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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2006  
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Contents >> Population >> People in their 50s: then and now

People in their 50s: then and now

The proportion of 50–59 year olds that were divorced increased from 5% in 1981 to 13% in 2001.

People in their 50s are members of the group known as 'mature age people' (those aged 45–64 years). This group is identified as a population of significance in government policies which address the challenges posed by the ageing population. A comparison drawn between people in their 50s now and people in their 50s twenty years ago illustrates how the characteristics of this group have changed over time and sheds some light on the issues being faced by this group of people. At the start of the 21st century people in their 50s have significantly improved health outcomes and different living arrangements compared with people of the same age in 1981. The gap between women and men's educational attainment and incomes has narrowed – changes related to the increase in women's labour force participation over the period.

DEMOGRAPHIC CHARACTERISTICS

The 1981 Census of Population and Housing counted 1.5 million Australians aged 50–59 years, making up 10% of the population. In 2001, there were 2.2 million people in this age group, making up 12% of the population. The higher proportion of people in their 50s in 2001 was largely the result of the older members of the baby boomer cohort (those born from 1946 to 1965 inclusive) who began to enter this age group, and the declining fertility that followed the baby boom. The number of people aged 50–59 years is projected to be between 3.0 and 3.1 million in 2021, or 13% of Australia's projected population.(EndNote 1)

PERSONS AGED 50–59 YEARS: SELECTED INDICATORS — 1981 and 2001

1981
2001
%
%

Of the total population
10.2
11.8
Male
50.6
50.2
Living in a capital city
64.2
62.3
Born overseas
29.3
34.6
No religious affiliation(a)
8.1
13.2

'000
'000
Persons aged 50–59 years
1 477.6
2 219.2

(a) Answering the religion question is optional in the Census.

Source: ABS 1981 and 2001 Censuses of Population and Housing.

Data sources

Demographic characteristics are drawn from the 1981 and 2001 Censuses of Population and Housing. Overseas visitors have been excluded from the data. Some definitions and classifications have changed between 1981 and 2001. To enable comparison over time, unless otherwise stated, adjustments have been made to take account of these changes.

Mortality data are drawn from the ABS Deaths Collection. Employment data are from the monthly ABS Labour Force Survey. Income data are from the ABS 1982 Income and Housing Survey and ABS 2003–04 Survey of Income and Housing. Education data are from the ABS Labour Force Survey, February 1984 and the ABS 2005 Survey of Education and Work.

In 1981, almost two-thirds (64%) of 50–59 year olds lived in capital city Statistical Divisions (SDs), compared with 62% in 2001. Conversely, the rest of the population living in capital city SDs rose slightly from 1981 (63%) to 2001 (64%).

A smaller proportion of people aged 50–59 years in 1981 were born overseas, compared with people in this age group in 2001 (29% and 35% respectively). This increase in the proportion born overseas occurred as many people that migrated to Australia during the post-war period had entered their 50s by 2001 (see Australian Social Trends 2001, Coming to Australia; Australian Social Trends 2002, Older overseas-born Australians).

PERSONS AGED 50–59 YEARS: PROPORTION BORN OVERSEAS, Region of birth - 1981 and 2001
GRAPH:PERSONS AGED 50–59 YEARS: PROPORTION BORN OVERSEAS, Region of birth - 1981 and 2001



Although patterns of migration to Australia have changed over the years, Europe remains the major birthplace for overseas born people in their 50s. The UK/Ireland proportion stayed about the same (around 11% of all people aged 50–59 years) and the rest of Europe decreased from 15% in 1981 to 12% in 2001. The proportions of 50–59 year olds born in Asia and Oceania increased the most. In 1981, 1.4% of people in their 50s were born in Asia. In 2001 this had increased to 5.3%. The proportion of people born in Oceania in 1981 was 0.7%, compared with 2.2% in 2001.

The increase in the proportion of 50–59 year olds born in Oceania in 2001 was reflected in changes to the top six countries of birth. In 1981 these were: England; Italy; Scotland; Greece; Germany; and Poland. In 2001 New Zealand was in third place behind England and Italy, and ahead of Germany, Greece and Scotland. The New Zealand proportion increased by more than three times (from 0.6% to 2.6%).

Consistent with the increasing secularisation of Australian society there have been some shifts in the religious affiliations of 50–59 year olds over the past 20 years (see Australian Social Trends 2004, Religious affiliation and activity). In 1981, 8% reported having no religious affiliation. In 2001, this had increased to 13%. Christianity remained the main religious affiliation for people in this age group, although the proportion of Christians dropped from 90% in 1981
to 81% in 2001.



An ageing population

People in their 50s in 1981 were born between 1921–22 and 1930–31, before and during the Great Depression. People in their 50s in 2001 were born between 1941–42 and 1950–51, during World War II and in the early baby boomer years.

