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The double burden of poverty and marital loss on the mental health of older Australian women; a longitudinal regression analysis using 17 annual waves of the HILDA cohort

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Abstract

Purpose

Compared to men, older women have poorer mental health and are more vulnerable to poverty, especially when living alone. However, few studies have examined how gender, marital status and poverty are inter-related and are associated with mental health. This study examines the gendered associations between relative poverty, marital status and mental health in older Australians.

Methods

Drawing on 17 waves of the HILDA Survey, fixed-effects longitudinal regression analysis was utilised to examine the association between: (1) relative poverty (< 50% median household income) and mental health (MHI-5); (2) marital status and poverty, in a cohort of Australians aged 65 + years. We then examined effect modification of the association between relative poverty and mental health by marital status.

Results

Within-person associations, stratified by gender, showed that women in relative poverty reported poorer mental health than when not in relative poverty, however no association was observed for men. Being divorced/separated was associated with increased odds of relative poverty for women, but not men. Widowhood was strongly associated with relative poverty in women, and also among men, albeit a smaller estimate was observed for men. There was no evidence of effect modification of the relationship between relative poverty and mental health by marital status for either men or women.

Conclusion

This study provides evidence that relative poverty is a major determinant of mental health in older Australian women. Addressing gender inequities in lifetime savings, as well as in division of acquired wealth post marital loss, may help reduce these disparities.

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Notes

  1. The cohort in question were selected based on having already reached 65 years of age or more in 2001 or having turned 65 in the HILDA wave years 2001 to 2017.

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Correspondence to Jennifer L. Ervin.

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Allison Milner: We honour the memory of beloved co-author Associate Professor Allison Milner whose intellect, quirk, drive and vitality will never be forgotten.

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Ervin, J.L., Milner, A., Kavanagh, A.M. et al. The double burden of poverty and marital loss on the mental health of older Australian women; a longitudinal regression analysis using 17 annual waves of the HILDA cohort. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 56, 1059–1068 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-020-02019-z

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