Women living and working longer, says research

Australia's older women are living and working longer, rate their health as excellent more often than men, and are more likely to live alone, according to new research released by National Seniors Australia.

Its annual social survey, which was completed by 5,819 members, revealed that women were also more likely to downsize their homes as they aged, and to worry about outliving their savings and investments.

Author of the report, Be Heard: Snapshots of members' views, and National Seniors Research Director Professor John McCallum said the key characteristics of those completing the survey were comparable to the broader Australian population.

"Australia's population is ageing, and one in six are now over 65, compared to one in seven in 2011 and only one in 25 in 1911," Prof. McCallum said.

"Women are living longer than men: of those aged 65 and over, 54 per cent are women and 46 per cent are men. Of those aged 85 and older, 63 per cent are women and 37 per cent are men."

Prof. McCallum said the National Seniors' survey had shown that more than half of those aged between 50 and 64 were working, with slightly more women (54.9 per cent) than men (53.5 per cent).

Between the ages of 65 to 79, the rate dropped rapidly to 15.2 per cent for women and 14.4 per cent for men.

There had been a generational change for women, whose mothers were often excluded from work after marriage and having children. Women were now more able to work, and wanted to work.

However, they tended to work fewer hours than men, with 53.5 per cent of women in paid employment working between 20 and 39 hours a week, while 19.6 per cent worked more than 40 hours a week.

Prof. McCallum said the survey showed women were at higher risk of living alone as they aged.

"Seventy per cent of women aged 80-plus live alone, compared to only 25 per cent of men.

"The good news is 80 per cent of women aged 80-plus have surviving children, 86 per cent have living relatives, and 96 per cent have friends.

"This pattern of women having stronger relationships with family and friends can buffer them from some of the risks of losing spouses, whether through death or breakdown of relationships."

Women were also more likely than men to be 'movers or planners' - homeowners who had already downsized or those who had plans to do so in the future.

"The biggest difference between women and men was in ages 65 to 79, where 54 per cent of women are in those two categories compared with 47 per cent of men," Prof. McCallum said.

"One of the key reasons for downsizing could be that more women live alone, because of the death of their spouse or divorce."

National Seniors Chief Executive Officer Dagmar Parsons thanked members for their response to the survey, and for helping to inform the organisation's representations to government and other key groups.

"Since I joined National Seniors as CEO I've made every effort for your views to 'be heard'," Ms Parsons said.

"I've attended as many branch and zone meetings as possible to speak with you and hear your thoughts on a wide range of issues.

"Research is another key way of bringing your views to government and public attention. The Be Heard report provides snapshots of your responses to our recent annual national survey, interviews and policy forums and is also a big 'thank you' for sharing your views.

"Many of these views have already gone public through reports and media releases on our website and in presentations to the Minister for Ageing Ken Wyatt and government departments.

"I want to thank all our members who took the time and effort to participate in our surveys, forums and other meetings. I would also encourage you to contact us at any time

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