The ageing of Australia's population is a key policy area for all levels of government. As the population ages over the coming decades, a higher proportion of the population will be in retirement, and growth of the working age population will slow. This is likely to result in slowing economic growth and further increases in public expenditure, particularly in the health sector.(EndNote 2)

During recent years the Federal Government has released several strategic documents addressing the challenges associated with the ageing population. The National Strategy for an Ageing Australia (Department of Health and Aged Care, 2001) notes that a high priority across the life span will be good health and wellbeing. As the population ages there will be a change in patterns of disease and disability, with subsequent implications for health care. As well as those aged 65 years and over, mature age persons (those aged 45–64 years) are of interest, particularly in terms of health service availability and use. The ability, or otherwise, of people to fund their own health care will become increasingly important as the proportion of people of working age decreases.

One of the strategies identified by the Intergenerational Report (Department of Treasury, 2002) and Economic Implications of an Ageing Australia (Productivity Commission, 2005) is to encourage an increased participation of mature age people in the labour force.


LIFE EXPECTANCY

Health outcomes for people aged 50–59 years have improved significantly over the last two decades. Advances in medical treatments and drugs, and a reduction in some risk factors have contributed to people living longer (see Australian Social Trends 2006, Mortality trends of people aged 50 years and over). Life expectancy for men at age 50 in 1980–1982 was 75.1 years,(EndNote 3) and in 2002–2004 had increased to 80.6 years.(EndNote 4) Women at age 50 in 1980–1982 could expect to live to 80.7 years of age,(EndNote 3) and in 2002–2004 to 84.6 years.(EndNote 4) Although women at age 50 continue to have a greater life expectancy than men of the same age, the improvement in life expectancy for men over this period has been slightly greater than that of women.

Consistent with the increases in life expectancy were considerable decreases in death rates for both men and women. The death rate for men aged 50–59 years in 2004 (448 deaths per 100,000 population) was less than half (43%) the rate in 1981 (1,033 per 100,000 population). For women aged 50–59 years, the 2004 death rate of 272 per 100,000 population was just over half (55%) the death rate in 1981 (496).

The death rates for each of the five selected underlying causes of death decreased over this period. In 1981, these selected causes accounted for 94% of all causes, and in 2004 for 89%. The death rate for diseases of the circulatory system dropped by about three-quarters for both men and women aged 50–59 years (from 483 to 118 deaths per 100,000 population for men, and from 160 to 41 deaths per 100,000 population for women). Neoplasms (cancer) replaced diseases of the circulatory system as the leading selected cause of death, although the death rate for neoplasms also dropped, by just over one-third for men (from 306 to 195 deaths per 100,000) and by just over one-quarter for women (from 215 to 159 deaths per 100,000 population).

SELECTED UNDERLYING CAUSES OF DEATH: 50–59 YEARS DEATH RATES(a) — 1981 and 2004(b)
GRAPH: SELECTED UNDERLYING CAUSES OF DEATH: 50–59 YEARS DEATH RATES(a) — 1981 and 2004(b)



FAMILY CHARACTERISTICS

The living arrangements and family characteristics of Australians have been changing over the last few decades (see Australian Social Trends 2003, Changing families). The changes with particular impact for the 50–59 year population group are decreases in the proportion of those living as partners in couple families with children and the propensity for their older children to stay at home longer.

In 1981 a larger proportion of people aged 50–59 years lived in a couple family with children (43%) compared with people in this age group in 2001 (35%). Conversely there was an increase in the proportion of 50–59 year olds who had children aged 25 years and over living with them, from 9% to 14%.

Associated with the decrease in those living as partners in couple families with children was a two and a half times increase in the proportion of divorced 50–59 year olds – from 5% in 1981 to 13% in 2001. The proportion married decreased from 79% in 1981 to 72% in 2001.

Women in their 50s in 2001 had, on average, given birth to fewer children than their counterparts in 1981. Women aged 50–59 years in 2001 averaged 2.4 babies each, compared with 2.9 babies for women aged 50–59 years in 1981.

Most informal care of older people or people with disabilities is provided by family (see Australian Social Trends 2005, Carers). In 2003, 21% of people aged 50–59 years were carers.(EndNote 5) Almost one-quarter of those providing care (5% of all 50–59 year olds) were the primary carer of a person limited in daily activities such as walking, dressing or communicating. Most often the primary carer was caring for a family member in the same household.

HOUSING

There was a ten percentage point reduction in the proportion of people aged 50–59 living in owner without mortgage households from 1982 (56%) to 2003–04 (46%). This change corresponded with an increase in the proportion of 50–59 year olds that were living in owner with a mortgage households, from 28% in 1982 to 38% in 2003–04.

