Source: The Weekend Australian, 16 August, 1997, (Australia Today: An 8-page special) p.4


 

Greying may put
society in the red

 
'Put simply, 
we are 
having 
fewer 
children 
and living 
longer' 
 
   JUST 4 per cent of the population 
was aged over 65 at the turn of the 
cen-tury. But 40 years into the new 
millennium the figure will have 
skyrocketed to more than 22 per 
cent. 
 
   These are the statistics behind 
what has become widely known as 
the "greying of the population'. 
 
   It is a demographic trend with 
profound policy implications in 
areas such as taxation, social security 
and health. 
 
   The subject of reports by 
governments, economic advisory 
bodies and organisations such as the 
World Bank, it is also behind recent 
changes to retirement incomes 
policy and aged-care reforms. 
 
   For while immediate concerns such 
as chronically high levels of 
unemployment dominate the 
political agenda, governments are all 
too aware that the changing age 
structure demands serious forward 
thinking. 
 
   The number of people aged more 
than 65 is expected to increase from 
2.15 million in 1995 to 5.48 million 
in 2041. This represents a rise in the 
proportion of over-65s from 12 per 
cent to 22 per cent of the population. 
 
   Similarly, the proportion of 
people aged over 85 will more than 
double, from 1.1 per cent today to 
about 3.5 per cent. 
 
   Two explanations for the trend are 
declining fertility and greater life 
expectancy. Put simply, we are 
having fewer children and living 
longer. 
 
   Another big influence is 
immigration. The large number of 
migrants coming to Australia in the 
past 50 years, for example, is 
thought to have prevented our 
population from ageing more quickly 
than it has. 
 
   At the turn of the century Australia 
had a young age structure with 35 per 
cent of the population under 15 
(compared with 21 per cent today) 
and just 4 per cent over 65 (compared 
with 12 per cent). This is similar to 
the present age structure of Indone- 
sia, Malaysia and The Philippines. 
 
   There were big fluctuations over 
the next few decades. Declining 
mortality and fertility saw the median 
age rise from 22.5 at the turn of the 
century to a peak of 30.8 years in 
1946. 
 
   Much of this was caused by low 
birth rates through the Depression. 
 
   The trend was reversed in the post- 
war years with the high birth and 
immigration rates of the baby boom 
years forcing the median age back 
down to 27.5 years in 1971. 
 
   Low mortality and fertility rates 
have caused a gradual rise in the age 
profile of the population ever since, 
although the greatest impact will be 
five to 10 years after the turn of the 
century when many of the baby 
boomers reach retirement. 
 
   The impact of the ageing of the 
population is often expressed in 
terms of dependency rates-that is, 
the number of elderly and young 
children compared to the number of 
people of working age. 
 
   By 2041, for every 100 people of 
workforce age there will be 36 elderly 
people and 29 child depend-ants. 
 
   Overall the dependency ratio will 
increase from 50.3 per cent in 1995 
to 63.6 in 2041. 
 
   However there will be some 
variation among the States with 
South Australia having the oldest 
population and the Northern 
Territory the youngest. 
 
   Tasmania is predicted to overtake 
South Australia as the State with the 
oldest residents and by the middle of 
next century could have a median age 
of 50, between 5.3 and 8.7 years 
higher than the national average. 
 
   The Northern Territory on the other 
hand could have a median age up to 
seven years younger than the 
average. 
 
   But demographers warn Australia's 
population will age less quickly than 
many other countries. 
 
   Hong Kong, because of its very 
low birth rate, will have one of the 
oldest age structures in the world. By 
2050, 34 per cent of its population 
will be aged 65 and over. Half of its 
residents will be more than 53 years 
old. 
 
   On current trends, Italy, Japan, 
Germany and Greece will also have 
much higher proportions of older 
people than Australia. 
 
-MICHELLE GUNN


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