Ageing in place – design for wellbeing

Judith Davey


I have written quite a bit about housing in my blogs – using home equity to supplement retirement incomes; calling for a wider range of housing choices and the implications of more older people renting. But I have not delved far into detailed housing design issues.

So I was delighted last year to find three female PhD students in the School of Architecture at Victoria University who were interested in housing for older people. I have been doing my best to help and advise them and have been even more thrilled to see them presenting papers at conferences and publishing their work. With their agreement, I am using some of their findings in my next two blogs (one student has subsequently withdrawn).

One study looks in detail at older people with high care needs living in senior rental housing. This involved detailed documentation of the physical environment, followed by interviews with and observations of the residents and their caregivers. It identified design requirements which could improve quality of life, bearing in mind individual preferences and impairments.

Space for movement

Many older people with mobility problems require walking frames or trolleys to provide support, or hold onto walls and fixtures to keep their balance, when moving around indoors.

Conventional hinged doors, especially with different threshold levels, are difficult for people using these aids to manipulate. Sliding doors, that do not require much strength to open, are better. Doors take up valuable space even though they help to maintain privacy and retain heat. Movement could be eased by removing interior doors between lounges, kitchens, bathrooms and laundries.

Keeping the place tidy

This is important to help people feel that they are in control of their lives. To ensure that they can find things and put them away requires shelves within reach. The kitchens observed in local‐authority housing generally had cupboards/shelves that were impractical for their intended users.

Floor coverings which are easy to keep clean are important for people who are unsteady or whose hands shake.


As well as having an environment which is presentable for visitors, older people in the study had a better sense of control when they could see visitors coming. This might require a view of the doorway or driveway from their sitting space, especially for people who found getting up difficult. In this case they could remain seated, call out a greeting and an invitation to ‘come in.’


Privacy concerns are particularly important in grouped dwellings where many people pass by. Some residents shut their curtains because ‘people can easily look inside’. Windows need to be positioned to provide residents outside views, but limit views from the outside to the inside.

This is particularly important in cases where there are privacy needs related to incontinence, where toileting needs occur in the lounge as well as in the bedroom through the use of a commode, or other device.


Assistance with showering is the most common personal care requirement and the experience of showering has a high impact on quality of life. Many older people want to do as much as possible themselves during showering to keep their independence and privacy. Many pensioner rentals do not have accessible bathrooms, especially for wheelchair users or those reliant on walker frames. A lack of space, or inflexible design, makes it difficult for caregivers to assist as there is rarely enough space for two people in the bathroom. Keeping wet and dry spaces separate is difficult; wet-area showers can be problematic as water can spread over the floor, increasing the risk of falling. In particular, bathroom design may make this difficult when room for undressing, drying and dressing is inadequate. As one caregiver said:

”She leaves her walker out there [out of the bathroom], because there’s not a lot of space. … And once she’s dry we’ll bring her walker back through with her clothes, and squeeze in where we can and manoeuvre around that. … The clothes that we take off her or that we put back on her, she normally has them all on her walker. … we leave that out there because there just not really enough space, you know, with the water and everything”.

Many respondents wished to be out of sight of their caregivers when they didn’t need assistance. “He never let me in [the bathroom], he’s a bit shy.” Having grab handles, handrails and other fixtures that can be held by the older person with both hands increases their safety and thereby their independence and privacy.


Being warm is important when showering and drying. Running the hot water before people entered the shower or turning on a heater well ahead helped warm up an unheated bathroom. A caregiver said:

“I go to one man and he won’t have a shower and what they need is like a wall heater in the bathroom to maybe turn that on, get the room warm first and then they might consider going in the shower.”

I have often said that the greatest challenge for an ageing population in New Zealand is providing housing for older people with high care needs to live at home in the community – to “age in place.” Not to mention provision of the care services to go with the housing. There will be individual differences but the needs of independence and privacy, safety and comfort are basic to the quality of life for older people. Let’s hope that these research findings will resonate with designers and planners for the future.



