Incentivising Older People to Move House May Lead to Optimal Use of Housing Stock

Today, Tuesday 8th March,  the ESRI published “Housing and Ireland’s Older Population”, a new report investigating if the housing shortage in Ireland could be alleviated by incentivising residential mobility among older people who remain in houses that exceed their current requirements. In order to ascertain this, the study used data from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), drawing on information from more than 8,000 individuals aged 50 and above.

The research found very little evidence of housing mobility among older people in the period covered. In addition, the authors of this report found that a high proportion of older people living alone occupy small houses with four rooms or less, and so incentivising this group to move may have little impact on the availability of housing suitable for larger households. However, there is a reasonable proportion of older couples living in houses with seven or more rooms.

Commenting on the research, Alan Barrett, Director of the ESRI, stated “While the data show scope to achieve greater availability of housing through incentivising mobility of older people, any such policy should consider the potential for social isolation among older people who move to an unfamiliar area.”

Is housing under-utilised among older people?

  • The proportion of people living alone differs across age brackets. In the 50-59 age group, just under 20 percent of people live alone but in the 80+ age group, 63 percent of people live alone.
  • Among people living alone, 40 percent had no children and thus were not “empty nesters”.
  • In addition, people living alone tend to live in smaller houses, with 40.6% living in houses of four rooms or less.
  • Just 13.9 percent of people living alone live in houses of seven or more rooms.
  • At just over 30 percent, the proportion of couples living in houses with seven or more rooms is greater. This figure is just slightly lower than the proportion of older people that reside with children and/or granchildren living in houses of this size (36.4 percent).
  • 9 percent of people living alone were renting their accommodation.

Characteristics of older people who move house

  • Data drawn from participants first interviewed between 2009 and 2011 and again in 2012 showed little evidence of housing mobility, with just 3.1 percent of people moving house during this time. Of this figure, 2.7 percent of people moved between private dwellings and the remainder moved into institutional settings, such as a nursing home.
  • Those aged 50-59 and over 80 were more likely to move than those aged 60-69.
  • People born in Ireland were found to be less likely to move accommodation, as were older people who were co-residing with their children or had at least one child living in the same county.
  • Those who were separated/divorced or widowed were more likely to move relative to single people.
  • People who were retired, unemployed, sick/disabled or pursuing an education/training course were more likely to move than people in employment.
  • As this was a time of uncertainty in the housing market, it is difficult to ascertain whether low levels of movement were a result of economic conditions or if a low level of mobility among older people is common at all times.

When older people move house, do they move to smaller housing or away from urban centres?

  • Among older people who moved between private dwellings, there is little evidence of moves to smaller houses or away from urban centres.
  • There is little evidence of people living alone moving into a house with other people. In the group of people living alone pre-move, almost 90 per cent of them were still living alone post-move.
  • There is no evidence of people moving out of Dublin or other urban areas into rural areas.

Issue of Social Isolation

  • Economic benefits arising from increased housing mobility of older people should be offset against the cost to the wellbeing and social connectedness of people in later life. Moving out of familiar communities may increase the risk of social isolation.