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Newsletters - Age Matters - Issue Number 3, July 2003



Welcome to the third edition of Age Matters, the quarterly newsletter from the ABS National Ageing Statistics Unit (NASU). The release of this edition coincides with two significant events in the life of NASU.

Firstly, it is now exactly one year since the unit was established within the ABS, and in that short time, it has quickly established its niche amongst decision makers and others responsible for advancing ageing issues within Australia. This is not only the (arguably biased) viewpoint of their Director, but is also the feedback I have been receiving from the unit's own Advisory Board, as well as the Australian Statistical Advisory Council (ASAC), and other key stakeholders both within and outside the ABS.

The second major event for the unit is the departure of its Manager, David Martyn, who has accepted a three-year posting to Statistics New Zealand. Although the achievements of NASU in its first year have been the result of a dedicated and talented team, I would like to especially acknowledge David's contribution in the establishment of the unit, and in developing it to its present maturity in such a short time. David has left a very good legacy for his replacement, Maryann Wood, to further advance and develop the unit. Maryann comes to the unit with a wealth of experience in various areas within the ABS, and I would like to use this opportunity to welcome her to NASU.

Apart from these internal milestones, this edition of Ageing Matters has a number of topics which I'm sure will be of interest to readers. There is a major article which provides a cohort analysis of unemployment and labour force participation rates, as well as a number of shorter items of topical interest, including data from recent releases, a preview of upcoming releases, and a snapshot of current projects. A new feature which I hope readers will find of interest is the 'Did you know?' category, which contains small one line ageing-related snippets of information.

Interested readers are also invited to visit the Ageing theme page on the ABS website for links to ageing-relevant ABS datasets and other web sites (see Where can you find us? for details). Feedback or suggestions regarding anything appearing in this newsletter are welcomed.


The following article is an extract from an ABS publication, Australian Labour Market Statistics (cat. no. 6105.0) which was released on 4 July 2003. This publication draws together data from a range of sources, mostly ABS household and business surveys, to provide an overall picture of the labour market. The key purpose of this publication is to raise awareness of data availability to enable clients to use the data more effectively.


A person's experience of the labour market will vary according to a number of factors, including the economic conditions at any given time, and their age. For example, the chance of someone finding a job decreases during a recession, while the likelihood of participating in the labour force varies as circumstances change, particularly in relation to family and education commitments. Factors affecting someone's peer group can also have a similar influence on labour market activity — people of different generations may have different expectations and experiences.

Cohort Analysis

This article presents the results of an analysis of unemployment and labour force participation rates, based on following the labour market outcomes of successive groups of individuals over time, using data from the Labour Force Survey. Twenty-one groups (birth cohorts) of people were included, with each group born in successive years between 1937 and 1957. Thus, the analysis used data for the June of each year from 1981 to 2001, including persons aged 24 to 44 in 1981, 25 to 45 in 1982, and so on, to including persons aged 44 to 64 in 2001.

The analysis (a regression-based decomposition analysis) disentangles the effects of three separate components which can influence unemployment and labour market participation — year effect, age effect and cohort effect.

Year effect

This is the effect that year had on any individual's changes of being unemployed or participating in the labour force (whatever their age). The year effect captures
movements over time that arise from the economic cycle. During periods of strong economic growth, unemployment will, in most cases, decrease for all age groups, while during economic downturns, unemployment will tend to move upwards for all age groups. Participation rates could be expected to move in the opposite direction to unemployment.

Age effect

This is the effect that a person's age had on their chances of being unemployed or participating in the labour force (whatever the year). The age effect captures movements over the life cycle. Usually younger people experience higher levels of unemployment than those in older age groups. Their level of unemployment then drops as they gain increased levels of education and work experience. It begins to rise again for ages closer to retirement age. Again, participation rates could be expected to move in the opposite direction.

Cohort effect

This is the effect that the cohort into which a person was born had on their chances of being unemployed or participating in the labour force (whatever the year and whatever their age). The cohort effect captures movements in the unemployment rate that are exclusive to that particular cohort, and will influence unemployment rates for the particular cohort over the whole period. For example, women born in the 1930s have had different labour market experiences to those born in the 1950s, throughout the economic cycle.

