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Newsletters - Age Matters - Issue Number 10, December 2004


Welcome to the final issue of Age Matters for 2004. It has been a busy year for the National Ageing Statistical Unit (NASU) with the main highlights including:
  • an article for Australian Social Trend 2004, 'Mature age workers' (cat. no. 4102.0);
  • presentations and conference paper for the Australian Population Association and Australian Association of Gerontology Conferences; and
  • release of the first three mature age persons statistical profile (cat no.4905.0.55.001).

Building on the information paper developed last year, another main highlight for NASU, has been the drafting of an Information Development Plan (IDP) for the improvement of the quality, coverage and use of ageing-related statistics. Further details on the IDP are provided within this newsletter.

I am sure you will find the information contained in this issue useful reading over the holiday period, including: labour force characteristics of mature age people, ageing and disability, and an outline of a number of new ABS releases with and ageing focus.

Thank you for your support throughout the year. 2005 is shaping into an equally busy and even more productive year. I look forward to bringing you more news.

I hope you have a safe and happy holiday.

Maryann Wood
Assistant Director

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Over recent years the issues associated with the structural ageing of the population have received increased attention by governments and researchers. Broad issues affecting the ageing population include ensuring adequate retirement incomes, labour force participation, healthy ageing, and provision of community support, health services and aged care. Challenges in relation to population ageing include improving the capacity of older people for work, through better education and health; identifying better incentives for people to remain in the labour force, and improved flexibility in the workplace.

Mature age persons (those aged 45–64 years) have been identified as a key population group in terms of policy development to address these challenges. A series of Mature Age Statistical Profiles (cat. no. 4905.0.55.001) have been produced to provide an insight into the characteristics of mature age persons.

Profiles on Population and Cultural Diversity, Labour Force, and Health have been released with more topics to follow, including:
  • Housing, due for release in December 2004
  • Living Arrangements, due for release in January 2005
  • Education and Training, due for release in February 2005
  • Community Life, due for release in February 2005

For more information, contact Maryann Wood on (07) 3222 6206 or email

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The ABS has a continuing commitment to develop the quality of official statistical information and work collaboratively with a range of government agencies to deliver the statistics required by Australians, no matter what their source. Key components of this work include the creation of information development plans. Information development plans are living documents which map the broad issues and information needs for a given field to the available information sources, in order to determine information gaps, overlaps and deficiencies. These plans present priorities and a plan for action to improve information agreed by stakeholders. They provide a framework for the systematic improvement, integration and use of data sources.

The ABS, in collaboration with key stakeholders, is currently undertaking a project to improve the quality and range of information available on the ageing of the population. The process used to achieve this is described as 'information development'. As a general rule, this process identifies the supply and demand for information in a given field, in order to ascertain the information gaps, overlaps and deficiencies that exist in that field. Importantly, information development must also guide activities which will improve information shortcomings, by assigning roles and responsibilities in areas where improvement or development is required.

It is clear, even at this preliminary stage in the Information Development Plan (IDP), that new data and studies may need to be developed in order to improve the information set available in various priority areas of ageing statistics. Opportunities also exist to improve the breadth and value of currently available data in a range of ways including better use of administrative by-product data along with surveys and censuses. These avenues will be explored in detail during the course of the project.

Providing solutions via the design of new surveys or enhancing existing data sources will be the responsibility of a range of organisations and not just the ABS. As the national statistical agency, the ABS is well placed to facilitate the identification of priorities with key stakeholders and work with other agencies to develop a plan to improve the range of information required.

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This article was published in the October 2004 issue of Australian Labour Market Statistics (cat. no. 6105.0).


Australia is undergoing extensive demographic change and, as a consequence, the size and age composition of the labour force is also changing. With a relatively large number of people approaching retirement age over the next few decades, and fewer younger people entering the labour force, there is a possibility of a shortage of labour to meet future demands.

Over recent years the Commonwealth Government has released several strategic documents addressing the challenges associated with the ageing of the Australian population. One of the strategies identified by both the National Strategy for an Ageing Australia and the Intergenerational Report is to encourage an increased participation of mature age people in the labour force.

This article focuses on the labour force characteristics of mature age people 45-64 years, as they are most likely to move from the workforce into retirement over the next two decades. It describes their labour force participation, looks at their hours of work and where they are employed, and describes the extent to which their labour is underutilised.


In 2003, the civilian population of Australia aged 45-64 years numbered 4.7 million. Of these, 3.3 million were in the labour force, that is, they were either employed or unemployed. The overall labour force participation rate of people aged 45-64 years has increased steadily over the last twenty years, from 56% in 1983 to 69% in 2003. This increase in participation has been driven largely by the increased participation of women in the labour force, reflecting a range of social changes, including greater acceptance of, and opportunities for, women in the workforce. In 2003, the participation rate for women aged 45-64 was 60%, well above the proportion participating in the labour force in 1983 (35%).

Labour force participation decreases markedly in the older age groups as some people retire or leave the labour force well before their sixties. This is reflected in lower labour force participation rates for both men and women from their forties and fifties. In 2003, most men (88%) and women (74%) aged 45-54 years were participating in the labour force. For those aged 60-64 years, the participation rates for men and women were 50% and 27% respectively.

