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Within a state or territory boundary, the area where a person lives can affect the way they live, for example, through the availability of employment opportunities, health and other services, and recreation resources. The Section of State geographic classification can be used to provide further detail on the geographic distribution of older people.
In 2011, 69% of Australians lived in Major Urban areas (69% of males and 70% of females). The proportion of older Australians who lived in Major Urban areas was slightly lower, 65%. Older men were less likely to live in Major Urban areas (64%) than older women (67%). Almost a quarter of older people, 23% of men and 24% of women, lived in Other Urban areas such as smaller cities and towns. A higher proportion of older men than older women lived in the more open areas of Bounded Localities (3.4% compared with 2.9%) and Rural Balance (10% compared with 7%).
Males, Section of State by age group, 2011
Females, Section of State by age group, 2011
For both men and women, the 65–74 years age group had the smallest proportion of all age groups who lived in Major Urban areas (62% of men and 65% of women). Compared with the 65–74 years age group, older people aged 75–84 years were more likely to live in either Major or Other Urban areas and less likely to live in the more rural areas. The proportional shift to the Major Urban areas increased for the oldest age group. Many complex factors including industry or work issues, lifestyle choices and family considerations affect decisions to move from one type of area to another, but for the two older age groups, illness and the availability of health and aged care services can be compelling factors. (Endnote 2)
Most older people live with family members in private dwellings, but as people age they are likely to undergo changes in their living arrangements. Losing a spouse, or experiencing disability or age related frailty are two obvious factors that can cause such change. The living arrangements of older people vary by age, gender and whether they need assistance with everyday activities.
LIVING WITH A SPOUSE OR PARTNER
In 2011, most people aged 65 years and over lived in a private dwelling with a husband, wife or partner (56%). The youngest group, those aged 65–74 years, were the most likely to be living with a spouse or partner (67%) and people aged 85 years and over the least likely (23%). This mostly reflected the increased death rates at older ages which leaves many people widowed, and a higher proportion of people living in cared accommodation at older ages.
In every age group of older people, women were less likely than men to be living with a spouse or partner, and more likely to have other living arrangements such as living alone, living with a child or other relatives, or in cared accommodation. The degree of difference increased with age and in the oldest age group, 85 years and over, 46% of men compared with 11% of women were living with a spouse or partner. This is largely because women are more likely than men to outlive their spouses, reflecting both their higher life expectancy and the fact that wives are on average younger than their husbands. (Endnote 3)
Of older people who lived with a spouse or partner, 87% had no children in the family while 1% had at least one dependent child in the family (children aged under 15 years or aged 15–24 years and in full time study) and 11% had non-dependent children only. As well as the older people's natural, adopted, step or foster children these included dependent and non-dependent grandchildren where the grandchildren's parents were not themselves living in the family. The median age of the non-dependent children was 36 years.
Proportion of older people who lived in a private dwelling with a spouse or partner(a)
(a) Proportion of all older people at home on Census Night. This includes those living in non-private dwellings who may have a spouse or partner, but for whom relationship in household is not collected.
One quarter of older people lived alone in a private dwelling, making this the most common living arrangement after living with a partner. It was much more common for women than men to live alone – 32% compared with 17%. This represented 495,400 older women and 223,900 older men living alone. For both men and women the proportion living alone increased with age.
Of older people who lived alone, most reported a legal registered marital status of widowed (59%) but this varied between men and women – 69% of women and 38% of men who lived alone were widowed. Men who were divorced (30%) and never married (19%) accounted for substantial proportions of older men who lived alone.
LIVING WITH CHILDREN OR OTHER RELATIVES
Some other older people, who were not living with a partner, lived with other relatives such as their brother or sister or their children (8.2%). As with all living arrangements except living with a spouse or partner, this was a more common living arrangement for women than men. In the 65–74 years age group, for example, 3.6% of men and 9.5% of women were living with relatives other than a spouse or partner and in the 85 years and over group this proportion was 7.3% for men and 14.8% for women.
