University Of Tasmania
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Older women who live alone: an interpretive approach to bridging the gap between lived experiences and policy discourses

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posted on 2023-05-26, 06:07 authored by Forbes, JH
I have applied an interpretive approach to an investigation of the gap between the lived experiences of older women who live alone and policy discourses on population ageing and housing. The research and policy literature on ageing and housing finds that older women who live alone are at increased risk of financial hardship and social marginalisation, issues that could be improved by housing policy responses; however, evidence on the perspectives of residents is limited. My major finding is that the social construction of 'ageing as a problem' in policy discourses differed in some important respects from the presentation and perspectives of the residents, and the issues that they identified. The study group members were 35 women, ranging in age from 53 to 87 years of age. I also interviewed eight workers from housing and aged care. The women were all interviewed in their homes, in urban and regional locations in Southern Tasmania. All but one of the workers1, were interviewed in workplaces. The discourses of women and workers were analysed for themes and then compared. The main themes I identified from interviews with the women were caring for and considering others, making light of problems and inconveniences, and staying independent and not being a burden. The main themes I identified from interviews with workers were 'they' are vulnerable and lonely, 'they' need specialised housing, and 'they' won't move. However, both the women and workers agreed on one key point: that older women, who live alone, lack access to affordable and appropriate housing options. In the Findings section, at Table 3, I have presented these competing interpretations of housing issues for older women as a hypothetical conversation between the women and the workers. The voices of the study group women have provided a counter-narrative to ageism in policy discourses that has recast these older women who live alone in a positive light, as resourceful and resilient not vulnerable and lonely. I have then drawn parallels between policy discourses on ageing and three typologies for the analysis of social exclusion discourses identified by Levitas (1998) which have served to perpetuate the stigmatisation and social marginalisation of disadvantaged people like these women. I have concluded by making suggestions, through a Utopian lens (Levitas, 2003; 2001), for policies that respond to input from the women I interviewed. I have suggested a new era of respecting older people, a coherent national policy response to housing an ageing population, rejection of institutional accommodation options, creation of age-friendly housing and communities, and a system of services and subsidies to help older residents maintain their independence for as long as possible, including mentoring services to help them with complex decision-making about moving or staying.


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