Female Labour force participation(a)
Graph: Female labour force participation rates by age group, 1983 and 2003
Male Labour force participation(a)
Graph: Male labour force participation rates by age group, 1983 and 2003

In 2003, people aged 45-64 years made up almost a third (32%) of the labour force, compared to 23% in 1983. This increase not only reflects increased labour force participation over the period, but also larger numbers of people entering this age group as the 'baby boomers' age.

Age profile of the labour force(a)
Graph: Percentage distribution of the labour force by age group, 1983 and 2003


Hours worked

There has been a shift to part-time employment across all age groups, influenced by various changes in the economy and society. Examples of such changes include: the growth in service industries, the relaxation of trading hour restrictions, the introduction of new technologies that have allowed the extension of production schedules and operating times, and the increased participation of women in the labour force, with the associated need to balance work and family responsibilities.

The proportion of employed people aged 45-64 years working part-time increased from 16% in 1983 to 26% in 2003. People aged 24-44 years experienced a similar increase, from 17% in 1983 to 23% in 2003.

As people move into the older age groups they are increasingly likely to work part-time and this may be due, in part, to the choice made by some workers to reduce their working hours to facilitate a gradual transition to retirement. Of employed people aged 45-54 years, 8% of men and 43% of women worked part-time. The rate of part-time work was higher for employed people aged 55-64 years, with 17% of men and 52% of women working part-time in 2003. Of part-time workers aged 55-64 years, 16% wanted to work more hours, compared with 24% for those aged 45-54 years, and 27% for those aged 25-44 years.

Types of employment

In August 2003, 58% of all workers aged 45-64 years were employees with leave entitlements (excluding owner managers of incorporated enterprises), compared with 65% of workers aged 25-44 years. Owner managers formed the next largest group of workers aged 45-64 years (28%), compared with 19% of workers aged 25-44 years. The likelihood of this employment type increased with age and was more prevalent among men than women. Men aged 55-64 years were the most likely to be owner managers (40%). In comparison, just over one-quarter (26%) of employed women in this age group were owner managers.

The proportion who were employees without leave entitlements (excluding owner managers of incorporated enterprises) was slightly lower (13%) for workers aged 45-64 years than for people aged 25-44 (16%). Employed women aged 45-64 years were twice as likely (18%) to be employees without entitlements as men of that age (9%).


Older workers generally have skills and experience gained through many years in the workforce. These workers may be concentrated in particular occupations and industries, and their retirement may have implications for recruitment and staffing levels in these occupations and industries in the future.

In 2003, the Education industry employed the highest proportion of workers aged 45-64 years (47%) followed by Health and community services (42%) and Agriculture, forestry and fishing (41%) industries. The high proportion in the Agriculture, forestry and fishing industry is consistent with the trend for fewer young people to enter farming and with farmers often working beyond the age of 65 years (see Australian Social Trends, 2003 (cat. no. 4102.0), Farming families, pp 45-49).

The highest concentrations of male workers aged 45-64 years were in the Education industry with 49% of men (108,400) working in this industry aged between 45 and 64 years, followed by Government, administration and defence (46% or 105,700) and Electricity, gas and water supply (44% or 26,500). Women aged 45-64 years were concentrated in Agriculture, forestry and fishing (representing 51,100 or 46% of all women in that industry); Education (211,300 or 46%); and Health and community services (303,700 or 42%).

Many occupations with relatively high proportions of workers aged 45-64 years are those that require higher skill levels. In the broad occupation group Managers and administrators, 46% (318,000 people) were aged 45-64 years in 2003, followed by 38% (146,200 people) in Advanced clerical and service workers and 37% (432,100 people) in the Associate professionals group.

The Professionals occupation group is a large group encompassing numerous occupations, and is the occupation group which contained the largest number of workers aged 45-64 years (640,900 people). Of these mature age workers, 12% were registered nurses, 9% were secondary school teachers and 9% were primary school teachers.

Some occupations with lesser skill requirements also contained large numbers of workers aged 45-64 years. In 2003, 485,700 Intermediate clerical, sales and service workers, and 288,900 Intermediate production and transport workers were aged between 45 and 64 years.


Some people choose not to work at all for various reasons such as caring for others, studying, or retirement. Others are unable to work due to illness or injury. In addition, there are a number of people aged 45-64 years who want to work, but are not able to find that work.


The unemployment rate for those aged 45-64 years (3.8%) was lower than for those aged 25-44 years (5.0%). In September 2003, there were 125,700 persons aged 45-64 years who were unemployed.

As with the total unemployed population, male jobseekers aged 45-64 years were more likely to be looking for full-time work than their female counterparts (90% compared with 73%). Unemployed women aged 45-54 years were more likely than any other female age group to be seeking full-time work (74%). Similarly, unemployed men aged 45-54 years were most likely (93%) to be looking for full-time work.

Long-term unemployment

While the unemployment rate for people aged 45-64 years is relatively low, once unemployed, they tend to remain unemployed longer than their younger counterparts. In September 2003, there were 48,600 people aged 45-64 years who had been unemployed for 12 months or longer.

