Downsizing by older people has limited scope to free up housing - ESRI

Report says benefits need to be balanced against dangers of greater social isolation

The ESRI report found that 63 per cent of those over 80 lived alone.  Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

The ESRI report found that 63 per cent of those over 80 lived alone. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

 

The benefits of freeing up housing by encouraging older people to downsize have to be balanced against the dangers of greater social isolation in this age group, a new report warns.

There is limited scope for alleviating the housing shortage through incentivising older people to move out of houses that are too big for their needs, according to the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

As many over-50s live in small houses of four rooms or fewer, incentivising this group to move may have little impact on availability of housing, it says. This was particularly true for single older people, but the report found a “reasonable proportion” of couples lived in houses with seven or more rooms.

Housing mobility

“The picture is mixed and it’s certainly not as simple as, ‘Can we get the old folks to move?’” said ESRI director Prof Alan Barrett.

“In addition, the finding that mobility, should it lead to greater social isolation, is troubling.”

The report, Housing and Ireland’s Older Population, used data from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (Tilda), drawing on data from more than 8,000 people aged 50 and over.

The proportion of people living alone differed with age bracket. Just under 20 per cent of those in the 50-59 age group lived alone, but among those over 80 this rose to 63 per cent.

Forty per cent of those living alone had no children and so were not “empty-nesters”. Those living alone also tended to live in smaller houses; more than 40 per cent inhabited houses of four rooms or fewer.