The average house size (in terms of number of bedrooms) occupied by 50–59 year olds increased from an average of 2.9 bedrooms in 1981 to 3.2 in 2001. Over the same period the average number of people living in these dwellings decreased from 3.0 to 2.7.

PERSONS AGED 50–59 YEARS: SELECTED LIVING ARRANGEMENTS(a) — 1981 and 2001

1981
2001
%
%

Partner in a couple family without children
33.1
35.7
Partner in a couple family with children of any age
43.0
35.1
With at least one child under 15 years
14.5
8.2
With children 15 years and over only
28.5
26.9
Lone parents
5.6
5.3
With at least one child under 15 years
1.6
0.9
With children 15 years and over only
4.0
4.4
Lone person
9.8
11.1

(a) Includes private dwellings only. The scope for private dwellings in 2001 was broader than in 1981.

Source: ABS 1981 and 2001 Census of Population and Housing.


EDUCATION AND TRAINING

Over the last few decades the Australian population has become more qualified (see Australian Social Trends 1999, Educational profile of Australians). The proportion of 50–59 year olds with a non-school qualification increased from 33% in 1984 to 52% in 2005.

A narrowing of the gap between men's and women's educational achievement has also occurred (see Australian Social Trends 1994, Gender differences in higher education). From 1984 to 2005 the proportion of 50–59 year old women with a bachelor degree or above as their highest non-school qualification increased by more than five and a half times (from 3% to 17%). The proportion of men with this qualification increased by almost three times
(from 7% to 20%).


MALES AND FEMALES AGED 50–59 YEARS: LEVEL OF HIGHEST NON-SCHOOL QUALIFICATION(a) — 1984 and 2005
GRAPH:MALES AND FEMALES AGED 50–59 YEARS: LEVEL OF HIGHEST NON-SCHOOL QUALIFICATION(a) — 1984 and 2005



WORKING LIFE

As people are living longer, there may be a need for them to work longer in order to provide adequately for a comfortable retirement. Employers may therefore need to become more flexible and open to hiring and retaining older workers.(EndNote 2) The proportion of mature age people in the labour force has increased over the past two decades (see Australian Social Trends 2004, Mature age workers).

Participation in the labour force for people aged 50–59 years increased from 61% in 1984 to 71% in 2004. This was the result of women's participation increasing from 37% in 1984 to 62% in 2004. Men's participation decreased slightly from 83% to 80%. The 50s age groups are a time of transition to retirement for many people, and the participation rates for men and women decreased steadily between the ages 50 and 59 years in both 1984 and 2004.

MALES AND FEMALES AGED 50–59 YEARS: LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION RATE(a) — 1984 and 2004
GRAPH:MALES AND FEMALES AGED 50–59 YEARS: LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION RATE(a) — 1984 and 2004



In 1984, the unemployment rate for 50–59 year olds was 5% and in 2004 the figure was at 3%. Although this represents a decrease between the two points in time, unemployment levels have fluctuated with the economic cycle over the decades. The decrease in the unemployment rate was greatest for men, from 6% in 1984 to 4% in 2004. The unemployment rate for women decreased from 4% in 1984 to 3% in 2004.

The proportion of 50–59 year old unemployed men who were long-term unemployed (for a period of 52 weeks or more since last full-time job) decreased from 49% in 1984 to 42% in 2004.

In 1984, the proportion of 50–59 year olds in the labour force that were employed part-time was 15%. By 2004 the proportion had risen to 24%. This was driven in part by the increase in men working part-time – from 4% of those in the labour force in 1984 to 10% in 2004. For women in the labour force, the proportion working part-time was similar in each period (41% and 42% respectively).

The prevalence of people in their 50s working part-time increased with age and was particularly evident in 2004. The proportion of men in the labour force employed part-time more than doubled from 8% for 50 year olds to 17% for 59 year olds. For women in 2004, part-time employment increased from 39% at age 50 years to 49% at age 59 years.

MALES AND FEMALES AGED 50–59 YEARS IN THE LABOUR FORCE: PART-TIME EMPLOYED(a) — 1984 and 2004
GRAPH:MALES AND FEMALES AGED 50–59 YEARS IN THE LABOUR FORCE: PART-TIME EMPLOYED(a) — 1984 and 2004



There was a reduction in the proportion of 50–59 year olds in the labour force that were employed full-time from 1984 (80%) to 2004 (73%). This was partly due to a decrease in the proportion of men employed full-time,from 90% (1984) to 86% (2004). For women the proportion was similar in each period (56% and 55%).

The main industry of employment for 50–59 year old employed men in both 1984 and 2004 was Manufacturing. The proportion of men employed in this industry decreased from 21% in 1984 to 15% in 2004. Health and Community Services remained the main industry of employment for employed women. The proportion of women employed in this industry rose from 18% to 23% between 1984 and 2004.

