Population ageing is a phenomenon common to many developed countries. While Australia's total population may continue to grow, the changing distribution results in smaller proportions at younger ages and larger proportions at older ages. The long term drivers of population ageing are sustained low fertility rates and declining mortality rates (leading to increasing life expectancy).
Over the past 20 years, Australia's total fertility rate fell from 1.9 children per woman in 1983 to 1.8 children per woman in 2003. Over this period life expectancy at birth improved by 6 years for males, to 78 years, and 4 years for females, to 83 years. Longer term trends indicate that fertility has declined from a peak of 3.6 babies per woman in 1961, and has been below replacement level (2.1 babies per woman) since 1976. Life expectancy has shown continued improvement throughout Australia's history.
Sustained low fertility levels and increasing life expectancy have resulted in an increase in the proportion of all age groups above 40 years between 1954 and 2004 (graph 5.7). In 2004, these age groups also included the majority of the 'baby boomers' (persons born in the period 1946 to 1965). Conversely, there has been a decrease in the proportion of most age groups under 40 years. A result of these changes is that the median age (the age at which half the population is older and half is younger) has increased. Over the last two decades, median age increased by 5.9 years from 30.5 years in 1984 to 36.4 years in 2004.
In the future, population ageing is expected to have impacts on the size of the Australian labour force, and to increase the financial commitment of the Australian economy to support the aged. As Australia's population continues to age, the community faces the challenge of providing policy, programs and services to meet the changing values, behaviours and attitudes of an older population.
The population aged under 15 years is decreasing in relation to the total population (graph 5.11). In 2004 this group made up 20% of Australia's population, a four percentage point decrease on the proportion in 1984. The decrease in the proportion of children is apparent in both males and females, and reflects low fertility levels in Australia. The decrease is more apparent when the under 15 age group is further split into 0-9 and 10-14 year age groups. In the 12 months to June 2004, an increase in the number of children aged 10-14 years (up 7,700) was offset by a decrease in the number of children aged 0-9 years (down 8,300).
In the 20 years to June 2004, the proportion of the adult population aged 15-64 years remained relatively stable, increasing from 66% to 67%, while the proportion of elderly - those aged 65 years and over - grew from 10% to 13% (graph 5.11). Historically, women experience a higher life expectancy than men, directly affecting the sex ratio at the older age groups. In 1984 the sex ratio of those aged 65 and over was 72 males to every 100 females. By 2004, this had increased to 81 males to every 100 females, indicating that life expectancy of males and females has been converging over the last two decades.
Population ageing is marked in the 85 years and over age group, and the difference in life expectancy for males and females is more apparent. Over the past two decades the number of people in this group increased by 114%, from under 1% in 1984 to 1.5% in 2004. By comparison, the total population increased by 29% over the same period. In 2004 there were more than twice as many females (203,500) as males (94,800) in this age group, a sex ratio of 47 males for every 100 females.
According to data from the United Nations (table 5.12), population ageing is most acute in developed countries - such as Italy, Japan and Greece - and less acute in developing countries - such as Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and the Philippines. In projections for 2005, the proportions in Australia's age structure are similar to those for Canada, New Zealand, the United States of America and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom. Like most developed countries, Australia experienced a higher median age, higher life expectancy and lower fertility in comparison to developing countries.
5.12 SUMMARY MEASURES OF POPULATION AGEING, Selected countries
Aged 60 years
|Papua New Guinea|
|United States of America|
|(a) United Nations medium variant projections.|
(b) Births per woman.
(c) Life expectancy at birth for males and females combined.
Source: United Nations Population Division, 'World population prospects: The 2004 revision', viewed 22/07/05, <http://www.un.org>.