Baby boomer divorcees face homeless risk

MIDDLE-CLASS divorcees risk poverty and homelessness as they grow older, according to new research from the Salvation Army.

MIDDLE-CLASS divorcees risk poverty and homelessness as they grow older, according to new research from the Salvation Army.

Women over 40 who return to renting may never get back into the housing market, said the study's author, Swinburne University's Dr Andrea Sharam and if their career path has been "mummy tracked" by periods of part-time work and maternity leave, they probably don't have enough superannuation. By surveying 111 Victorian women over the age of 40 who did not expect to own their own homes before retirement, Dr Sharam discovered that 77 per cent were still renting, even though 79 per cent had tertiary degrees, 76 per cent were employed and their median income was $50,000.

"It's not about low income, it's about your life course," said Dr Sharam. "You can do remarkably well, but as soon as you divorce, it's a different story."

Two-thirds of the women surveyed expected to have $100,000 or less in superannuation at retirement. More than half (53 per cent) were in debt, and even those earning over $70,000 had minimal savings.

Dr Sharam called on councils and welfare organisations to invest in community "land lease" schemes where Crown or private land is lent to low-income housing developments. Many of these women could raise the deposit for a $150,000 investment, Dr Sharam said, but none could afford a house or flat in today's market.

The number of financially vulnerable older women is expected to jump dramatically as more baby boomers reach retirement age. Women are already reaching their 60s with half the superannuation of men. The number of women living alone is growing rapidly and expected to reach 1.8 million by 2013. And women have been marrying and starting families later in life. "That's part of the problem, they've got younger children when they divorce," said Dr Sharam. "Women do tend to get the house and the mortgage, but over time they tend to lose the housing because they have the debts."

Council planner Elizabeth Blades-Hamilton, 58, counts herself lucky that she earns a respectable wage now. When her marriage broke up 12 years ago, she had custody of three children and a low-paid administration job. With almost no savings after decades working part time, she lived off the $70,000 left over after selling her home while she got a tertiary degree. She rents in the northern suburbs, and started saving seriously only two years ago.

"So long as you're in a relationship, [a small pay cheque] is not so much of an issue. It's a second income," she said. "But when it's a sole income, it's not sufficient."

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