Reports show income gap widening between older people

Centre for Ageing Research and Development says it is a myth that older people have been protected from the recession

’The reports underline the importance of designing social and economic policies that address the root causes of inequality across the life course.’ Photograph: John Stillwell/PA

’The reports underline the importance of designing social and economic policies that address the root causes of inequality across the life course.’ Photograph: John Stillwell/PA

 

Older people possess significant wealth in terms of assets but income differences between the richest and poorest older people are widening, according to two new reports. Despite the recession, the total value of owner-occupied housing stock in the Republic is €280 billion, of which 46 per cent is owned by those aged 50 and over, the reports by the Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland (Cardi) find.

Among those aged over 65, some 87 per cent of people own their own homes and just 2 per cent hold a mortgage. For over-50s, 74 per cent own their own home and 13 per cent still have a mortgage.

However, average weekly disposable income is lower among older people than for any other group apart from the young. Those aged 65 and over have an average income of €446 compared to €790 for those aged 25-49, €654 for 50-64-year-olds and €418 for 16-24-year-olds.

Over one-quarter of people over 50 rely on State benefits as their sole source of income, according to the studies.

Paul McGill of Cardi said the research showed that it made little sense to talk about “older people” as though they were all the same. “There are major differences between the rich and poor and the gap has grown bigger in the last few years. The evidence shows that it is a myth that older people as a group have been protected from the recession.” He pointed out that the average income of the poorest fifth of pensioners has fallen by €24 a week in the past two years.

Between 2004 and 2011, the poorest older people saw their weekly incomes rise by €32 while those with the highest incomes had a rise of €255. However, from 2009 to 2011, the incomes of the poorest pensioners fell from €209 to €185 a week.

The reports point out that employees aged 60+ earn €10,000 less a year than earners in their peak years. The richest older people earn 14 times more from employment than the poorest. “The reports underline the importance of designing social and economic policies that address the root causes of inequality across the life course. Policies should also seek to protect those who are poorest and most vulnerable,” said Mr McGill.

Over the past decade, one–quarter of older households have given financial or material gifts worth over €5,000 to their children.

In Northern Ireland, people aged 50 and over were estimated to have 35 per cent of total wealth, while those under 50 had 65 per cent. Existing data did not allow for a similar comparison in the Republic. Incomes in the North were lower, ranging from £280 for age 65+ to £494 for 25-49-year-olds. House ownership was at 63 per cent for those aged 65+.

Income inequality among older people was greater in the Republic than the North. Those on the highest incomes in the Republic earned 4.5 times that earned by the poorest 20 per cent, 3.8 times in 2004.

Information on wealth remains limited, according to the reports. “The lack of dates for Ireland, North and South, makes it impossible to make any judgment on the baby boomers and whether or not they have obtained ‘more than their fair share’.” Debates which pit one generation against another are “unhelpful”.

Over-50s represent 28 per cent of the population in the Republic, and 32 per cent in the North.