Women and Aging: Equity in the Wellbeing of Older Adults in Central Indiana

Blog post by Nicole R Koshy, S.M. Asger Ali, Jay T. Colbert, Karen F. Comer
May 16, 2024

The Polis Center   (Indianapolis)

A persistent socioeconomic gap between men and women has implications for their relative wellbeing as they age into retirement and beyond. Socioeconomic inequities established in adulthood carry over into old age. Women often require more assistance as they age yet face financial disadvantages that discourage them from seeking the care they need. This report explores the gender inequities that may contribute to disparities in physical, mental, and cognitive well-being and implications for long-term care needs.

Key findings include:

  • Socio-Economic Inequities: Women often enter retirement with lower incomes and fewer assets compared to men. Contributing factors include lower lifetime earnings and a higher likelihood of living alone. In Central Indiana, older women (age 65 and over) on average have less than 60 percent of the personal income of older men.
  • Racial Disparities Among Older Women: Among older women (age 65 and older), black women are more likely to live alone on average (42 percent for Black women, compared to 34 percent for white women) and to face poverty (17 percent for Black women versus 8 percent for white women). Additionally, Black women display the highest rates of self-care disabilities among older women and require more Medicaid assistance (24 percent on average compared to 18 percent for white women).
  • Health Disparities: Mental health issues such as depression and cognitive conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease are more prevalent in older females than older males. Conversely, older males are more vulnerable to life threatening chronic diseases2 like diabetes and cancer. In Central Indiana, older females (age 65 and over) are almost two times more likely on average to have depression (26.2 percent vs 14.5 percent for females versus males) and more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease compared to older males, while older males are more likely to be burdened with diabetes (23.5 percent vs 29.5 percent for females versus males) and to develop cancer.
  • Medicaid Reliance: By the age of 85, approximately 20 percent of women rely on Medicaid assistance, whereas the rate of Medicaid dependency among men remains relatively constant at around 10 percent beyond the age of 65.
  • Nursing Home Reliance: The number of older women residing in nursing homes rises sharply with age, reflecting a greater need for assistance. At the same time, and due to generally more limited financial resources, older women are more likely to rely on Medicaid, public insurance for low-income individuals, to pay for long-term care. In Central Indiana, older women are close to two times (4.7 percent versus 2.8 percent) more likely to reside in a nursing home than men and are increasingly more likely than men to rely on Medicaid for long-term care as they get older.