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Surviving the ‘new normal’
Exploring the opportunities and barriers to achieving sustainable income for women in their fifties

A combination of factors means that New Zealand women over 50 are disproportionately vulnerable to economic disadvantage. As a group, women over 50 already suffer from rapid decline in employment and earning capacity despite accumulated work experience and skills. Twice as many women than men are in part-time work in this age group (Statistics NZ, 2013). Unemployment rates for women in New Zealand are traditionally higher (Statistics, 2017) but the Covid-19 recession – aptly named ‘shecession’ will have significant consequences for women in this age group, many of whom are Maori, in part-time or ‘swing’ jobs which have evaporated due to cut backs and closures (Harudasani, 2020). This was evidenced by the news that 90% of job losses in New Zealand were women many of whom worked in the tourism and hospitality industries (Duff). Further, government stimulus packages aimed primarily at male dominated industries (Brettkelly, 2020) add to concern that the economic fallout of Covid-19 represents a backward step for women (Duff, 2020; Curtain, 2020). Currently 30% of all households are solo-parent households and this is projected to increase to 40% in the next ten or so years (Spoonley, 2020). Many women find themselves supporting their children well into their late 20s, and this is a reality severely compounded by Covid-19 (Spoonley, 2020). Women in this age group also increasingly provide care to aging parents often impacting their ability to work full time, adding further financial strain.

Using a Computer

We know that women receive less training while in employment, resulting in lower pay (Statistics NZ, 2012), and this combined with the slide into part-time and unstable work must impact their ability to keep pace with digital technology in ways that harm their future income opportunities. While we know little about the digital capacities of this group, research indicates that women over 50 may struggle to have the necessary digital capital to access sustainable work in the rapidly changing employment climate.

The economic disruption, rapid digitalisation of business, employment trends for women in this age group, along with financial and unpaid burdens of family care mean that they may face serious economic disadvantage in their remaining working lives, as they struggle to keep up with new digital technologies. This research will help to explore the idea of 'digital capital' (Park, 2017; Ragnetta, 2018) and what this might look like for women in this age group.

This research contributes to developing evaluative frameworks for assessing how digital capacities are, and could be, leveraged to improve the opportunities for economic well-being among women over 50.

We have finished interviewing women over 50 to hear their thoughts on how the Covid-19 pandemic and digital technologies have impacted and may impact their future opportunities for sustainable employment. Findings will shortly be available on our blog, website and academic publications.

For further information or to participate in this study please email

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