There are around 100 residential aged care facilities in the Sydney north shore and beaches area. We have visited nearly half of these over the last two years to introduce our services and learn what makes each home unique. One of the questions we frequently ask is, how many centenarians there are in the facility. I am always astounded when they say three, four, or five.
Australian demographic changes are characterised by an ageing population. Several sources claim Australians have one of the longest life expectancy in the world. According to a United Nations Population Fund report, in 2012, Australia competes for first place with Hong Kong, Japan, Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland. The same report highlights Australian women have the fifth longest life expectancy after Japan, Spain, France, and Italy.
In simple terms, the ageing population is caused by two factors. First, Australian families are, on average, having fewer children. We have experienced declining birth rates since early 1970s, and birth rates have fallen below the replacement rate since the mid-1990s. Second, we are living longer. In 1960, life expectancy for Australian males at birth was around 68 years. Today, it is 78 years and is projected to increase by another 5 years by 2042.
Australia’s population is ageing, due to sustained low birth rates and increasing life expectancy. With fewer babies and more people living longer, inevitably, the population will get progressively older. This has resulted in proportionally fewer children (under 15) in the population and a proportionally larger increase in those aged 65 and over.
In the future, our society will look different from today. Simply, there will be an increasing number of older Australians. Until the 1950s, less than 5% of the population was over 65, and only a few lived longer than their seventies. The number of seniors around the world surged in the second half of the 20th century and is growing mainly because of better delivery and standards of health care. In first-world countries, life expectancy predictions and the senior population have increased consistently over the last 60 years.
Australian population growth 1972 â€“ 2055
The number of Australians aged 65 and over is expected to increase rapidly from around 1.1 million in 1972 to 10 million in 2055. That is from around 8% of the population to around 25%. By 2055, one in every four Australians will be older than 65!
For Australians aged 85 and over, the growth is even more rapid, from around 70,000 in 1972 to 1.8 million in 2055. Over the past two decades, the number of persons aged 85 years and over increased by over 150%, compared with a total population growth of 32% over the same period. In the year ending 30 June 2014, the number of people aged 85 years reached 456,500.
Even more staggering, over the past two decades, the number of centenarians increased by 263%. By 30 June 2014, the number of centenarians reached 5,000. There were almost four times as many females as males in this age group, which reflects higher life expectancy for females. In 2055, there are projected to be around 40,000 people aged 100 and over, well over three hundred times the 122 Australian centenarians in 1975.
The ageing population has important consequences for economic development, particularly concerning social welfare. One of the measurable issues is the number of working age people, compared with the number of people past retirement age. This is a measure, known as workforce participation. The number of people aged between 15 and 64 for every person aged 65 and over has fallen from 7.3 people in 1975 to about 4.5 people today. By 2055, this is projected to nearly halve again to 2.7 people. This has important implications for a society, where aged care has gravitated from the family to the government.