medicare and health insurance have resulted in this income poor state. Imagine my shock when my bank statement registered a late payment fee of $25 on two occasions. On phone because I couldn’t get through the rigamarole on their website, to be told to make direct debit payment. When asked to look at the state of my account it was obvious that I could not do this as payments for household and services needed some juggling to ensure funds were available. I’ve only given one example but people working in these organisations have no understanding.

  3. American women are faced with the same circumstances. In 2011, the poverty rate for women over 65 reached 10.7 percent compared to 6.2 percent for men. There are a number of contributing factors to this issue such as breaks in working years to serve as an informal family caregiver, divorce, the gender pay gap, and managing chronic illnesses. This issue is the aftermath of decades if social injustice against women. Dr. Feldman is right women over 65 need a voice, policy makers need to be informed of the economic disparities women over 65 face.

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