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Study: Older Hawai‘i Women Are 57% More Likely to Live in Poverty

Posted June 17, 2017, 12:01 PM HST
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Dr. Colette Browne. Photo courtesy of University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

Findings in a new study released by the Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa show that older women in Hawai‘i are more likely to live in poverty and less likely to have assets or savings in retirement than their male counterparts.

Just over nine percent of older women in Hawai‘i currently live in poverty, compared with 5.8 percent of older men, according to the analysis. However, single older women in Hawai‘i were found to be three times more likely to be living in poverty than married older women.

The study also found differences according to ethnicity. Rates of pension coverage were shown to be highest among older Japanese women and lowest among older Filipinas. Rates of marriage also varied with Filipinas most likely to be married and Native Hawaiian women least likely.

The study is the first of its kind to closely examine economic standing among older adults in Hawai‘i by gender and ethnicity.

“Many of the economic challenges that older women experience stem from inequities that women face earlier in life, including a persistent wage gap, the high cost of childcare and a shortage of affordable housing,” said Dr. Colette Brown, professor in Social Policy at the School of Social Work and author of the study’s recommendations. “This builds up over the course of a lifetime and limits women’s ability to lay the foundation for economic security in retirement, especially for the many older single women living without a spouse.”

Dr. Brown’s report found that Social Security is the most common source of income for both older men and women in Hawai‘i, and is especially important for women. Nearly 40 percent of older Hawai‘i women’s annual income is from Social Security, compared with 29 percent of older men’s. Despite this gap, older women in Hawai‘i receive about 80 percent of the amount older men receive in Social Security benefits, according to the study ($12,000 versus $15,158).

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Older men were found to have greater access to pensions, retirement savings and asset income than older women. Almost half of older men receive income from a pension or retirement savings plan, compared with just over a third of older women in the Islands. For those women who do have a pension or retirement savings plan, their median annual income is roughly 60 percent of men’s ($12,596 compared with $21,344).

The report recommends that Hawaiʻi policymakers focus on strategies and programs that alleviate age, gender and race-based inequalities and poverty throughout people’s lifespans. Dr. Brown concluded that policies that support women with child and elder caregiving responsibilities like paid sick days, paid family leave and an affordable and secure long-term care funding mechanism could bolster women’s financial security through the course of their lives, especially in later years.

“Today’s younger woman is tomorrow’s older woman, so improving the economic status of older women in Hawaiʻi must start with addressing inequality at school, work and home,” said Browne. “But, we must also pay attention to the needs of older women today, and this means honoring women’s contributions to family and community, protecting Social Security and committing ourselves to funding for health and long-term care if and when disabilities occur.

The findings are presented in a paper by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work funded the analysis and authored the paper’s recommendations through the school’s Takasaki Endowment.

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