The following presents information on the effects of two of the components which can influence unemployment and labour market participation: age and cohort effects. For details of the third component, that is, the year effect, and more detailed analyses including the analytical method used, refer to Australian Labour Market Statistics (cat. no. 6105.0).

The Effect of Age


The relationship between age and unemployment, after controlling for year and cohort effects, is shown in Figure 4. Younger workers, who have only recently entered the labour market, experience higher levels of unemployment than middle aged workers, who are better established in employment. Among men, the relationship between age and unemployment remains relatively steady until their early 50s when it begins to rise, peaking at age 59. The age effects for women are considerably different, with the unemployment rate continuing to decline after age 50. Again this could be explained by women being more likely to exit the labour market than to remain unemployed. The sharp drop in unemployment rates among both men and women close to age 60 may be attributed to workers retiring from the labour market.

Graph - Figure 4, Age Effects, Unemployment rate


The relationship between age and participation, after controlling for year and cohort effects, is shown in Figure 5. Among men, labour force participation gradually declines with age until they reach their mid 50s, at which point it begins to decline more sharply. The participation rate for women is lower during the years that many women have children — around 25 to 35 years of age — but then increases until age 50, when it then falls in a similar manner to the male rate. The lower participation rates for people aged over 50 could be attributed to various factors, including voluntary early retirement, health problems, and choosing to leave the labour force rather than remain unemployed.

Graph - Figure 5, Age Effects, Participation rate

The Effect of the Cohort


When compared to the age and year effects, the influence someone's cohort group has on their chances of being unemployed is relatively small (see Figure 6). However, the cohort effect for unemployment is statistically significant for men.

Graph - Figure 6, Cohort Effects, Unemployment rate

The male cohort effect indicates that, after controlling for age and year effects, older cohorts (that is, men born before around 1945) experienced, on average, lower unemployment rates than their younger counterparts. For example, over the 20 year period, the unemployment rate for men in the 1956 birth cohort is around 0.2 percentage points higher on average than the unemployment rate for men born in 1937.

The cohort effect on unemployment rates was stronger for unskilled men than skilled men, as shown in Figure 7. Here, the skilled group is defined as comprising people who completed high school as well as those who received some post school qualification. Among skilled men, there was little difference between the cohorts. The unskilled group comprised those who did not complete high school. The results show that, after controlling for the effects of age and year, unemployment tended to be higher among unskilled men from later generations.

Graph - Figure 7, Cohort Effects, Unemployment rate - Educational attainment: Males


Figure 8 shows the relationship between a person's cohort and their chances of participating in the labour force. Although the cohort effect is significant for both men and women, it is much stronger for women. After controlling for age and year effects, men born in 1937 experienced participation rates 3 percentage points higher on average over the period than men born in 1956. Conversely, women born in 1936 experienced participation rates 23 percentage points lower on average than women born in 1956, after controlling for age and year effects.

Graph - Figure 8, Cohort Effects, Participation rate

Changing employment opportunities for women resulting from changing social attitudes may help to explain the increasing trend in labour market participation among younger cohorts. Employment growth between 1981 and 2001 has been skewed towards females. Between 1981 and 2001, female employment as a proportion of total employment increased from 37% to 45%. The driving force behind this growth in female employment is from increased part-time employment, especially in the services sector.

Further Information

For more information about the analysis please contact Ravi Ravindiran on Canberra 02 6252 7039, or via email at For information about the Labour Force Survey please contact Peter Bradbury on Canberra 02 6252 6565, or via email at


In 2001, 128,540 deaths (66,830 males and 61,710 females) were registered in Australia, 250 more than in 2000 (128,290). There were 2,100 deaths registered in 2001 where the deceased was identified as being of Indigenous origin (Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander or both origins). The median age at death in Australia in 2001 was 76 years for males and 82 years for females (an increase of 6 and 5 years respectively on 1981 median ages). The median age at death for Indigenous males was 52 years and 58 years for females.