Most older people living with children or other relatives had a marital status of widowed (73%), with this being more common for women than men (77% compared with 60%). Divorced was the next most common marital status among this group (17%) accounting for 21% of men and 16% of women.
Of the 8.2% of older people living with relatives other than their spouse, most were living with one or more of their children (6.9% of older people). There were different family compositions among older people living with a child or children. The most common arrangement was an older person living with their child or children only (4.2% of older people). There were also multi-generational families, where an older person lived with their child and grandchildren, with or without the child's partner (1.9% of older people). Finally, some older people lived with their child and the child's partner but there was not a third generation in the household (less than 1% of all older people).
An older person may live with a child for many reasons including the desire for family living rather than living alone, age-related frailty or disability and financial reasons. Some of these households may be long-standing and may include households where the parent is caring for the child.
LIVING IN NON-PRIVATE DWELLINGS
In 2011, most people aged 65 years and over lived in private dwellings (94%). Of the 180,300 older people who lived in non-private dwellings (see box below), the great majority were in some type of cared accommodation – the leading two types were nursing homes (67%) and accommodation for the retired or aged (not self-contained) (25%). The great majority of older people who lived in non-private dwellings were residents, only 0.3% were staff.
The proportion of older people living in non-private dwellings increased with age from 2% of people aged 65–74 years to 6% of people aged 75–84 years and 26% of people aged 85 years and over. The proportion of very old persons (those aged 85 years and over) who lived in non-private dwellings decreased over time from 39% in 1991 to 26% in 2011, and at the same time the median age of older people living in non-private dwellings increased from 82 years to 86 years. This is consistent with the more rapid increase in the 85 years and over population than 65-74 years population (see 'Who are Australia's Older People?'). Also, changes made progressively since the 1980s allow older people to 'age in place' by providing care to people in their homes.
Women accounted for 54% of older people as a whole but for 69% of older people in non-private dwellings. There was not a large gender difference in the proportion in non-private dwellings among people aged 65–74 years (1.7% of men and 1.4% of women) but in the older age groups there was a greater difference. Of people aged 75–84 years, 5% of men and 7% of women were in non-private dwellings and in the oldest age group, 85 years and over, 18% of men and 31% of women lived in non-private dwellings. This may be because very old women tend to have more severe levels of disability than very old men (see 'Who are Australia's Older People?'). In addition, women are more likely to outlive their partner, and very old people with disability are more likely to move to cared accommodation if they do not have a partner. (Endnote 4)
Very old persons(a), proportion living in non-private dwellings(b), 1991–2011
(a) Persons aged 85 years and over.
(b) In non-private dwellings who were at home on Census Night.
LIVING ARRANGEMENTS OF OLDER PEOPLE BY AGE GROUP AND SEX(a)
(b) Other people may also be part of the family.
(c) Not living with spouse or partner but with children or other relatives.
(d) Two or more unrelated people where all people are aged 15 years and over.
(e) Also includes unrelated people in a family household and people in non classifiable household relationships.
NEED FOR ASSISTANCE AND LIVING ARRANGEMENTS
Of the living arrangements of older people in private dwellings which were discussed above, people living with a child were the most likely to need assistance (38%), followed by those living with a relative other than a child, spouse or partner (21%) and those living alone (15%). Those living with a spouse or partner were the least likely to need assistance (12%). This pattern may reflect that people's choices about living arrangements are influenced by their need for assistance with everyday activities. It can also partly reflect age differences between people in these different situations. Higher median ages were recorded for people living with a child (77 years) and people living alone (76 years) compared with people living with a spouse or partner (72 years) or with other relatives (73 years).
Most older people in non-private dwellings had a need for assistance (87%). This reflects the fact that 96% of older people living in non-private dwellings were in cared accommodation.
