Elderly Women Can Find Life Hard in Rural Areas Isolation, Sparse Social Services Magnify Problems

By Christopher Wills Of the | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 30, 1995 | Go to article overview

Elderly Women Can Find Life Hard in Rural Areas Isolation, Sparse Social Services Magnify Problems


Christopher Wills Of the, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


At 76, her eyesight failing and breath stolen by an infection, Bernadine Smith does not leave her home anymore. She depends on others to keep her going.

"I have a girl who bathes me, and someone who checks my oxygen tank, and meals, and someone who helps with the housecleaning," Smith said. "Without all this, I would probably lose my mind."

That kind of help, however, is unavailable for many older women living in rural areas.

They outlive their husbands and see their children move away. They live in small towns with no home-delivered meal service, or out in the country where the van offering rides to the doctor does not visit. They live alone, on small pensions.

"I think this is a population that is being ignored," said Lucinda Beier, director of the Applied Social Research Unit at Illinois State University.

Beier has conducted a survey of older, rural women in Illinois and found serious problems for many.

"What I saw was that the quality of life for older men is different from older women," Beier said. "Older women tend to live alone more than older men, and they're poorer than older men."

About half the women responding to her survey had been widowed, compared with only 9 percent of men. And 58 percent of women reported living alone; only 14 percent of men were on their own.

On average, women's retirement income is half that of men's, according to state figures, and 14 percent of women over 65 live in poverty, compared with 8 percent of men. …

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