In Summary

Single, older women in Victoria have emerged as a group experiencing housing insecurity and being highly vulnerable to homelessness in their old age.

A new report being released today by Swinburne University of Technology has found that while many midlife women used education to improve their economic position, changes to employment practices had undermined the economic benefits of their education and contributed to a lack of housing security.  

The report, The voices of mid-life women facing housing insecurity, details findings of focus groups with 30 single Victorian women in the middle of their life, who did not believe they would own their own housing outright by the time they retired. Mid-life women are those between 40 and 65.

Lead researcher Dr Andrea Sharam said that given education is highly correlated to earnings and wealth, it was surprising that tertiary educated women were appearing amongst those vulnerable to homelessness.

“The earning capacity of these women was undermined by several factors:

  • They tended to go into female dominated industries, hence lower-paying
  • Increasing labour market flexibility had meant retrenchments, casualisation and contract work that had seen their hours of work reduced and meant work was more unpredictable.”

Dr Sharam said this type of employment, combined with the economic disadvantages of being a single person household (often the result of divorce), and high housing costs created the conditions that made it impossible to secure sufficient housing equity prior to retirement to ensure security of housing.

“Paying market rent in retirement when income has fallen dramatically is a recipe for homelessness in old age,” she said.

The report also found that there were an increasing number of single person households in Australia, with women making up the majority of the midlife and older groups. This demographic change was driven by a number of factors, including divorce and separation.

“While education is a powerful tool for improving incomes, more attention to employment security, pay discrimination and housing affordability are necessary if we want to avoid the entry of large numbers of elderly single women entering the homelessness population in years to come,” Dr Sharam said.

The study was funded by the Victorian Women’s Benevolent Trust.

Read the full report.