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Population Composition: Older overseas-born Australians
The ageing of the overseas-born
Immigration to Australia increased markedly in the second half of the 20th century, reaching its highest levels during the late 1960s and early 1970s, and peaking again in the late 1980s (see Australian Social Trends 2001, Coming to Australia). The number of older overseas-born Australians has recently increased as these post-war migrants, most of whom came to Australia as young adults, turn 65 years.1 In 1998, over three-quarters of the older overseas-born had arrived in Australia prior to 1971 and over one-quarter prior to 1951.
The present composition of the older overseas-born population reflects post-war migration flows, which were dominated by people born in the United Kingdom and European countries such as Italy and Greece. In 2000, the United Kingdom was the most common country of birth, accounting for 265,800 older overseas-born Australians, followed by Italy with 96,100 and Greece with 39,300.
With the exception of the United Kingdom, many individual country groups have not been greatly augmented by ongoing migration, and so tend to have high proportions of older people. For example, in 2000, close to half (45%) of those born in the Former USSR were aged 65 years and over. The populations born in Italy and Poland also had high proportions of older people (40% and 38% respectively).
Projections of the older overseas-born population suggest small changes in the most common countries of birth. In 2026, the United Kingdom, Italy and Greece are projected to continue to be the most common countries of birth. However, with higher numbers of migrants arriving from Eastern Asia in the 1980s (see Australian Social Trends 2001, Asian-born Australians), Viet Nam is projected to become the fourth most common country of birth of older overseas-born Australians by 2026, followed by China.2
MAIN COUNTRIES OF BIRTH OF OLDER AUSTRALIANS - 2000
Age and sex structure
In 2000, Australia’s overseas-born population had a higher proportion of older people than the Australian-born population (17% compared with 11%). However, within the older population, the age structure of the overseas-born was younger than that of the Australian-born, with a higher proportion aged 65-69 years and a lower proportion aged 85 years and over. This is because many of the overseas-born aged 85 years and over in 2000 arrived prior to 1951, when migration numbers were low.
Women formed a relatively low proportion of the older overseas-born population (52% compared with 58% for the older Australian-born population). There are two main reasons for this - the lower proportion of older overseas-born Australians aged 85 years and over (10% compared with 11% for the older Australian-born population), a group dominated by women because of their longer life expectancy; and the high proportion of men among post-war migrants.
AGE STRUCTURES OF OLDER AUSTRALIANS
Source: Migration, Australia, 1999-2000 (ABS cat. no. 3412.0) ; Gibson, D., Braun, P., Benham, C. and Mason, F. 2001, Projections of Older Immigrants: people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, 1996-2026, Australia. AIHW cat. no. 18., AIHW, Canberra.
While the number of older overseas-born Australians in each age group is projected to grow considerably by 2026, more rapid growth is expected among those aged 80 years and over. So, for example, the proportion of older overseas-born Australians aged 85 years and over is likely to increase from 10% in 2000 to 13% in 2026, while the proportion aged 65-69 years is likely to decrease from 32% to 26%. This ageing is largely because many migrants who arrived during the peak period of immigration to Australia (from the late 1960s to the early 1970s) and who were approaching 65 years of age in 2000, will be aged 85 years and over by 2026. To a lesser extent, this ageing is due to the impact of excluding migration from the projections, since the 'younger' age groups (65-74 years) are smaller in 2026 than if migration was included.
In contrast, the age structure of the older Australian-born population is projected to become younger by 2026. The higher proportion of this population aged 65-69 years (31%, compared with 27% in 2000) will result from the last of the post-war baby-boomers entering this age group.
OLDER OVERSEAS-BORN AUSTRALIANS - PRESENT AND FUTURE
Where do older overseas-born Australians live?
In 1996, New South Wales and Victoria had the largest concentrations of older overseas-born Australians (33% and 29% respectively). Both Victoria and Western Australia had higher proportions of the older overseas-born population than of the older Australian-born population (29% compared with 25% for Victoria, and 12% compared with 7% for Western Australia).
DISTRIBUTION OF OLDER AUSTRALIANS, SELECTED COUNTRIES OF BIRTH - 1996
Source: ABS 1996 Estimated Resident Population by Country of Birth.
Most States had high concentrations of older overseas-born Australians from specific countries. For example, 43% of older Australians born in Greece, 40% born in Italy and 37% born in Poland lived in Victoria. New South Wales had a very high concentration of older people born in China (57%). In South Australia, there were higher proportions of those born in the United Kingdom and Greece (both 13%) and Poland and Italy (both 12%) than of all older overseas-born Australians (10%). While Queensland had a relatively small proportion of older overseas-born Australians overall (13% compared with 19% of the older Australian-born population), over one-third (36%) of the older New Zealand-born lived there. Of older overseas-born Australians, the distribution of those born in the United Kingdom was most similar to that of older people born in Australia.
The older overseas-born population is more highly urbanised than older people born in Australia, with almost 80% living in capital cities in 1998, compared with 54% of the Australian-born. Those born in China and Greece were the most likely to live in capital cities (99% and 94% respectively), while those born in New Zealand were the least likely to live in the capital cities (58%).