Since 1981 the number of deaths has increased by an average of around 1% per year. The steady increase over time reflects the increasing size of the population and, in particular, an ageing population. The death rate has declined 5% since 2000 and 36% since 1981, after accounting for the differences in the age structure of the population over the period.

Australia's 1999-2001 life expectancy at birth of 77.0 years for males and 82.4 years for females is amongst the highest in the world. Regional life expectancy at birth in 1999-2001 for males and females varied across Australia by up to 11 years. Australia's more rural and remote populations had higher mortality rates and consequently lower life expectancy than populations living in capital cities and other urban areas.

Further details are in
Deaths, Australia 2001 (cat. no. 3302.0) and Causes of Death, Australia 2001 (cat. no. 3303.0), released on 10 December.


The publication Census of Population and Housing: Ageing in Australia (cat. no. 2048.0) due for release in August 2003, analyses the characteristics of the older population drawing on 2001 Census data. This publication will be a useful resource for agencies with ageing policy responsibilities, researchers and the Australian community in general. While the major focus is on the number and characteristics of older Australians, i.e. persons aged 65 years and over, the ageing process in Australia is also explored by examining other age cohorts including mature age persons (45 years and over) and the very old (85 years and over). This analysis also reports on trends over time by comparing 2001 results with data from previous Censuses.

Some interesting facts from the 2001 Census:

An ageing Australia: Over the last century, the proportion of the Australian population who were older persons, that is, aged 65 years and over, increased from 4.0% in 1901 to 12.6% in 2001. This change in the composition of the population has been as a result of changes in the fertility rate, increased life expectancy and levels of migration. South Australia was home to the highest proportion of older persons (14.7%) while the Northern Territory had the lowest proportion (3.9%).
Older migrants: The proportion of older persons is greater amongst the overseas-born population than for the Australian-born population (17.7% of the overseas-born were aged 65 years and over compared with 10.9% of those born in Australia). Older persons originating from specific countries have shown a tendency to settle in specific states. In 2001, 75.2% of older persons born in Lebanon, 58.6% born in China and 55.7% born in the Philippines lived in New South Wales. Victoria was home to high concentrations of older persons born in Sri Lanka (51.9%), Greece (46.3%), Italy (40.7%) and Poland (37.1%), while older persons born in New Zealand were most likely to live in Queensland (40.6%).

Ageing industries: At the time of the 2001 Census, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing industry comprised the oldest workforce with a median age of 45.0 years, 7.0 years older than the median age for the workforce as a whole (38.0 years). Other industries characterised by a high median age include Education (43.0 years) and Health and Community Services (42.0 years). In contrast, industries with younger workforces include Retail Trade (31.0 years) and Accommodation, Cafes and Restaurants (32.0 years).

For further information contact the National Information and Referral Service on 1300 135 070, the National Ageing Statistics Unit on 07 3222 6206 or the ABS website


In 2001
  • 15% of farmers or farm managers were aged 65 years and over compared to 12% aged less than 35 years. In contrast, in 1986, 9% were aged 65 years and over compared to 19% aged less than 35 years.
  • 94% of people in nursing homes were aged 65 years and over.
  • 27% of people in hostels for the disabled were aged 65 years and over.
  • Female doctors were generally younger than male doctors, with a median age of 39 years compared with 45 years for males.
  • Between 1986 and 2001, the median age of teachers increased from 34 years to 43 years.
  • Persons aged 65-74 years recorded the greatest reduction in smoking between 1989-90 and 2001 (down from 17% to 11%).
  • The proportion of persons in the labour force aged 55 years and over declined from 13.2% in 1971 to 11.5% in 2001.

You can find this information in the publication Australian Social Trends (cat. no. 4102.0) which was released on 3 June 2003. Australian Social Trends profiles Australian society and looks at changes in the nation's social conditions and well-being. The 2003 edition has a rural and regional theme and covers a wide range of topics. Some articles that may be of interest to persons researching the ageing population are:
This publication is available from any ABS office or the ABS website.


