Study suggests downsizing by older people 'could free up housing’

Older couples ‘downsizing’ to smaller properties could free up housing stock, according to a report, although it warns of the risk of social isolation.

Study suggests downsizing by older people 'could free up housing’

The study, published today by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), finds that many older people already live in smaller properties, particularly those who live alone.

However, it found there was “scope” for incentivising trading down among older couples. Entitled ‘Housing and Ireland’s Older Population’, it also outlines potential problems, such as negatively impacting on the health of the people who move.

The study is based on data gathered for The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), which tracks changes in the lives of its nationally representative population aged 50 and above, with the most recent data for 2012.

The ESRI paper is based on analysis of almost 6,000 people and found that one-third of those aged over 50 live alone, as do 63% of those aged over 80. Almost 90% of cases analysed involve so-called ‘empty nesters’ — people who have had children who have left the family home.

According to the report, 40.6% of TILDA participants live in houses with four rooms or fewer, while almost 14% live in houses with seven or more rooms. When it comes to couples, more than 30% live in a house with seven or more rooms. The vast majority of people both living alone (78.3%) and couples (94.3%) own the property.

Charting changes between 2009, 2001 and 2012, the study found those aged in their 50s and those aged 80 and above were more likely to have moved than those in their 60s and 70s, and widows, those born outside of Ireland and those who are separated or divorced, were also more likely to have moved.

According to the report: “The findings suggest that there is scope for generating more mobility in housing but any policy initiatives should be sensitive to concerns related to social isolation and negative health consequences if older people leave familiar communities.

“The low rate of trading down and trading out also suggest that there might be scope for freeing up supply of larger houses and in urban areas.”

However, it concludes that “any economic benefit which might accrue from the mobility of older people should be set against possible costs in terms of social connectedness and health”.

The study does not look at what incentives could be used but Alan Barrett, who is ESRI director, said people could be subsidised to move through incentives to sell, or tax breaks on rental income.

Justin Moran of Age Action said many older people feel “really infuriated” by any suggestion that they should leave the area they have lived in and that Ireland did not have a history of providing suitable sheltered accommodation for older people moving in later life as occurs in other countries.

“We have not planned for an ageing population,” he said.

That view was echoed by Anne Dempsey of Third Age, who operate a senior persons helpline. She said while some older people might like to move as they feel unsafe living alone, a house was often seen as having symbolic as well as real value.

She said planning for an ageing population needed to involve people living in their home areas in a safe and secure environment and in an age diverse population.

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