  1. Yukiko Kuboshima, Jacqueline McIntosh and Geoff Thomas. (2017). Implications for the design of rental housing for the elderly that improves their quality of life. In M Schnabel (Ed.), 51st International Conference of the Architectural Science Association (pp. 783–792.). Wellington, New Zealand.
  2. Yukiko Kuboshima, Jacqueline McIntosh and Geoff Thomas. Bathroom Design for Assisted Showering that Improves the Quality of Life of the Elderly. (Under review for journal publication)
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Older people as entrepreneurs

Judith Davey

If we look at synonyms for “entrepreneur” we get words like “tycoon”, “magnate”, “mogul” and “capitalist”. As I said in my last blog, my definition is simply a person who starts up a new enterprise in the private sector, usually, but not always, with the goal of making money. Entrepreneurship comes very close to self-employment. Following the definition in the literature, I am looking at people aged 50 plus.

What are the motives of older entrepreneurs?

Writing in a book published in 2009, Rogoff talks about those who “have to” and those who “want to”. The former are people who find that labour market conditions or discrimination prevent them from getting the job they want as employees. An example would be an immigrant who may have been well qualified in her own country, but who is obliged to take up a low level position.

The “want to” group are moved by wishing to use their skills and abilities in the way they see them; to make a contribution to society and to maximise their work satisfaction. Entrepreneurship is also a way of keeping up a professional presence, knowledge and contacts.

Let’s look at these motivations in more detail.

Following the dream

This may be something which has arisen from their previous career. Or it may be a totally different idea which has come into their minds. An example would be an amateur chef who hopes to open a restaurant.

Managing family and time commitments

If people cannot get the employment conditions, or employment locations, which suit their circumstances, then self-employment, where they are in control of these conditions, may be the answer.

Being your own boss

For many people this arises from dissatisfaction in their previous work. Autonomy brings enjoyment and satisfaction and sometimes the ability to accomplish a political or social purpose – setting up social services, education or health care for a special social or ethnic group.

Downsides of entrepreneurship

Rogoff mentions some less positive aspects of entrepreneurship in later life. One is lack of time to fully develop a new enterprise – less time to recover any losses or to re-build a career if an enterprise does not work out. Older entrepreneurs may find it more difficult to adopt long-term development plans, especially if they still have dependants or if they intend to build up an enterprise and sell it on for profit. There are some ways of getting around these draw-backs, such as partnering with others, purchasing existing businesses or franchises.

Entrepreneurship usually requires capital, but this does not necessarily mean financial capital. Older people have often accumulated rich stores of human, social and cultural capital. In any case, financial requirements may not be large for many service enterprises- gardening, home and pet care.

I have been thinking about how these motives fit with my own experience. I have been an entrepreneur/self- employed (but never a mogul or a tycoon!) at three stages in my life:

  1. When I was in India during my “gap year” (although the term had not been invented then), I started up classes for children coming up to secondary education age who were going back to the UK. Most of them had had their primary education overseas and so were not familiar with pounds, shillings and pence or imperial weights and measures. They needed coaching for the transition or to cope with exams such as the “11 Plus”.
  2. At the time when I had my first child there was little in the way of child-care. So, with another woman in the same situation, I started a contract research business – we were “consultants” in the days before everybody was! We shared the work and the child-care and organised both to suit ourselves.
  3. When I left my full-time job at Victoria University I reverted to taking up research and policy analysis contracts as and when it suited me, avoiding overloading my time and avoiding too much administrative responsibility.


Future opportunities for later life entrepreneurs

Rogoff is optimistic about the future for older entrepreneurs. Rapidly developing technology has made business ownership and operation more accessible. A lot of work can be done on-line from one’s own home. A long career in a large company is no longer seen as ideal, or as secure. Small enterprises are more flexible and contribute more to job creation. Watch this space!




Rogoff, Edward (2009) The Issues and Opportunities of Entrepreneurship after Age 50. Chapter 6 in Czaja, S. and Sharit, J (editors) Aging and Work. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

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More older people are becoming self-employed


We have been hearing a lot about the ageing of the workforce recently. The topic will figure in Age Concern’s conference in April this year.  It is a particular area of research interest for me. In my blogs I have listed the pros and cons of “staying on” in the paid workforce; described the attitudes of employers; and given examples of adjustments that forward-looking employers are making to retain the wisdom and expertise of their older workers. I have also written about unpaid and caring work in later life, upon which many of our organisations and communities rely.