Older people in private dwellings, rate of core activity need for assistance by selected living arrangements
AWAY FROM HOME ON CENSUS NIGHT
Living arrangements for people away from home on Census Night are not captured, although these people are included in population counts for the area where they have their usual residence. Of people aged 65 years and over, 6.0% were away from home on Census Night, compared to 4.5% of people aged under 65 years. Most commonly, older people away from home were in hotels, motels or bed and breakfasts (47%) or hospitals (41%).There was variation among older people in respect to the proportion away on Census Night, with people aged 65–69 years having the highest rate of any five year age group (7.1%), with young people aged 20–24 years the next most likely to be away from home (6.7%).
As discussed earlier, 94% of older Australians who were at home on Census night lived in private dwellings. This represents 2.7 million people aged 65 years and over. The remainder, 6% or 180,300 older people lived in non-private dwellings.
Of the 2.7 million older Australians who lived in private dwellings in 2011, the majority – 2.1 million or 78%, lived in a separate house. This type of housing was more common for those aged 65–74 years and 75–84 years (81% and 76% respectively). People in the oldest age group (aged 85 years and over) were the least likely to live in a separate house (70%). A higher proportion of older men (81%) than older women (76%) lived in separate houses in 2011. This partly reflects the fact that older women were more likely to live alone, though older men who lived alone were still slightly more likely to live in a separate house than older women who lived alone (64% compared with 62%).
Another 269,100 (10%) of older people who lived in private dwellings lived in semi-detached, row or terrace houses, and 275,600 (10%) lived in flats, units or apartments. Those in the oldest age group (aged 85 years and over) were the most likely to live in these housing types (14% and 15% respectively). Consistent with the prevalence of men in separate houses, a higher proportion of older women lived in semi-detached, row or terrace houses; and flats, units or apartments (both 12%) compared with men (both 9%).
Private homes may be set in different types of locations. Among those aged 65 years and over 135,900 people lived in retirement villages, with almost two-thirds of this group being women. Additionally, around 22,800 older people lived in a caravan, cabin or houseboat. These people tended to be younger – almost two-thirds were in the 65–74 years age group, and 59% of people in this group were men.
WHAT ACTIVITIES DO OLDER PEOPLE UNDERTAKE?
A further way of understanding how older people live is to look at the kinds of activities they do. In 2011, around 37% of older Australians engaged in either paid or voluntary work or provided unpaid child care or care for a person with a disability, long term illness or problem related to old age. Over half of those aged 65-69 years (55%) and 42% of those aged 70-74 years engaged in at least one of these activities. Generally, involvement in these activities declined with age, with 7% of Australians aged 90 years and over, participating in one or more of these activities. (Endnote 5)
In 1908, the Commonwealth Government introduced a non-contributory age pension from the age of 65 years for eligible persons, superseding state pensions in New South Wales (1900), Victoria (1900) and Queensland (1907); in 1910, the pension age for women was reduced to 60 years. (Endnote 6) Consistent with this, for most of the twentieth century, the general expectation for men was that they would retire from work at 65 years of age, a mandatory retirement age for many, but not all, types of employment. The employment to population ratio graph below illustrates the high rate of retention in employment, for men in the 60–64 year age group in 1971 (75%). For those aged 65–69 years, the employment to population ratio fell by more than half to 35%, and again fell more considerably, for those aged 70 years and over, to 13%.
