Why Women Become Completely Invisible After Age 49

by Natasha Rodriguez

Although the age of 49 does coincide with the generally accepted end of a woman’s child-bearing years, it does not signify the end of her life. So why do data collectors ignore older women?

In a world in which decisions are made by conferring with polls, it is appalling that women above the age of 49 are completely left out of the equation. Most international data, which includes metrics on health, employment, assets and domestic violence, collects information on people from the ages of 15 to 49.

According to experts, the limited age framework is due to a focus on women of reproductive age. But this completely overlooks the lives of women over 49—who account for nearly a quarter of the world’s population today—still possessing sexuality and dealing with violence, which are popular issues for data collectors. Although there are several advocacy groups who are currently lobbying for wider data collection, progress has been incredibly slow. This is perhaps due to the fact that it isn’t necessarily easy to collect data on older people. “It would take an extraordinary amount of money to deploy the resources and human capital needed to expand those surveys,” said Cailin Crockett, special assistant for gender policy and elder rights at the U.S. Department of Health.

It’s important that older women not get left out of studies. For example, research on gender-based violence in conflict zones ends at the age of 49 even though problems do not. Also, HIV prevalence data also currently stops at 49. “It’s crazy. How can we possibly think that we are going to have these global plans to eradicate HIV infection when we have this large group that isn’t even being surveyed?” asks Bethany Brown, the policy director at HelpAge USA.

Last month at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, Kate Bunting, the CEO of HelpAge USA, said there is a critical “need for data to make sure older women are not invisible anymore, to make older women count – and be sure they are counted.” As more exposure is shed on this serious issue, we hope that older women will cease to become invisible. 

Image via UToronto

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