This research aimed to understand more fully the phenomenon of downsizing in the Australian context including: the extent of downsizing amongst older Australians; who downsizes and why; and what is involved in the process.
The context of this research is the ageing population in Australia and its implications for housing and urban development. Ageing in place is a key policy response to population ageing, but this begs the question: ageing in what kind of place? It is well established that a significant majority of older Australians live in detached suburban dwellings of three or more bedrooms which are often regarded by policy-makers as under-utilised. Much urban policy is premised on the assumption that an ageing population will require more diverse (implying smaller) housing stock into which older people will (or should) downsize. However, little is known about older people’s downsizing behaviours.
The broad aim of this research was to understand more fully the phenomenon of downsizing in the Australian context including: the extent of downsizing amongst older Australians; who downsizes and why; what is involved in the process; what are the outcomes; what obstacles discourage downsizing; and what policies could facilitate downsizing where appropriate and desired by older people.
This project accepts a broad definition of downsizing which encompasses a decrease in dwelling size (i.e. number of rooms and/or spatial dimensions), and/or garden/yard area), and/or monetary value. However, for practical purposes a reduction in the number of bedrooms is used as a proxy for downsizing in analysing ABS and other survey data.
For the purposes of this study, older people are regarded as those aged 50 years or over, in order to capture the pre-retirement cohort who may be making decisions about their housing futures. ‘Older Downsizers’ are therefore those who have moved to a dwelling with fewer bedrooms since turning 50 years of age. Another category, ‘Other Movers’ are those who changed their dwelling without reducing the number of bedrooms. Both homeowners and tenants are included in the study, along with residents of retirement villages under loan/lease tenure.
Approach and methods
The research is approached from a person–environment theory perspective. The following methods were used in the study:
- A systematic literature review, reported in the Positioning Paper.
- Analysis of relevant data from the ABS Census of Population and Housing (ABS Census) for the years 2001, 2006 and 2011, and the 2003 and 2009 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC).
- A national questionnaire survey of 2819 older people who had moved since turning 50 years of age, distributed with the seniors magazine 50 Something.
- In-depth interviews with 60 survey respondents, 20 each in New South Wales (NSW), Victoria and South Australia (SA).
- Three Policy Forums using the World Café method in NSW, Victoria and SA.
The AHURI questionnaire survey did not attempt to collect data on older people who had not moved since turning 50. Hence, demographic comparisons with the population of older non-movers was not possible.