In more recent years, decisions about whether and when to retire are likely to depend on a number of factors including the consideration of health, financial security, and other personal reasons, as well as current economic conditions and demand for labour. (Endnote 7) One aspect of financial security is personal superannuation. During recent decades, successive Australian governments have legislated compulsory superannuation contributions by employers and provided incentives for Australians to save for retirement. (Endnote 8) Currently, superannuation may be accessed from the age of 55 years.(Endnote 9)
In 2011, a smaller proportion of men in each age group was employed than in 1971. In contrast, with the exception of the teenage years, women's participation in employment was much stronger in 2011 than in 1971. In 1971, labour force participation for women was dramatically lower in the prime child raising years (25–34 years) compared with younger age groups, and due to the social norms at this time, the majority of women never returned to work. (Endnote 10) However, in 2011, apart from a longer but shallower dip for the child-bearing and raising years as they balance their paid work and their family arrangements, women's employment by age group was closer to the male pattern. The employment to population ratio for women aged less than 65 years in 2011 was substantially higher than 40 years before, except for the 15–19 year age group, which reflects the higher participation in both school completion and further education in recent years. (Endnote 11) Also considerably higher than in 1971, was the employment to population ratio of women aged 65–69 years which was 18% in 2011, compared with 7.6% in 1971. For the 70 years and over age group, the 2011 and 1971 ratios remain very similar, at 3.4% and 2.4% respectively.
Employment to population ratio(a), by age group and sex, 1971 and 2011
(i) Removing barriers to older people participating in society, particularly in the workforce; and
(ii) Changing negative stereotypes about older people.'
More recently, the Sex and Age Discrimination Legislation Amendment Act 2011 among other provisions established an Age Discrimination Commissioner to act on complaints about age-based barriers in recruitment or in workplace opportunities. (Endnote 12)
Labour Force Status
As reflected in the employment to population ratio discussed above, the vast majority of older Australians were not in the labour force at the time of the 2011 Census (88%). The labour force participation rate (see definition in box below) for older males was 17% (or 215,500 men) and for older females was 7.9% (or 117,900 women) — an overall rate of 12% of all Australians aged 65 years and over. Of those in the labour force, almost all were employed (98%) with 40% employed full–time, 48% part–time and 9.1% holding a job but away from work. There were also 7,000 older Australians (2.1% of those in the labour force) who were unemployed.
Of those older Australians employed at the time of the 2011 Census, men were more likely to be working full-time (48%) than were women (29%). Employed older people were heavily concentrated in the 65–69 year age group – 32% of all men and 18% of all women in this age group were employed, and constituted 67% of employed older people. In the 70–74 years age group, almost 15% of men and 6.9% of women were employed. The combined 10–year age group (65–74 years) contributed 88% of employed older persons. Less than 2% of those aged 80 years and over were employed, yet this still meant that there were more than 14,100 Australians aged 80 years and over who were in paid work at Census time in 2011.
Older persons, proportion of persons employed, by age group and sex, 2011
OLDER PERSONS IN THE LABOUR FORCE, EMPLOYMENT STATUS BY AGE GROUP AND SEX, 2011
For those older Australians who were employed at the time of the 2011 Census, the occupations of males often differed from those of females. The leading occupation group for the 211,000 employed men aged 65 years and over was Managers, accounting for 26% of employed men, and including the most common job for older Australian men – Livestock Farmers (14,000). Professionals accounted for 21% of older men, with Accountants the largest group (4,300). The next groups were Technicians and Trades Workers (14%), Machinery Operators and Drivers (11% ) and Labourers (also 11%). Within the occupation group of Technicians and Trades Workers, the most common job was Electrician (1,900). In the Machinery Operators and Drivers occupation group the most common job was Truck Driver, which was held by 5,100 men and was also the second most common job for older Australian men. Commercial Cleaners was the most common occupation in the Labourers group (3,500).
Of the 116,000 women aged 65 years and over who were employed at the time of the 2011 Census, 28% were Clerical and Administrative Workers which included Secretaries (4,800). This was by far the largest occupation group for older women while one of the less common occupations for older men. This was followed by the occupation group of Professionals (21%), with Registered Nurses (4,900) the largest group. After Professionals were Managers (18%), which, similar to the pattern for older men, included the most common occupation for women – Livestock Farmers, held by 6,500 women aged 65 years and over. Community and Personal Service Workers (10%) was the fourth most common occupation group for older women, with most in this group working as Aged and Disabled Carers (3,100). Labourers were the next group (just under 10%) and as for men, Commercial Cleaners was the largest occupation (3,300). This was closely followed by almost 9% of employed older women in the Sales Workers occupation group with most being General Sales Assistants (5,000).
