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Newsletters - Age Matters - Issue Number 1, December 2002



Welcome to this first edition of Age Matters, the quarterly newsletter from the ABS National Ageing Statistics Unit. Age Matters will highlight developments in statistics on aspects of the ageing population, and will feature articles analysing data on topical ageing issues and other information of likely interest to ageing researchers and policy makers. 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 back page for details).

Ron Casey
National Ageing Statistics Unit
January 2003

National Ageing Statistics Unit

The National Ageing Statistics Unit (NASU) came into effect on 1 July 2002 to provide statistical focus on the social and economic implications of the ageing population, and statistical support for ageing-related policy issues.

The role of the NASU is to:
  • analyse data on ageing issues
  • maintain a dialogue with key stakeholders regarding emerging issues, data gaps and needs
  • provide statistical leadership in the field of ageing statistics, including the development of an Information Development Plan as part of the National Statistical Service
  • advance ageing issues and coordinate ageing activity within the ABS
  • facilitate access to ageing-relevant data

The NASU is governed by an Advisory Board comprising senior representatives from the ABS and other federal government agencies. The NASU, which is located in the ABS Queensland Office, is part of the ABS Health and Community Statistics Branch.

Featured article: Household Wealth Through the Lifecycle

Following is the first in a series of articles on topical aspects of ageing that will be featured in this newsletter . Typically, these articles will be a condensed form of more detailed studies which are available on request. This article reflects recent work undertaken by the ABS Analytical Services Branch.

Household Wealth Through the Lifecycle

The ABS has recently published experimental estimates of the distribution of household wealth for the years 1994 to 2000. The distribution of wealth across age groups is a particular feature of this analysis. These experimental estimates are based on models applied to range of data sources rather than having been estimated from, for example, a single household survey.

Overall changes in household assets and liabilities

Overall net worth (that is, total assets less total liabilities) of the household sector grew by just over 45% in the seven-year period of the study. These estimates are expressed in current prices - that is, they are not adjusted to remove the effects of price changes.

Dwellings were the most significant asset, representing 46% of the total at 30 June 2000. Superannuation has also increased significantly - it accounted for 21% of total assets in 2000, up from 16% in 1994. In 1994, ownership of shares made up 6% of total assets, whereas in 2000 they accounted for 8%. Currency and deposits were significant assets throughout the seven year period, and accounted for 9% of the total in 2000.

Liabilities grew significantly over the period from 1994 to 2000. In 1994, the liabilities of households were equivalent to a little under 13% of the value of total assets; by 2002, liabilities were equivalent to around 18%.

Distribution of wealth across age groups

Graph 1 shows how net worth varied according to the age of the household reference person. (The reference person is selected from the adults in the household’s primary family, using data on relationships, gender, income and age.) The data suggest a pattern of lifetime wealth accumulation; later analyses will explore whether this pattern is due to genuine lifecycle effects, to the effects of the particular years of study or of birth-year cohorts. Net worth appears to build until retirement, then is slowly reduced as households draw down on their assets in later years. Average net worth has fluctuated from year to year for households where the reference person’s age was less than 45, but may have been slowly increasing over time. The average net worth of middle-aged and older households has clearly risen between 1994 and 2000.

Some fluctuations in the estimates from year to year are to be expected, as they are based on sample survey data, and the data and methods used to generate the estimates have varied. Thus one should concentrate on the main trends in the data, rather than on year-to-year movements.

Graph 1: Average household net worth by the age of the household reference person, as at 30 June
Graph 1: Average household net worth by the age of the household reference person, as at 30 June

Distribution of particular assets across age groups

Dwelling and superannuation assets make up the largest percentage of household sector wealth, and their movements explain a good deal of the movement in net worth. Rising average dwelling values were a significant factor in the increase in net worth for middle-aged and older households. See graph 2.

Graph 2 : Average owner-occupied dwelling assets by the age of the household reference person, as at 30 JuneGraph 2 : Average owner-occupied dwelling assets by the age of the household reference person, as at 30 June

Average superannuation assets rose significantly between 1994 and 2000 for middle-aged and older households. See graph 3.

Graph 3: Average household superannuation assets by the age of the household reference person, as at 30 JuneGraph 3:  Average household superannuation assets by the age of the household reference person, as at 30 June

The value of net worth also depends on the liabilities which a household has accrued. Graph 4 illustrates how average total assets, liabilities and net worth were distributed across reference person age groups, in 2000. Assets and net worth are distributed in very similar ways, while liabilities peak in younger and middle age groups, before households have paid out major loans such as those for their home and/or car. Similar patterns were observed in each of the years studied.

Graph 4: Average household assets, liabilities (absolute value) and net worth by the age of the household reference person, as at 30 June 2000

Graph 4: Average household assets, liabilities (absolute value) and net worth by the age of the household reference person, as at 30 June 2000

Possible future work

In contrast to many statistics published by the ABS, these experimental estimates have been based on models applied to a wide range of census, survey and administrative by product data. The ABS is keen to receive comments from users on the methods and findings. During 2003, the ABS will assess the experimental estimates in the light of feedback received, and will decide what further modelling and analysis work would be fruitful.

For more information: see Experimental Estimates of the Distribution of Household Wealth, Australia, 1994-2000 by Kristen Northwood, Terry Rawnsley and Lujuan Chen (Working Papers in Econometrics and Applied Statistics, No. 2002/1, ABS Catalogue No. 1351.0).

Ageing Statistics Program and Publications

Forthcoming Release: Ageing data from the 2001 Census of Population and Housing

Did you know that in August 2001:
  • 2.4 million Australians were aged 65 years and over, representing 12.6% of the population,
  • of these, 56.0% were female
  • South Australia and Tasmania had the highest median age (37.0 years) while the Northern Territory had the lowest (29.0 years)

The characteristics of the ageing population are explored in detail in a new publication Census of Population and Housing: Ageing in Australia, 2001 (Cat. no. 2048.0) which is due for release in June 2003. While the main focus of the publication is on the number and characteristics of older Australians (ie. persons aged 65 years and over), the ageing process in Australia is also explored by examining other age cohorts including mature age workers and the very old (those aged 85 years and over), and trends over time by comparing with data from previous Censuses. Topics covered include population structure, geographic distribution, mobility, indigenous status, birthplace and ancestry, language, religion, families and households, type of housing, housing costs, labour force participation, hours worked, income, transport, education, and use of computers and the internet.

Information about the full range of ABS data available from the Census can be found by accessing the ABS Catalogue of Products and Services (Cat. no. 1101.0) located on the ABS website. Much of these data are available free of charge and can also be accessed via the ABS website.

Following is a selection of current ABS publications with ageing relevance:

Cat. no.

Older People, Australia: A Social Report, 1999
15 December 1999

Disability, Ageing and Carers: Summary of Findings, 1998
21 April 1999

Caring in the Community, Australia, 1998
23 August 2000

Retirement and Retirement Intentions, November 1997
2 June 1998

Australian Social Trends, various articles

Year Book Australia

Eligibility, Uptake and Usage of the Seniors Card, Western Australia, 1997
18 March 1998

Persons Aged Fifty Years and Over, Queensland, October 1998
31 March 1999

Older People, New South Wales, 2000
15 March 2000

For further information about these publications, please contact your local ABS Office or visit the ABS web site.

Where can you find us???

An 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:

Commonwealth of Australia 2008

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