EMPLOYED MALES AND FEMALES AGED 50–59 YEARS IN SELECTED INDUSTRIES — 1984 and 2004

1984(a)
2004(b)
%
%

Males
Manufacturing
21.1
15.2
Construction
8.2
11.6
Property & Business Services
5.0
11.5
Retail Trade
8.0
8.9
Transport & Storage
8.1
7.7
Females
Health & Community Services
17.9
23.0
Education
13.9
16.0
Retail Trade
15.2
11.5
Property & Business Services
6.8
10.5
Manufacturing
12.2
7.1

(a) Data are for November.
(b) Annual average.

Source: ABS Labour Force Survey.


INCOME

Changes in the workforce over the past two decades, particularly the increase in women's participation, have also contributed to changes in personal income for men and women aged 50–59 years. These changes have narrowed the gap between 50–59 year old women's and men's personal incomes. One commonly used measure of the distribution of income between the sexes is the proportion of women and men in each personal income quintile. In both 1982 and 2003–04, women were more heavily concentrated in the two lowest quintiles, while men were more heavily concentrated in the two highest quintiles. However, the male-female differences were considerably less in 2003–04 than in 1982. In 1982 nearly two-thirds (65%) of women were in the lowest two personal income quintiles in the population aged 50–59 years, compared with around half (52%) in 2003–04.

The trends in labour force participation for men and women aged 50–59 years are also reflected in changes in the main sources of income for persons aged 50–59 years. The proportion of women whose principal source of income was employment earnings increased from just over a third in 1982 (35%) to over half in 2003–04 (53%). The proportion of men whose principal source of income was employment earnings decreased from 80% in 1982 to 70% in 2003–04.

The proportion of men who had a government allowance as their principal source of income increased from 10% in 1982 to 17% in 2003–04. The majority (64%) of the 50–59 year old men who had a government allowance as their main source of income in 2003–04 were in receipt of the Disability Support Pension. The proportion of women who had a government allowance as their main source of income decreased slightly from 1982 (28%) to 2003–04 (26%).

PROPORTION OF MALES AND FEMALES AGED 50–59 IN PERSONAL INCOME QUINTILES(a) — 1982 and 2003–04
GRAPH:PROPORTION OF MALES AND FEMALES AGED 50–59 IN PERSONAL INCOME QUINTILES(a) — 1982 and 2003–04



A household's capacity to purchase goods and services is best measured by analysis of changes in real median equivalised disposable household income over time. However, disposable income is not available for 1982, only gross income. Ignoring the effects of changes in taxation rates, household incomes for 50–59 year olds, as for Australians overall, have risen considerably over recent decades. The real median equivalised gross household income per week for 50–59 year olds increased by almost $90 a week, from $574 in 1982 to $661 in 2003–04.

People in their 50s are entering their pre-retirement years, a time of planning for retirement and consolidation of wealth (see Australian Social Trends 2006, Distribution of household wealth). As the population ages, increasing importance is being placed on the provision of retirement income through superannuation. The proportion of 50–59 year olds not in the labour force with superannuation as their principal source of household income doubled over the past twenty years from 4% in 1982 to 8% in 2003–04.


Income data

Income analysis in this article uses the ABS 2003–04 Survey of Income and Housing, which ran for the financial year, and the ABS 1982 Income and Housing Survey, which ran from September to December. 1982 data may therefore be affected by seasonality.

All 1982 dollar figures have been CPI adjusted to 2003–04 dollars.

Equivalised gross household income is household income adjusted on the basis of the household's size and composition. The equivalised amount is adjusted to be comparable to the income of a lone person. Household income is used in recognition of the sharing of income between partners in a couple relationship, parents and dependent children, and to a lesser degree sharing between other members of the household. Even where there is no transfer of income, members of a household are likely to benefit from the economies of scale that arise from the sharing of dwellings. For more information see Measures of Australia's Progress 2006 (ABS cat. no. 1370.0).

Personal incomes

Included in this analysis are the personal incomes of women and men aged 50–59 years.

Personal income is current gross weekly income, including income from employment, self-employment, rents and investments, child support, private transfers and government pensions and allowances. Negative incomes, which were only collected in 2003–04, are set to zero.

Income quintiles are formed by ranking all persons in ascending order by level of income, and then dividing them into five groups, each containing 20% of people in the population.

ENDNOTES
    1 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Population Projections, Australia, 2004 (Series A and C) cat. no. 3222.0, ABS, Canberra.
    2 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development 2005, Ageing and Employment Policies Australia, OECD Publishing, Paris.
    3 Office of the Australian Government Actuary 1985, Australian Life Tables 19801982, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.
    4 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2005, Deaths, Australia, 2004, cat. no. 3302.0, ABS, Canberra.
    5 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2003 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers.



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