Older women have been recognised as the fastest-growing group of homeless people in Australia in recent years. Yet until now we have not known exactly how many older women are at risk of homelessness. Our research, released today, finds about 240,000 women aged 55 or older and another 165,000 women aged 45-54 are at risk of homelessness.
The startling data from our research give us a much better picture of the scale of the problem. We also quantify the impacts of the various factors that may increase women’s risk of becoming homeless.
Effective policy is grounded in quantifying the nature and complexity of issues. To date, a limited but growing number of studies have highlighted the experiences of older women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. But few studies quantified the numbers at risk and the factors that increase the risk.
What puts women at risk?Shutterstock
Older people are generally considered to be at less risk of homelessness because of their higher rates of home ownership. But increasingly unaffordable housing has added to concerns about the circumstances and living situations of older people who do not own homes, have limited wealth and savings and do not have the benefit of living in social housing. These households rely on the private rental market and are at considerable risk of housing affordability stress and hence homelessness.
To examine risk profiles, we constructed an empirical model of risk of homelessness since the 2007-09 Global Financial Crisis using data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. The modelling included people who hold a mortgage or pay rent in private or public housing and are aged 45 or older.
This work found older women are more likely to be at risk of homelessness if they have one or more of the following characteristics:
• have been at risk before
• are not employed full-time
• are an immigrant from a non-English-speaking country
• are in private rental housing
• would have difficulty raising emergency funds
• are Indigenous
• are a lone-person household
• are a lone parent (but little evidence for those never married).
We estimated these profiles using a statistical model to analyse the relationship between homelessness risk and the characteristics of interest. We controlled for other characteristics that are likely to influence the risk of becoming homeless but which were not the focus of the study.
Risk factors compound each other
Multiple factors compound the risk of being homeless. While noting sampling limitations (small samples in subgroups of the data and annual volatility), the HILDA data for the post-GFC period suggest:
for women aged 55-64 in a private rental, about 28% are likely to be at risk
for women who are also not employed full-time the percentage at risk increases to about 34%
for those who are also a lone parent the risk rises to over 65%
the risk increases to over 85% if, in addition, they have experienced at least one prior occurrence of being at risk.
Authors: Debbie Faulkner, Senior Research Fellow, UniSA Business, University of South Australia