Landmark study exposes the wellbeing divide among older Australians

Wed 10 February 2016

An Australian study – the first of its kind – about the wellbeing of older people has discovered that there are large concentrations of over 65s experiencing low wellbeing on the fringes of major cities compared to inner-city areas.

The Index of Wellbeing for Older Australians (IWOA)* maps how older people are faring nationally across five domains, including education, health, resources and wealth, including housing. The stand-out finding was that housing affordability is the single most important factor in determining older people’s wellbeing.

This study smashes the perception that affordable housing is purely a young person’s worry,” Dr Kirsty Nowlan, The Benevolent Society’s Executive Director of Social Policy and Advocacy, said.

Contrary to popular belief, not all older people own their homes. The study shows that older people in many parts of Australia find the struggle to keep a roof over their heads has a significant adverse effect on their overall wellbeing.

Areas where there are more people aged 65 and over are paying rent or still paying a mortgage are more likely to be among the most disadvantaged areas on the city fringes. This highlights the urgent need for all levels of government, business and the not-for-profit sector to collaborate on the financing and supply of more affordable and social housing,” she said.

University of Canberra Professor of Economics and the study’s co-researcher, Professor Robert Tanton, said housing stress contributed most to the final wellbeing ranking of geographic areas, indicating the importance of this in terms of wellbeing for older people.

We would all hope to own our own home by the time we are 65, but for many people this will not be the case. Those who are still paying rent are doing so with government benefits, leaving little else to live on if they are living in high-rent capital cities,” Prof Tanton said.

The study produced online maps that show the geographic patterns of wellbeing in each state and territory and capital cities, and adds further weight to international evidence that there is a wellbeing divide emerging among older Australians.

A recent OECD report** found that 36 per cent of Australian pensioners lived below the poverty line, ranking us second lowest on social equity out of 34 countries.

Areas with the lowest levels of wellbeing were in the outskirts of capital cities and some regional areas although, generally, older people in areas of regional Australia experienced higher wellbeing. Areas with the highest wellbeing tended to be inner urban areas,” Prof Tanton said.

Older people with low wellbeing as measured by this index have low incomes, low education, use the age pension as their main source of income, have low fluency in English, no access to a car, are still paying a mortgage, rent, or are living in public housing,” he said.

Dr Nowlan said the Index will fill a critical gap in information about the wellbeing of older people, and help policy makers and service providers to identify where older people experiencing low wellbeing live, and help guide decisions on what type of policies and services are needed and where they should go.

If services and resources are not targeted to the neediest areas at the right time, there is a risk that the disparity between high and low wellbeing of older Australians will become increasingly wider.

Older Australians make a magnificent contribution to the diversity and welfare of our society. We need policy solutions to address the real challenges, like ensuring older people have secure and affordable housing and providing supports in communities to make them as age-friendly as possible so that seniors can have the best possible quality of life,” Dr Nowlan said.

*About the Index of Wellbeing for Older Australians

*About the Index of Wellbeing for Older Australians

The Index of Wellbeing for Older Australians (IWOA), compiled by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) at the University of Canberra, is the first of its kind in Australia to use multiple data sources to ascribe a geographic wellbeing ranking for people aged 65 years and over.

The study is the first to develop a wellbeing scale for seniors in specific locations across the nation using a number of measures. Using data from a wide range of sources, the study builds an index of how well older Australians are living based on five measures: participation, education, health, resources and wealth/housing.

See The Benevolent Society’s IWOA web page:


**Source: Pensions at a Glance 2015: OECD and G20 indicators, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; Published 1 December, 2015.


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Index of Wellbeing for Older Australians

Communities with the highest and lowest wellbeing for older Australians by state or territory (excluding NT)


Lowest wellbeing

Highest wellbeing






Cabramatta - Lansvale

Liverpool - Warwick Farm

Fairfield - East

Guildford - South Granville

Lakemba - Wiley Park

North Sydney - Lavender Bay

Terrey Hills - Duffys Forest

Wahroonga - Warrawee

St Ives







Meadow Heights


Roxburgh Park - Somerton




East Melbourne


Research - North Warrandyte

South Yarra - West







Inala - Richlands

Darra - Sumner


Rockhampton City

Fig Tree Pocket

Chapel Hill

Brookfield - Kenmore Hills

Broadsound - Nebo

Brisbane City






The Parks

Salisbury North

Hindmarsh - Brompton


Smithfield - Elizabeth North

Coromandel Valley

Aldgate - Stirling

One Tree Hill


Glenside - Beaumont






Balga - Mirrabooka

Hamilton Hill



Nollamara - Westminster

Nedlands - Dalkeith - Crawley

City Beach



Applecross - Ardross







Bridgewater - Gagebrook

Mornington - Warrane



Taroona - Bonnet Hill

Mount Nelson - Dynnyrne

Bruny Island - Kettering

Kingston Beach - Blackmans Bay

Dilston - Lilydale

Fast facts

  • Rates of home ownership amongst older people, which have traditionally been high, are falling, and more homeowners are reaching retirement age before their mortgages are paid off.
  • The number of older women in private rental housing doubled between 2006 and 2011.[i]
  • Rates of home ownership are in decline. In 1994-95, 71 per cent of Australian households owned their home (with or without a mortgage). By 2011-12 this proportion had fallen to 67%.[ii]
  • The number of households who own their home outright has fallen since 1996 (Census of Population and Housing 2015.0 1996) from 40.9 per cent to 32.1 per cent, while the number of households who own their home with a mortgage has increased from 25.5 per cent to 34.9 per cent (ABS 2011 Census QuickStats).[iii]
  • There are now more homeowners who have a mortgage (34.9 per cent) than who own their homes outright (32.1 per cent).[iv]
  • Between 2006 and 2011, median rents rose by 49.2 per cent, median mortgage payments rose by 38.5 per cent, but wages only rose by 20.2 per cent.[v]
  • The median age of an Australian outright homeowner is now 66 - up from 59 in 1988/89 - according to the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling.
  • Older Australians generally live in their own homes, but home ownership among the over-55s has fallen. This reflects changing household circumstances. Divorce is one of the flashpoints for falling out of home ownership, especially for women, and many are unable to climb back on the ladder.
  • Older people living alone are more likely to be in private rental than older couples.



[i] Institute for Social Science Research. (2014). Older Women’s Pathways out of Homelessness in Australia. Report for the Mercy Foundation, University of Queensland.[ii] Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2014).  Submission to the Senate Economics References Committee Inquiry into Affordable Housing.[iii] Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute. (2015). Home Ownership.  Webpage accessed 13 May 2015. [iv] Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2013). Perspectives on Regional Australia: Housing Arrangements - Home Ownership in Local Government Areas, 2011. Cat No. 1380.0.55.010.[v] Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2013). Perspectives on Regional Australia: Housing Arrangements - Homes Owned with a Mortgage in Local Government Areas, 2011. Cat No. 1380.0.55.012.



This release was written and produced by The Benevolent Society. Click here for the original release

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