More than two-fifths (43%) of unemployed people aged 55-64 years had been unemployed for 12 months or longer, compared with just under one-third (33%) of 45-54 year olds and 23% of 25-44 year olds. Unemployed men were more likely to be in long-term unemployment than unemployed women. In September 2003, 45% of unemployed men aged 45-64 years had been unemployed for 12 months or longer compared with 25% of women.

Long term unemployment may make finding employment more difficult because of a loss of relevant skills and employers' perceptions of their 'employability'. This may lead to the unemployed becoming discouraged and choosing to leave the labour force altogether rather than remain unemployed.

Discouraged jobseekers

There were 41,600 people aged 45-64 who wanted to work and were available to work but did not actively look for work for labour market reasons, that is, they were discouraged jobseekers. This is considerably higher than the number for people aged 25-44 years (23,200). About half of the discouraged jobseekers aged 45-64 years (51%) reported they were discouraged because they felt they were considered too old by employers, while 22% felt there were no jobs in the locality or in their line of work, and a further 18% felt they lacked the necessary schooling, training, skills or experience.


For further information, please contact the Assistant Director, Labour Market, on Canberra 02 6252 5603. For email enquiries, please contact Client Services on

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In 2003,
  • one in five people in Australia (3,958,300 or 20.0%) had a reported disability.
  • over half of the 3.35 million people aged 60 years and over had a reported disability (51%) and 19% had a profound or severe core-activity limitation.
  • of all people aged 60 years and over, less than half (41%) reported needing assistance, because of disability or old age to manage health conditions or cope with everyday activities.
  • people aged 85 years and over reported a much higher need for assistance than those aged 60-69 years (84% compared with 26%).
  • twenty-four per cent of primary carers were aged 65 years and over, compared to 13% of the total population.
  • disability rate increased with age, reaching 92% for those aged 90 years and over

For further details, refer to Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia (cat. no. 4430.0) which was released on 15 September 2004.

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The 9th Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference, called 'Family Matters' will be conducted from 9th-11th February 2005 at the Melbourne Exhibition Convention Centre. The aim of the conference is to provide insights into the current issues facing families and how researchers, policy makers and service providers can improve outcomes for families and individuals through greater awareness, research, networking, leadership, and evidence based policy and practice.

The Conference will feature the presentation and discussion of findings of the Institute's own studies, along with work from a wide range of researchers, government bodies, service providers and community organisations.

Program information and registration can be found at

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The Health of Older People (cat. no. 4827.0.55.001) was released on 10 November 2004. This publication examines the health of older persons across a number of dimensions including demographics, health status and disability, and health service use. The data used are mainly derived from the 2001 National Health Survey (NHS), which surveyed persons in private dwellings only, and the 2003 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers. It is important to note that the scope of the National Health Survey excludes persons in aged care accommodation, including nursing homes.

Family Characteristics, Australia (cat. no. 4442.0) was released on 22 September 2004. Most Australians live in households as members of a family unit. The numbers of families of different types, reflect patterns of partnering and marriage and subsequent differences in family formation. The ageing of the population, too, has an impact on family composition (ie, grandparent families). This publication presents results of the 2003 Family Characteristics Survey (FCS) and compares them to the 1997 FCS and the 1992 Family Survey, providing information about the changing patterns of family and household composition in contemporary Australia.

Older People, New South Wales (cat. no. 4108.1) was released on 17 September 2004. Older People, NSW, 2004 is a joint publication by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and the NSW Department of Disability, Ageing and Home Care (DADHC). It is the third in a series of publications on older people, following Older People in NSW: A Profile, 1995 and Older People, NSW, 2000. The publication draws on data from ABS and non-ABS surveys and collections, presenting a snapshot of the social and economic position of people aged 65 years and over in New South Wales (NSW).

This publication provides a rich source of information on key issues relating to community participation; health and wellbeing; living arrangements; financial security; and mobility. The picture emerging is one of older people engaged with life, actively pursuing their interests, and contributing to the social capital on which the whole community depends.

Characteristics of People Reporting Good or Better Health (cat. no. 4828.0.55.001) was released on 8 September 2004. This publication presents statistics from the 1995 and 2001 ABS National Health Surveys relating to self-assessed health of those aged 15 years and over. Unless otherwise specified, statistics presented are age standardised. Other data examined include indicators of social capital from the ABS General Social Survey 2002. Behaviour, characteristics and long-term conditions of those who reported good or better health are also analysed.

For further enquiries on these new releases, contact the National Information and Referral Service on 1300 135 070.

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Ageing theme page containing ageing-relevant information from the ABS and other Commonwealth Government agencies has been added to the ABS web site. The Ageing theme page highlights the type and range of data available for ageing analyses and will be updated to highlight new data releases as they become available.


Tara Pritchard
Telephone: (07) 3222 6312
    Assistant Director
    Maryann Wood
    Telephone: (07) 3222 6206

    Mailing address
    National Ageing Statistics Unit (NASU)
    Australian Bureau of Statistics
    GPO Box 9817, BRISBANE QLD 4001

    Fax: (07) 3222 6283
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