Older women hit harder by debt

Older women are much more likely to have financial problems and debt than older men, according to new research, with insecure, low-income jobs and divorce being key factors.

Woman carrying food package


Women aged 55 years and older are more likely to be hit harder by debt than older men – particularly those women living on low incomes who are separated or divorced, according to new research from the University of Manchester.

The research, published in the journal Ageing and Society, shows that amongst women aged between 55 and 64, those in routine and semi-routine occupations such as care workers, shop assistants, and cleaners were much more likely to state that they were having financial difficulties compared to those in managerial jobs – 52%, compared to 24%.

Personal debt is at record levels in the UK and 17% of pensioners live in relative income poverty. Drawing on survey data and interviews with older women in debt, the researchers Kingsley Purdam and Jennifer Prattley also found that 44% of women aged 65 years and older who were divorced reported having difficulties ‘keeping up with bills and credit commitments, compared to 19% of married women.

They say many of the women in debt had kept their financial problems hidden due to fear and shame and all of them had made financial sacrifices to support their children. Some of the women were being threatened with eviction and were reliant on food banks and the debts were affecting their relationships and health.

A lack of employment and low pay were key factors linked to being in debt and some of the women had been subject to coercive control and economic abuse by their former partners.

“The financial problems faced by older women are linked to issues of long-term poverty, precarious employment, low pay, high-interest credit, and coercive control within relationships,” said Kingsley Purdam.

“Many have spent their lives in low-paid jobs and juggling debts, usually as a result of trying to provide for their families.

“It is vital that pension reforms, changes to minimum wage rates, new divorce and domestic abuse legislation and welfare policies take account of the circumstances of separated, divorced and widowed older women.”

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