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The Future Is Social, Multigenerational, But Are We Addressing The Older Women's Crisis Adequately?

I was sent an invitation to the Bi Annual Older Women's Network Conference during the week and the excellent program got me thinking about how hidden the challenges facing this demographic continue to be.

For all the talk about technology and how it risks making our lives lonelier, there are also many initiatives that focus on measures and policies susceptible to creating a more connected and friendly community life. But are we really adequately addressing the crisis looming for older women?

Psychologists and social scientists contend that three conditions are necessary to form close bonds and real friendships:

(1) proximity,

(2) repeated unplanned interactions,

(3) environments that encourage people to trust each other and to confide in each other.

With this in mind, the current trend in real estate and community design is to counter the many projects that “gate” a homogeneous community—such as retirees—behind closed doors by redesigning the physical space in a way that favours interactivity.

Gated communities tend to exacerbate the growing generational and social divide that besets many rich countries and, therefore, fail to improve wellbeing at the societal level.

By contrast, mixing communities promotes sociability and instils a sense of “new life” for elderly people.

Multigenerational home-sharing or co-locating care homes with nurseries and schools is becoming an instrument of choice for creating a more connected and friendly community life.

Connection is critical to human wellness. We all need interaction with others.

Consider this: As we grow up, we make school, university and work friends. We meet neighbours and others who are involved in similar activities. Without knowing it, we become very focused on peers – who are usually a lot like us. But with the exception of families who are very intentional about multi-generational interaction (e.g. regular visits to the grandparents’/grandkids’ house), it isn’t extremely common in our current society to have intergenerational relationships. However, that should change.

As our population ages, there are many positive aspects to supporting intergenerational programs that make this a more common occurrence. From shared living spaces to social contact, a paradigm shift now can make the difference in the lives of people today and when we are all older. Because getting older will happen.

On the flip side of all the positive chatter about intergenerational opportunities there is a worrying social justice cloud looming:

We hear regularly that there is a cohort of baby boomers who don't have adequate superannuation to self fund retirement and women in particular, over 50, continue to be a demographic that is causing immediate concern as the scale of those impacted by Domestic and Family Violence and without jobs, funds or options puts some at risk of homelessness.

We are now in the throws of a generational crisis with older women, the new face of poverty and the fastest growing cohort amongst the homeless in Australia. Older women are also often excluded from the statistics of violence against women, and therefore remain hidden. Many older women are facing a future of economic uncertainty.

It will be interesting to watch how this also plays out in the workforce as baby boomers seek to work well beyond traditional retirement ages. Will companies support them and will ageism be truly addressed?

It’s a trend to watch…

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