Elderly faring better than the younger in recession

 

ANALYSIS:Those aged 65 and over prospered in the boom and are now enjoying relative good fortune

OLD FOLK had a great boom. They have been faring better than their more youthful counterparts since the economy went wallop. If anecdote has long pointed to the relative good fortune of the elderly, new statistics published yesterday provide corroboration.

Those aged 65 and over are enjoying income gains in the multiples of those of more youthful cohorts. They are still receiving increases in cash payments from the State. They are feeling fitter. They are increasingly likely to be covered by private health insurance. And they are enduring tiny and declining levels of poverty. Happy days for the long of tooth.

The Survey of Income and Living (Silc), published yesterday by the Central Statistics Office, provides a fascinating insight into the lives of the aged.

The elderly were first surveyed for the Silc in 2004, when the good times were rolling. They were surveyed again in 2009, the year of most brutal recession. The latest survey was conducted in 2010, when the economy was still in contraction and austerity was in full swing. The three surveys thus show how the elderly were faring in boom times and over two years of bust.

As health is more important than wealth, consider the former first. Over the six years, the numbers describing their health as “very good” or “good” rose. By 2010 almost two-thirds were in one of these two categories, up from 58 per cent in 2004.

This may be partly accounted for by changing attitudes. More of those alive in the youth-obsessed 1960s are now in their autumn years. This generation is not taking the grim reaper’s approach lying down and its members are determined to continue the pursuits of their youth.

Another reason more oldies feel in fine fettle is their access to healthcare. In 2004, one in three over-64s had private health insurance. Five years later the proportion had risen to more than 40 per cent. One year on, in 2010, the proportion had risen again, to more than 43 per cent.

There were no numbers on younger folk yesterday, but separate figures show that among the population as a whole those covered by private health insurance fell by 40,000 between 2009 and 2010. It seems that as hard-pressed younger cohorts cannot afford to renew their health insurance, the aged are signing up in ever larger numbers.

Wealth is one reason for this. For those aged between 18 and 64, weekly income rose by 12 per cent between 2004 and 2010. The aged enjoyed income growth of 40 per cent over the period, or 3.5 times that of the under-65s.

While both groupings suffered similar declines in total incomes between 2009 and 2010, a government fearful of the wrath of the wrinkled not only exempted them from the cuts most others experienced but actually gave them more. Weekly income from social transfers grew by 2.2 per cent in the year to 2010, or 3.3 per cent in real terms (inflation was negative at the time).

If all of this raises real concerns about intergenerational equity, there is the consolation that the wretchedness of old-age poverty has been all but eradicated.

In 2010 fewer than one in 100 over-64s were in consistent poverty. In 2004 there were four times more in that sorry state. That is surely among the long departed Tiger’s greatest legacies.

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