But there is a dimension to this debate which has received less attention.  Among the choices which people have as they contemplate work in later life – part-time, part-week or part-year employment; casual and seasonal work – there is also self-employment. A rather grander way of putting this would be entrepreneurship – setting up a business and working for yourself.

What better way to realise the potential of older workers and to capitalise on their lifelong experience and skills than for them to create enterprises of their own.

What do we know about the older self-employed in New Zealand?

A common definition of “older ” is men and women who started or who are considering starting a new enterprise after the age of 50. To me this sounds rather young, but 50 plus is an internationally recognised threshold. Many countries define older workers as aged 50 plus (not too nice to think about when your children are not too far off this threshold!).

The NZ Census does not have a work status category for entrepreneurs at any age – assuming the above definition of entrepreneurship. But there is some data on self-employment – a related concept.

According to Statistics NZ figures, there were nearly 162,000 people aged 50 plus who declared themselves as self-employed in 2014. This had risen from 139,000 in 2000. The majority of these are men, but the female numbers have been growing rapidly since 2000, so that now almost one in three older self-employed people are women (see table below).

50 plus self employed

Within the 50 plus age group, between 2000 and 2014, the numbers of self-employed men and women aged 50-54 decreased, but there was substantial growth in the 60-64 and 65 plus age groups (see graphs). The same was true for women, adding in the 55-59 age group, although the numbers were lower.

self emplyed graphs

This reminds me of something I read a long time ago. In 1980, Nick Zepke put forward a scenario for New Zealand of a compulsory retirement age of 45, after which people would become self-employed . They would be part of a small scale “household economy”. Perhaps I could use this idea in my own mental picture. The age should be 60. After this people could either teach the skills they had learned through their working lives or, with subsidies (in terms of management training and seed funding), start up new enterprises to contribute to the economy and create jobs. I think it is worth thinking about.

Next time I will follow this up, looking at why self-employment/entrepreneurship might be attractive to older people.




[1] Harpham, M., Wilkins, P. and Zepke, N. (1980) Picture of the Futures. Mallinson Rendel Publishers, Wellington. Harpham and Zepke were then on the staff of the Commission for the Future, which was abolished by the government in the late 1980s.

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More Older People will be renters – A trend we cannot ignore

Judith Davey


In December 2015 I critiqued a report entitled Homeless Baby Boomers. Since then housing problems have come to the fore and hardly a day goes by without a headline relating to the “housing crisis”. Often it is first home buyers who are seen to be suffering most. But here I want to look back to other research, which focused on older renters.

The rate of home ownership in New Zealand has been dropping since its peak in 1986, when 73.5% of households were owners, to 67% at the time of the 2006 census and 65% in 2013. And the rate is projected to fall even further in the future, even though homeownership is still somewhat higher among older people.

New Zealand housing policy from earliest times has emphasised the goal of home ownership, imparting it with moral value (ownership was claimed to produce responsible and stable citizenship). As a result, renting has been seen as second class; renters have been stigmatised and renting tenure is insecure.

Older people are especially vulnerable if their housing tenure is insecure and if their housing is cold and damp. Renters cannot easily adapt or modify their housing to deal with declining health and reduced mobility. Many surveys have shown that renting in New Zealand is associated with social and economic deprivation. It is the poorer people in any age group who are more likely to be renters. The implicit assumption has always been that NZ Superannuation will be sufficient to support a basic lifestyle provided that the recipients are home owners and have paid off their mortgages by the time they reach the age of eligibility. So falling home ownership and increased renting among older people should be a cause for concern.

Our report to the Department of Building and Housing in 2008 included the following findings.

• In 2006, there were 288,900 households where the reference person was 65 years old or older. Of these households, one in five was living in rented accommodation.

• 34,920 rented from private landlords (64%); 11,180 households from central government (20%); and 8,120 households from local authorities (15%).

