In common with many western countries, Australia’s population is ageing.
This is typically shown by increases in both the number and proportion of older people.
But older people are not a homogenous group – they show a wide range of diversity with regard to their social and economic characteristics.
This blog will use the latest population data released by the ABS to look at characteristics of the older population in Australia, as well as their spatial distribution in South Australia.
Defining an older person
They say age is just a number and that it doesn’t necessarily match your mindset.
But from a statistical perspective, some definitions are required.
But in an era where life expectancy now exceeds 80 years, 65+ can cover a diverse range of people with regard to employment, health and living arrangements.
In 2019, a person aged 65 was born in 1954, and as a result, the cohort of older persons includes a growing number of baby boomers.
Their working lives and life opportunities have been very different from those born in the 1920s to early 1940s.
As such, it is more helpful to disaggregate the 65+ population into 65-74, 75-84 and 85+ cohorts.
Data from the 2016 Census (table below) shows us the variation in social and economic characteristics across these age cohorts.
Notably, a higher proportion of 65-74 year olds are employed, are married, and possess university qualifications (bachelor degree or higher).
With advancing age, people are more likely to live alone, there is a higher likelihood of widowhood, an need for assistance with core activities such as mobility.
The sex ratio (balance between males and females) declines sharply with age.
From the age of 85, there are 59 males for every 100 females, which is strongly influenced by different levels of life expectancy.
How many older people are there?
In 2019, there were 4.04 million persons aged 65 years and over in Australia, representing 15.9% of the population.
This compares to 2.89 million in 2009, or 13.3% of the population.
This means that the 65+ population has increased by almost 40% over the ten years, compared to 17% for the total population.
This clearly shows the impact of the ageing trend in Australia.
The table below shows the change in the disaggregated cohorts over this time period.
The largest increase was recorded in the 65-74 age cohort, whose numbers swelled by more than 736,500 over the ten years (47.6%).
As mentioned above, this includes the older baby boomers who are influencing the ageing trend as they grow older.
The 85+ cohort recorded a 40% increase over the ten years, and now number more than 500,000.
This not only reflects increases in life expectancy, but also a myriad of health measures that improve outcomes for the oldest members of our population.
At the same time however, the growing size of the 85+ population places pressure on our health system, particularly if funding levels fail to keep pace with ageing.
The lower percentage increase in 75-84 year olds partly reflects the smaller size of this cohort.
Born between 1935 and 1944, these people were born at a time of economic and social disruption, which had a negative influence on fertility rates.
What does the future hold? ABS population forecasts indicate that the 65+ population will continue to increase.
Series B, which is effectively their “middle” assumption, indicates that the 65+ population will reach 5 million in 2027 (17.6% of the population).
Although population growth has been impacted by COVID-19 border closures, most of the impact will be felt through a much lower level of net overseas migration.
Because overseas migrants tend to be younger, the impact on population ageing will be felt more through changes in the proportion of the population, rather than the total number.
This is because a lower level of international migration through COVID-19 border closures will increase the proportion of older people in the population as there are fewer younger people entering Australia.
At any rate, the scale of the impact will depend on how long Australia’s borders remain closed to large scale overseas migration.
South Australia has one of the older age profiles in Australia, making it a good case study for closer examination. In 2019, there were 328,160 persons aged 65+, representing 18.7% of the population.
There are 16 LGAs in South Australia were at least one-quarter of the population are aged 65+, headed by Victor Harbor, where 40% of the population fall into this age group.
The map below shows the proportion of the population aged 65+ for each LGA in South Australia.
In rural areas in particular, the proportion of older people is influenced by migration ie people moving in and out of an LGA.
For instance, in-migration of retirees, and out-migration of young adults.
These processes often operate in tandem, heavily influencing the age structure of a region.
This can be seen in South Australia, as many coastal and rural LGAs have a higher proportion of older people.
Aside from Victor Harbor, other LGAs on the Fleurieu Peninsula fall into this category eg Yankalilla (30.6%) and Alexandrina (30.3%).
The Fleurieu Peninsula is a popular retirement destination, with good proximity, as well as strong social and economic ties, to Adelaide.
The Councils of Yorke Peninsula (34.1%) and Barunga West (32.7%) are more distant from Adelaide, also have higher proportions of older people.
The Yorke Peninsula is popular with retirees, but both councils also have strong agricultural communities.
Their age structures are influenced by out-migration of young adults which exacerbates the ageing trend.
In contrast, most of Adelaide, as well as remote outback areas, have the lowest proportions of older people in the state.
This includes two sparsely populated Aboriginal Councils (Maralinga Tjarutja and Anangu Pitjantjartjara), where just 1.6% and 5.4% (respectively) of the population are aged 65+.
In addition, the mining community of Roxby Downs has just 3% of the population in the 65+ age group.
This is common in mining communities due to the large size of the workforce.
In Adelaide, the lowest proportions of the 65+ population are located in the outer north, including the growth area of Playford (12.1%), the peri-urban area of Light (14.3%), and the more established area of Salisbury (14.4%).
In common with other Australian cities, inner areas such as the City of Adelaide (13.5%) and Prospect (14.3%) had a lower proportion of older people.
At the other end of the scale, the Adelaide LGA with the highest proportion of older people was Holdfast Bay (24.5%), an established area located in the western suburbs.
Australia has an ageing population, with more than 4 million persons (15.9%) aged 65 years and over at 2019.
But older persons are a diverse cohort, and therefore should not be treated as a homogenous group.
For instance, increasing age is associated with an increasing need for assistance with core activities, a higher likelihood of widowhood, and living alone.
The cohort of 65-74 year olds now includes older baby boomers, contributing to the faster rate of growth amongst the older population.
South Australia was used as a case study for showing which LGAs have a higher proportion of older people.
The highest proportions were found in coastal LGAs that attract retirees, and some rural communities.
On the other hand, remote outback communities and parts of Adelaide have lower proportions of older people in their population.
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