Enumeration of the 2003 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC) is due to commence in June 2003 and will continue through to November 2003. Results from the survey are expected to be released from late May 2004.

This will be the 5th large scale survey of disability, ageing and carers conducted by the ABS since 1981. At the request of users of the survey data, the 2003 survey will be largely a repeat of the 1998 SDAC, with particular emphasis on maintaining comparability with measurement of 'disability' and 'severity of disability'. The survey will be conducted in about 13,000 private dwellings throughout Australia, and will also include about 800 cared accommodation establishments (hospitals, aged care accommodation, cared components of retirement villages and other homes with a cared component).

The SDAC seeks information on three key population groups: people aged 60 and over, people with disabilities and their carers. This survey is the only source of information on the assistance requirements of these groups, the extent to which these requirements are met, and the characteristics of those with unmet need. It also provides information on participation in economic and community activities. The survey is the major source of national statistics on carers and primary carers: numbers and characteristics of carers, care relationships, activities for which informal care is provided, and for primary carers, support available and required, and the effects of the caring role on their lives.

For further information:
Contact : Ken Black (02) 6252 7430


Contact: Margaret Sherley (02) 6252 5544


The ABS recognises the potential value of obtaining disability data from the census and has a strong commitment to the development of a suitable Census question for the 2006 Census of Population and Housing.

Previous development and testing of a disability question for the 1996 and 2001 Census rounds was unsuccessful in terms of data quality. (See Themes - Disability, Ageing and Carers for a detailed report on the testing undertaken for 2001).

In preparation for the 2006 Census a Census Advisory Group on Disability (CAGD) was convened, with representatives from government, professional, academic, industry and community organisations. A key role of the group is to identify and prioritise the key requirements for disability data for small areas, and for a range of population groups, including relatively small subgroups. The first meeting of the CAGD was held in February 2003, with a key decision being made to focus development for Census 2006 on the concept of 'need for assistance' rather than the previously tested broader concept of disability. A series of focus group tests are planned for the first half of 2003, to be followed by a large scale test in August 2003, and a further large scale test in 2004.

For further information:
Contact : Ken Black (02) 6252 7430


Contact: Margaret Sherley (02) 6252 5544


‘An Ageless Workforce – Opportunities for Business’ Symposium will be held in Sydney at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre in Darling Harbour on 27 August 2003. The Symposium is being organised by the National Seniors Association, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and other business representatives with support from the Office for an Ageing Australia. Other relevant Commonwealth Departments are supportive of the Symposium.

The target audience for the Symposium is Chief Executives and other leaders of major businesses from across Australia. The objective is to raise the awareness of the business community about the labour market impacts of demographic change and how current employment practices can affect the participation of workers as they age.

An impressive line up of speakers has been arranged. The Minister for Ageing, the Hon Kevin Andrews MP, will open the Symposium. Mr John Denton, Chair of the Business Council of Australia’s Population Task Force, will set the scene for the Symposium. Dr Philip Taylor, the Executive Director of the Cambridge University Interdisciplinary Research Centre on Ageing, will provide a global perspective. Chris Richardson, a Director at Access Economics, and Peter Hendy, CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry will lead industry panels on ‘The Australian Business Perspective’ and ‘Industry Trends, Challenges and Opportunities’.

An ABS spokesperson, Alan Mackay (Assistant Statistician, Health and Community Statistics Branch), will present a statistical summary of mature age workers, encompassing changes in participation rates by age over time, structural shifts in the labour force, retirement intentions, labour mobility and labour force experience issues. The presentation will use examples of individual industries to illustrate the current situation and how it has changed over time.

Following the Symposium, the key papers will be made available on the website of the Department of Health and Ageing.


The ABS National Ageing Statistics Unit is currently working in conjunction with the ABS Analytical Statistical Branch on two joint projects which are looking at mature age persons (45 years and over) and older persons (65 years and over) in the labour force.

The first project ‘An analysis of mature and older persons not in the labour force' explores the characteristics of mature and older persons to identify factors associated with these age groups not participating in the labour force. It will also draw comparisons with people of similar age in the labour force and people less than 45 years of age who are not in the labour force.