• From 1996 to 2006 the number of older households renting from private landlords increased by nearly 30%. So this is the dominant tenure type for older renters.

• One person households were the predominant type of household among older renters, accounting for nearly two-thirds of such households. The majority of one person households were composed of women.

These figures have probably not changed greatly in the 2013 census and we await the 2018 figures.


But the projections to 2051, however tenuous, are concerning.

• By 2051 the number of households with a reference person 65 years or older is projected to increase to 820,000, of which 169,000 will be living in rented accommodation (21%).

• Between 2006 and 2051, the number of older renter households in the 65 to 74 age group is projected to more than double. In the 75 to 84 age group it will nearly triple. In the 85 and over age group numbers will grow nearly nine-fold, from 6,670 to 53,885.

• Numbers renting from private landlords will grow from 34,970 in 2006 to 112,260. Those renting from central government will increase by about the same amount, from 10,865 to 40,450. Renting from local authorities is projected to nearly double, to 16,130 households in in 2051.

These figures call for policies to increase the supply of affordable rental housing designed with older households in mind, particularly single (and female) tenants. Can the private sector be relied upon to do this? Concerns are frequently expressed about the quality of housing in this sector, with calls for independent “warrants of fitness.”.

In the past, local authorities received subsidies and low interest housing loans from central government, but both central and local government public rental stocks have been cut and there is considerable concern about the sale of pensioner rental housing and rent increases.

It seems there is a role for innovative private and public rental developments, with central and local government, private sector and ‘third sector’ (i.e. voluntary organisation) landlords working together.

Given growing numbers of very frail and disabled older people, rental housing providers of whatever sort need to recognise the need for home-based services and investment in appropriately designed housing , and also that housing needs interact closely with care needs. This means better integration of social support, health care and housing, and changing expectations, values and standards concerning the quality and appropriateness of housing. Innovative approaches to planning and design and increased engagement of users in the development of housing models and advocacy services are required for all sectors of the housing market. It is vital that the needs of renters are not obscured by the needs of majority home owners.


[1] Nana, Ganesh, Stokes, Fiona, Keeling, Sally, Davey, Judith and Glasgow, Kathy (2008) Older Renters 1996-2051: Trends, Projections, Issues and Challenges. NZiRA and BERL.

[1] The reference person is the Statistics New Zealand term for the person who completes the Census dwelling form.


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The Business of Ageing


Judith Davey

The Ministry of Social Development has published three reports entitled “The Business of Ageing: Realising the Economic Potential of Older People in New Zealand” in 2011, 2013 and 2015. Recently a 2017 update has appeared. These reports highlight  the positive side of ageing, or at least the economic contribution which older people can make. This comes in the form of workforce participation, tax-paying, acting as consumers and doing unpaid work.

The series of reports has tracked the growing economic contribution of New Zealanders aged 65 plus. It aims to influence the business sector to adapt to the ageing workforce, accommodation older people in or wishing to re-enter paid work, and to recognise the opportunities offered by a growing older consumer group.

Measurement is not easy in these areas, especially when attempting to make projections into the future and there is considerable uncertainty about the accuracy of the projections in their detail. Modelling uses Treasury’s Long Term Fiscal Model and progressive updates of Demographic and Labour Force Projections by Statistics NZ. In order to make comparisons over time, monetary values have been rebased to 2016 dollars. Technical details are available at the Ministry of Social Development’s Business of Ageing Website.

Results – Older people in the workforce

At present around 52 percent of men between the ages of 65 and 69 participate in the Labour Force and 62 percent of this group are likely to be in paid work, not necessarily full-time, by 2061. The comparable figures for women are 36 percent at present and 48 percent by 2061. By mid-century, nine percent of males over 80 and five percent of women over 80 are also likely to be working. This suggests some catch-up in female participation rates, bringing them closer to those for men.

The overall participation rate for people 65 plus is projected to rise slightly from around 24 percent (current) to around 25 percent by 2051-2061. This is a slowing down of the recent rate of increase, reflecting the movement of the “baby-boom bulge” through the population.

Value of paid and unpaid work

According to this set of projections, wage and salary earnings by older people are likely to rise from around $4.8 billion in 2016 to around $22.8 billion in 2061, a nearly 400% rise in 2016 dollars.