PROPORTION OF OLDER AUSTRALIANS IN CAPITAL CITIES, SELECTED COUNTRIES OF BIRTH - 1998
(a) Excludes SARs and Taiwan Province.
(b) Total older overseas-born Australians.
Source: ABS 1998 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers.
Families are a major source of emotional and financial support. In Australia, most care for older people needing assistance is provided informally by family members, particularly partners and children. Living arrangements and the presence of family nearby thus has an impact on the level of support upon which older people can rely.
Despite the disrupting effect that immigration can have on families, by reducing the number of family members available to offer help, in 1998 older overseas-born Australians were more likely to be living with family members than those who were born in Australia (70% and 58% respectively).3 This is a reflection of the higher proportion of the older overseas-born who were married (60% compared with 53% of the Australian-born), along with lower proportions who were widowed (31% compared with 35%) and living alone (21% compared with 30%). Those born in Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republics were the most likely to be married (both around 75%) and to be living with family members (both over 80%).
SOCIAL AND HEALTH CHARACTERISTICS OF OLDER AUSTRALIANS - 1998
(b) Of those receiving assistance. More than one answer is possible, therefore components do not add to total.
Source: ABS 1998 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers.
Health and disability status
The health requirements placed on migrants as a condition of entry to Australia mean that, on the whole, the older overseas-born population enjoys good, if not better, health than their Australian-born counterparts.4 Older overseas-born Australians reported lower levels of disability (51% compared with 55%) and long-term health conditions (81% compared with 86%), according to the 1998 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers. While the figures in this article are crude rates, examination of age and sex standardised rates shows that the relatively young age profile of older overseas-born Australians does not account for the differences between the health status of this group and that of the older Australian-born.
Older people born in New Zealand and Italy were the most likely groups to have a disability. With 59% and 56% of these groups respectively having a disability, their disability rates were also higher than for those born in Australia. The New Zealand-born also had the highest proportion of all older populations (including the Australian-born) with a long-term health condition (89%). In comparison, those born in Germany had among the lowest rates of both disability and long-term health conditions (36% and 77% respectively).
The proportion of older overseas-born Australians with a need for assistance (40%) was similar to that of those born in Australia (39%), but variation existed between groups born in different countries. Those from countries such as Germany, which had low proportions with a disability or long-term health condition, were less likely to need assistance (25%). On the other hand, those from countries such as Italy, which had high proportions with a disability or long-term health condition, were more likely to need assistance (43%). Almost all older overseas-born Australians (95%) needing assistance received it.
Of those needing and receiving assistance (about 38% of both Australian and overseas- born older people), older overseas-born Australians were more likely to receive formal care than their Australian-born counterparts (87% compared with 82%). The reverse was true for informal care, with the Australian- born more likely to receive this type of care (63% compared with 52%). Of those receiving assistance, all of the Greece-born and almost all (95%) of the Poland and New Zealand- born received formal care. The Greece-born were also the most likely of all older people (including the Australian-born) to receive informal care (70%).
Proficiency in English
English language skills facilitate social integration and the ability to access services. Those who have limited proficiency in English may therefore experience restrictions in the number and types of services available to them.5
Participation in education and the labour force once in Australia help to develop English proficiency and maintain it throughout life. Consequently, those who have been here longer are likely to have a greater command of English. This was the case for all birthplace groups. Overall, of those who had been in Australia for up to 10 years at the 1996 Census, 56% were proficient in spoken English (i.e. spoke English well or very well, or spoke only English). This increased to 84% for those who had been in Australia for more than 10 years.
However, despite improvements over time, the differences in proficiency in spoken English between countries of birth do not disappear with longer periods of residence. For example, while the proficiency of those born in Greece increased from 19% for arrivals between 1986 and 1996 to 44% for those who arrived before 1986, the levels remained lower than those of people born in Italy (31% to 55%) and Germany (65% to 96%). The proficiency of those born in the former USSR increased the most, from 14% to 79%. In contrast, China-born arrivals between 1986 and 1996 had relatively low proficiency in English, at 10%, which rose to 33% for those who arrived before 1986.
PROFICIENCY IN SPOKEN ENGLISH OF OLDER OVERSEAS-BORN AUSTRALIANS(a)
(b) Includes those who spoke English well or very well, or spoke only English.
Source: ABS 1996 Census of Population and Housing.
1 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1999, Older People, Australia: A Social Report 1999, cat. no. 4109.0, ABS, Canberra.
2 Gibson, D., Braun, P., Benham, C. and Mason, F. 2001, Projections of Older Immigrants: people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, 1996-2026, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Canberra.
3 Benham, C. and Gibson, D. 2000, Independence in Ageing: the social and financial circumstances of older overseas-born Australians, Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Canberra.
4 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2000, Australia's Health 2000: the seventh biennial health report of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Canberra.
5 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1999, Standards for Statistics on Cultural and Language Diversity, cat. no. 1289.0, ABS, Canberra.