The second project is titled ‘Age of withdrawal from the labour market in Australia - updating OECD estimates.’ The OECD has estimated net withdrawal rates by calculating an "average age of withdrawal from the labour force". This estimate is derived by comparing age-specific activity rates at five-year periods for people aged 45 and above, up to 1999. The aim of this project is to update the data for Australia using the Labour Force Survey for 2000-2002. The project will also attempt to reconcile the 1997 ABS Retirement Intentions Survey data with the rates of withdrawal from the labour force. An update of progress and plans for future release of results will be included in the next issue of
Age Matters.


In response to an increasing interest in the effect the Baby Boomer generation will have on Australian society over the next few years, the Western Australian and South Australian Governments commissioned the ABS to compile Baby Boomer publications for those states. These analyses report on the characteristics of people born in the twenty year period of 1946-1965 (inclusive) and cover a range of issues including demographic details, cultural diversity, family, housing, health, community life, education and work.
  • Western Australia's Baby Boomers: A Profile of Persons Born 1946-1965 (cat. no. 4149.5) was released on 27 June 2003. For further information contact Gabriela Lawrence on (08) 9360 5947, or email
  • South Australia's Baby Boomers - A Profile will be available to all SA State Government personnel from early July 2003. For further information contact Susan Jones on (08) 8237 7465 or Glenn Hamlyn on (08) 8273 7422, email

Census of Population and Housing: Population Growth and Distribution, Australia (cat. no. 2035.0) was released on 16 June 2003. It provides information about the population changes that have taken place in Australia between the 1996 and 2001 Censuses. It includes information on the growth, location and mobility of the population at national, state and regional levels. A major emphasis is on the characteristics and volume of interstate and intrastate movements. Final estimates at the Statistical Local Area level for all of Australia are also provided. For more information contact Jacqui Cristiano on (02) 6252 5117, email:

Population Characteristics, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians (cat. no. 4713.0) is due for release in July 2003. This publication presents information on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples based on information from the 2001 Census. A wide range of information available from the Census is covered in a general overview of the characteristics of the Indigenous population. Topics covered include: the demographic and geographic distribution of the population and its growth in recent years; household composition; language and religion; education and IT use; work; income; and housing and transport. Much of this information is presented by Remoteness Area. Also includes information on how to interpret census data on Indigenous persons.

This report includes population estimates for Indigenous and non-Indigenous persons in 5-year age ranges up to persons aged 75 years and over. Persons aged 45 years and over are also identified in some tables on language, education (including use of information technology), labour force characteristics and income.

Comparable tables at state and territory level will be released electronically on the ABS website. Replaces: cat. no. 2034.0.

For more information contact Sharon Pech on (02) 6252 6301 or email

Population Projections, Australia (cat. no. 3222.0) is due for release in August 2003. It contains alternative projections (based on different assumptions as to future levels of fertility, mortality and migration) of the resident population of Australia, the states/territories, capital cities and balance of states from 2002 to 2101. For more information contact Katrina Phelan on (02) 6252 6573,

Country Matters: Social Atlas of Rural and Regional Australia (cat. no. 2049.0) is scheduled for release in September 2003. Country Matters has been jointly produced by the Bureau of Rural Sciences and the ABS with funding support from the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation. The publication focuses on Australia's non-metropolitan population at Statistical Local Area level. Analyses include information on population changes between 1996 and 2001 for older persons aged 65 and over and labour force participation relating to persons aged 45 years and over. This report contains maps illustrating key demographic/socio-economic characteristics and social aspects relevant to life in rural and regional Australia; comparisons between 1996 and 2001 Census data; and data from other sources including the Australian Taxation Office, the Department of Family and Community Services and Centrelink. For more information contact James Tuhan on (02) 6252 6294, email:


Ageing statistics 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.
NASU Contact Details

        • Fax:
                  (07) 3222 6284
        • Address:
                  National Ageing Statistics Unit
                  Australian Bureau of Statistics
                  GPO Box 9817, BRISBANE QLD 4001
        • ABS Internet site:

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