Remuneration from self-employment by older people is similarly likely to rise from around $1.7 billion in 2016 to around $8.1 billion in 2061, also nearly 400% up.

Income Tax paid by older people on remunerated work is projected to rise from around $1.0 billion in 2016 to around $4.6 billion in 2061. This does not take into account, however, tax on sources of income other than earnings, such as interest from bank deposits, other investments and government transfers (including NZ superannuation and GST).

The total value of all tax paid by older people is projected to rise from around $5.5 billion in 2016 to $25.1 billion in 2061,also getting on for 400%.

The value of the unpaid work is harder to assess, but a proxy value of $16.50 an hour was assumed (equal to the “carer’s wage). This showed an equally impressive rise from $11 billion at present to $47.5 billion in 2061. These figures suggest that the value of unpaid work done by older people exceeds the combined value of wages and salaries and income from self-employment, and that this difference will increase. The question arises, of course, of whether increased paid employment will result in a decrease in voluntary and caring work by older people.


The total value of expenditure by older people [inclusive of GST] is projected to rise from around $20.7 billion per year in 2016 to around $94 billion per year in 2061. This increase exceeds the total projected for tax paid.

On current patterns of expenditure, some 28 percent of this sum is expected to be spent on foodstuffs, alcohol and tobacco, clothing and footwear, and a further 22 percent on housing and housing related items. Health (11%), transport (13%) and recreation and culture (11%) constitute other important market segments.

We have already seen goods and services directed at older people beginning to be developed in the private sector. They include companion drivers (Driving Miss Daisy), personal services (Elder Care Matters) food delivery and assistive technology. Firms offering Super Gold Card discounts provide further examples. There are plenty of other opportunities for the forward-looking entrepreneur.

The same can be said for forward-looking employers, in the face of skills shortages. Rather than seeing an ageing population as a burden or a crisis, it can be the basis for economic enterprise. There is a role for government to ensure that barriers to such development are tackled and overcome.

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What kind of work were older people doing in the 1891-1921 period?


Judith Davey

The descriptions of the occupational categories used in the censuses contain what we would consider outdated or even quaint language. They began “embracing all persons….” And continued as shown on the table below –



Change in categories over time

Throughout the 1891-1921 period the leading male occupations were the same for workers 65 plus and all male workers- primary production, industrial and commercial work. These three accounted for around 90% of older male workers, so the graph for older male workers is about the same in 1891 and 1921.

workforce graphs

The growth of workers in transport and communications work is masked when they are included under commercial. From 1896 this was a separate category and the number of males aged 65 plus engaged in this work grew from 378 in 1896 to 1064 in 1921 (nearly 300%).  Over the same period, the total male workforce in transport and communications also grew substantially. I am thinking that this had to do with the era of railway-building. In 1880 there was 2000km of railway in New Zealand, three-quarters in the South Island. The main trunk railway, from Wellington to Auckland, was built between 1885 and 1908.

The primary producer category continued to lead for older men, but the proportion fell as did the proportion in industrial work.

There was more change in the female categories. Although domestic work was among the three most common categories in all years (with the same for the female workers 65 plus) the proportion of all women in domestic work fell from 46% to 30% while the proportion of older women remained the same. Commercial work was important for older women, probably in retail trade, but industrial work dropped for women 65 plus. Work in the primary section remained important for both older men and older women, probably they were working on farms and in horticulture on family enterprises.

females better


In trying to analyse these trends, we must remember the “indefinite” category, which I excluded in the above calculations. This stayed about the same (2-3%) over the period I examined for all males. It was higher for all working-age women, but fell from 7.5% in 1891 to 2.6% in 1916.

There are more questions about the 65 plus age group. If there was no old age pension until 1898, why were just over half of Pakeha women in New Zealand in 1891 classified as “indefinite” (anyone “living upon incomes awarded for services rendered at some previous period, or upon incomes the source of which is not perfectly defined) rather than being dependent? Are there social historians out there who could help? Moving into the 20th century the proportion of older women in the indefinite category continued to be well over 40%. There are some indications in these figures that the availability of a pension was making “retirement” more possible for older men and women in New Zealand as the country moved into the 20th century.

