Gender Equality in Later Life
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In most contexts imbalanced sex ratios are a source of policy and research focus. However, the severely imbalanced sex ratio in many older communities, where older women outnumber older men by almost 2 to 1, attracts surprisingly little attention. In an effort to redress this oversight, this entry calls attention to how the issues of an aging population are in many ways the issues of older women and how, as a result, there is an important need for policies, technologies, and services to be designed and implemented in ways that respond to the particular economic, physical, and social circumstances of older women.
The entry also calls attention to gender inequality in older communities. The different economic and social positions of men and women pre-retirement have ongoing and somewhat cumulative effects on the gender distribution of financial resources in old age. The typical gendered pattern of care within working-age households, where men are heavily involved in paid work while many women contribute more unpaid work, produces a substantial gender gap, favoring men, in the distribution of financial resources at retirement.
This gender-based inequality is particularly consequential because women outlive men in most communities and often live the latter part of their life without a spouse. Thus, women’s need for economic resources in retirement is relatively large. A focus on gender equity in policy making can help to ensure that policies on retirement income, aged care, and housing, as well as policies that target earlier life stages, both minimize gender gaps in resources in old age and ensure that women are not penalized in later life for the care roles they have performed across the life course.
While most of the specific data points in this entry are based on the Australian experience, Australia is a midsized western industrialized nation with an aging population, and many if not most of the challenges of gender inequality in this community are similar to those currently being encountered in countries around the globe (see Stark 2005 for an earlier account based on the European experience).
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