More than 10 million older adults face the threat of hunger in the U.S., about 15.8% of the population age 60 and older; a 65% increase in the past 10 years. Ohio has a particularly high number of food insecure older adults. Food insecurity among seniors will increase in the future because the population of seniors and the percentage of seniors retiring without adequate savings are increasing steadily. A small but growing number of studies have investigated the causes of food insecurity in older age, and financial, demographic, housing, and social characteristics play a key role for food insecurity in older age, besides health problems. I recently conducted a literature review of research studies that assessed food insecurity in older age, and would like to share some of the findings.
Financial problems are considered a key cause of food insecurity. Food insecurity tends to be higher among seniors with low income and with social security pension income only. Food insecurity is also related to prescription costs, which starts to affect food security when people take three or more prescription drugs. In contrast, reports of financial support, cash transfers to older adults, for example through public pension payments, have been associated with lower food insecurity.
Demographic groups that are more strongly affected by food insecurity tend to be women, minorities, younger aged seniors, and those with lower educational attainment. In contrast, higher education attainment, older-old age, and living in a partnership have been associated with lower food insecurity.
With regard to housing, food insecurity tends to be higher among seniors who do not own a home, do not have access to public housing, live in areas with limited public transportation, and live in larger households with more household members. In contrast, lower food insecurity has been associated with neighborhood walkability.
A number of social factors have been connected to higher food insecurity, and include the perception of being worse off than others within community, experiencing social isolation by having to eat alone, for example.
Taken together, these research studies provide us with a deep understanding of the financial, demographic, housing, and social characteristics of food insecurity in older age. However, from a financial education perspective, a number of questions remain unanswered: Can better financial management skill reduce food insecurity in older age? Are financial education programs and credit counseling services able to assist older adults in making ends meet? Are adult children aware of their aging parents’ financial problems that may lead to food insecurity? I hope to provide answers to these questions with data that I collected in in-depth interviews and surveys of older adults, and expect to share a paper with findings over the summer.