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More older people in paid work – is this anything new?

Judith Davey 12/01/18

We hear a lot about people staying on in paid work after the age of eligibility for New Zealand Superannuation (I get cross when I hear people talking about the “age of retirement” when there isn’t one!). Is this a good thing – for themselves, for the economy and for the nation as a whole? Well, I have written about this myself, see my blogs in mid-2015. The numbers of both men and women aged 65 plus who are in paid work have increased rapidly recently and this is expected to continue. But then I wonder – what about the past? What was the situation then?

I found some census figures from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with data on number of men and women in various occupations. Both sexes were quaintly divided into “breadwinners” and “non-breadwinners” or dependents (sic). No prizes for guessing the predominant sex composition of each category! These figures excluded Maori, and I have no way to correct that. I have added a footnote for those who would like to know more about early censuses in New Zealand.

Throughout the 1891-1911 period, females accounted for just under half of the European population. This grew to 50% in 1916 – probably because many men were abroad in the First World War. Females accounted for a smaller percentage of the 65 plus population, varying around 40%.

Non-breadwinners included “wives, relatives and others, if employed at all, in household and other pursuits for which payment is not usually made; also children and others being educated and persons supported by public or private charity or detained in penal institutions”.

How many older people were in the workforce then?

To approach this question you have to make a few assumptions, and so my answers can only be tentative.

• The occupation categories include one called “indefinite” which includes anyone “living upon incomes awarded for services rendered at some previous period, or upon incomes the source of which is not perfectly defined.” This would include people living on pensions, annuities or savings and not really in the workforce. So I have left this group out of my workforce category.

• To compare the proportion of people 65 plus in the workforce with the proportion of the total population, you have to make a stab at what could be called the “working age population”. I have taken this to be the 15-65 age group. There are young people in the 5-15 age group who are classified as working in the occupational groups. I am hoping that none of these were under about 13 (although I know my grandmother, born in 1882, went into “service” when she was 14).

• Just to remind you – there was no coverage of the Maori population.

Here are my results.

Percentage of males and females in the workforce, 1891-1921

Age groups 65 plus and 15-64 years


There is a very clear difference between the two age groups and between men and women workers. Males have much higher rates of participation, but the figures for men 65 plus are not far behind those for men in the general working age – 81% to 98% in 1891. In the same year 11% of women aged 65+ were in paid work and 25% of women in general (full table at end). So for older men certainly, a higher proportion were in paid work over the whole of this period than is the case now.

The graph lines diverge with time for both men and women. In 1921, still over 90% of working age men were in work, but for older men this had dropped to 70%. About a quarter of women were in the workforce throughout the period, but there was a drop for older women, down to 7% by 1921.

To explain these trends requires a look at the social and economic situation of early Pakeha New Zealand, along with retirement income provision . You may have some thought on explanations. I suggest that, in the mid-nineteenth century, European immigrants would mainly have been men well able to work and there would have been plenty for them to do. As the European population matured more people would have reached later life in the “colony”. The Pakeha population aged 65 plus had grown to 5% by 1921, for both sexes (from 2% in 1891). Sex role stereotypes were alive and well in the late 19th century and had not relaxed a great deal by the 1920s.

Next time I will go into the occupational breakdown by age and sex over the same historical period.


[1] The first general census in New Zealand was held in 1851, covering Europeans only (26,707) (information from the Encyclopaedia of NZ Vol.2, p.821-830). The 1877 Census Act called for censuses every 5 years. The first census of Maori was in 1857-1858 (56,049) but the results were uncertain and recorded only age, sex and subtribe. In 1926 a Maori census was taken in a more methodical way with a special schedule and Maori interpreters. The Maori schedule was dropped after 1945. Since then the census has covered everyone, with the same range of questions.

[2] In 1898, in a world first, New Zealand passed legislation to give a small means-tested pension from age 65 to people with few assets who were ‘of good moral character’.  Applicants had to have lived in New Zealand for the previous 25 years.

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