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Older women squeezed by work and care demands

Older women, retirement, Australian Bureau of Statistics, retiree, senior citizen

“Competing societal demands” have left older women under pressure to both look after the older generation and keep up in the workforce, the Australian Bureau of Statistics has said.

The latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) report that while labour force participation generally decreases with age, there are a “growing proportion” of older Australians who are working past 65 years.

In 1995, the labour force participation rate for men older than 65 was just under 10 per cent, and women just under 3 per cent. In 2015, these figures had grown to just under 18 per cent for men and just under 10 per cent for women.

The ABS argued that financial circumstance, work satisfaction, disability, health, and caring or volunteering responsibilities had played roles in older Australians’ decisions on whether to keep working past the traditional retirement age.


In particular, the ABS pointed to growing rates of mature-aged workers – those aged 55-64 – approaching retirement with a mortgage in tow, courtesy of rising housing costs, as a factor. Additionally, this financial pressure can be compounded by adult children sometimes requiring housing or financial support, and the care duties associated with the growing number of older Australians.

The labour force participation of women aged 55-64 has grown from less than 30.0 per cent in 1995 to just below 60.0 per cent in 2015.

“Women in this age group are particularly affected by competing societal demands that encourage increased labour force participation in older age, while simultaneously being relied upon to care for the growing number of older Australians ageing in their own home,” the Bureau said.

Women approaching retirement (aged 55-64) made up 57.5 per cent of carers in 2015, with 58.3 per cent of those also participating in the labour force. That’s compared to 69.5 per cent of non-carers in the same age bracket.

It’s not just those aged 55-64. In 2015, nearly one in five (18.4 per cent) of Australians aged over 65 were carers and just over three-quarters, 76.0 per cent, were looking after a spouse.

“Providing informal care can affect an older person’s capacity to remain in paid work,” the ABS explained.

“In 2015, 41.5 per cent of older primary carers spent an average of 40 hours or more per week in their caring role, leaving little time to carry out paid work.

“Of older carers who were not in the labour force, one in eight (12.7 per cent) reported that the main reason for leaving work was to commence their caring role.”

But what else is keeping older Aussies in the workforce?

Older Australians are “leading more active lives” than generations before, while also experiencing decreasing rates of disability, the ABS said.

 “With a greater capacity to work, and the pressure of an increasing ageing population on the cost of welfare provision, many older people are remaining in paid work beyond the age of 65.”

In 2015, 59.8 per cent of older Australians in the workforce were working part-time and nearly two-fifths (39.4 per cent) were engaged full-time.

Further, there were 20,700 workers in this age group that were employed but wanted to, and had the capacity, to work more.

The benefits of remaining in the workforce stretch “beyond financial motivations”, the ABS said, identifying “a sense of satisfaction and wellbeing, improved self-worth, and more active social engagement” as added benefits.

As such, promoting older Australians to stay in (or potentially re-enter) the workforce is a “key policy issue”.

“Removing barriers to employment, and ensuring that adequate flexibility and support is available to encourage and enable ongoing labour force participation is critical to ensuring that those who choose to remain in the workforce beyond age 65 can do so,” the Bureau concluded.

Older women squeezed by work and care demands
Older women, retirement, Australian Bureau of Statistics, retiree, senior citizen
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