Ageing in Australia

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Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.


Briefing Paper No. 12/2004 by Talina Drabsch

This paper explores some of the issues associated with ageing, in particular the ageing of the Australian population, at a national level and for New South Wales. Australia’s population is ageing as a result of increased life expectancies, declining fertility rates, lower mortality rates and the impact of migration levels. The economic effect of an older Australia is expected to be significant, particularly as greater demands are placed on the health and housing systems. Whilst it is acknowledged that people age at different rates depending on their lifestyle, biology and environment, this paper, unless otherwise stated, classifies older people as persons aged 65 years and over.

Section 2 (pp 13-24) acknowledges some of the economic concerns associated with an ageing population. The impact on government expenditure, particularly in relation to health and pensions, is noted. The economic contribution of older Australians is also identified with the value of unpaid work and their role as consumers discussed. Finally, this section examines some of the ways Australia can prepare for the impact of an ageing population.

The current rate of mature age workforce participation and the changes that have occurred over the last 20 years are measured in section 3 (pp 25-43). It highlights the main occupations and industries in which mature age workers are employed, as well as analysing issues of unemployment and under-employment. Some of the characteristics of mature age workers are identified, as are some of the avenues for improving the rate of mature age workforce participation. Finally, Australia’s retirement system and the trend of early retirement are discussed.

Section 4 (pp 44-50) examines the issue of age discrimination. All Australian states and territories introduced laws to prohibit age discrimination in the 1990s and the Commonwealth Parliament passed the Age Discrimination Act in 2004. Aspects of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) and the Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth) are discussed.

Issues associated with the lifestyle of older Australians are considered in section 5 (pp 51-62). The introduction of strategies by various governments to encourage healthy ageing is noted. This section also examines the leisure activities in which older people engage, both in the home and at various cultural venues. It highlights the extent to which older persons use computer technology, and embark on educational and travel opportunities. The key factors that hinder the involvement of some older people in leisure activities include income, transport and information. The living arrangements, mode of transport, and health issues of older Australians are discussed in this section.

Older people are more likely to provide care for others than to receive care. However, assistance may be required by some, particularly by persons aged 85 and over. Section 6 (pp 63-68) explores some of the options available to people, including community and residential care. This section also identifies some of the attempts to improve aged care in Australia.

Section 7 (pp 69-74) considers the experience of older persons as victims of crime, abuse and neglect. Whilst the risk of crime generally decreases with age, the role of fear of crime amongst the older community is acknowledged. The ageing of the prison population is noted, as are some of the issues associated with elderly inmates.