Older persons, proportion of older men and women(a) in major occupational groups(b), 2011
(a) Employed men and women aged 65 years and over.
(b) People who inadequately described their occupation were excluded prior to calculation of proportions.
PROVIDING CARE FOR OTHERS
In the two weeks prior to Census Night 2011, 12% of older people (320,100) provided unpaid care or assistance with daily activities to another person because of their disability, long term illness or problems related to old age. They provided the care informally and may have been caring for a partner, child, grandchild, parent, other relative or someone unrelated to them. The person they were caring for may have lived in the same household as the carer or somewhere else. The highest proportion of older carers were in the 65–69 year age group (15%) and this decreased with age, to 7.8% for those aged 85–89 years. Of people aged 90 years and over, 3.8% were carers.
In the younger population (those aged 15–64), a higher proportion of women than men were carers (15% compared with 9.1%) and this pattern continued for older people in each 5 year age group from 65 until 79 years. However, from the 80–84 year age group, a larger proportion of men were providing care or assistance. This pattern continued for the older age groups, with 7.6% of men aged 90 years and over providing care, compared with 2.2% of women in this age group. Older people living with a spouse or partner were more likely to be carers than people living alone (15% compared with 5%) and the higher rate of caring for men than women in these older age groups partly reflects the higher proportion of men who were living with a spouse or partner, while women of this age were more likely to be living alone.
Older persons, proportion who provided unpaid care(a)(b) by age group, 2011
(a) People who provided unpaid care to a person because of a disability, long term illness or problems related to old age.
(b) Care provided in the two weeks prior to Census Night
Older people also play a significant role in providing unpaid care for children, many of whom are their grandchildren. To ease the burden of child care, many families with young children rely on grandparents to provide informal care for work and study related reasons, and to allow parents to undertake activities such as entertainment and shopping. (Endnote 13) The 2011 Census recorded people who spent time caring for a child or children (aged under 15 years) without pay, in the two weeks prior to Census Night.
In 2011, 12% of older persons cared for children who were not their own and a higher proportion of women provided child care than men (13% compared with 10%). Older persons aged 65–69 years were most likely to care for children (19%), with 24% of women in this age group being child care providers. The likelihood of caring for children decreased with each older age group to less than 1% of persons aged 90 years and over. At ages 80 years and over a greater proportion of men than women provided care, although as there were more women in the older population, women accounted for the greater number of older people caring for children.
In 2011, 20% of older persons spent time doing voluntary work, with older women slightly more likely to be volunteers than older men (21% compared with 19%). However, of those aged 85 years and over, men were more likely than women to be volunteers. Older people in the younger age groups were more likely to be volunteers than those in the oldest age group; nearly one quarter (24 per cent) of both 65-69 year olds and of 70-74 year olds spent time doing voluntary work. This compares with 4.3% of those aged 90 years and over. A decrease in volunteering for the oldest age group is possibly related to a decline in health and mobility that may occur in older age.
2. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2010, 'Moving House' in Australian Social Trends 2010, cat. no. 4102.0, ABS, Canberra, viewed 22 January 2013,
3. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2010, Deaths Australia, 2011, cat. no. 3302.0, ABS, Canberra, viewed 13 Feb 2013 <https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/3302.0>; Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2009 'Couples in Australia' in Australian Social Trends, March 2009, cat. no. 4102.0 viewed 13 Feb 2013 <https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features20March%202009>
4. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2006, 'Older people in cared accommodation' in Australian Social Trends 2006, cat. no. 4102.0, Canberra, viewed 13 February 2013> https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/7d12b0f6763c78caca257061001cc588/a9a41e020abcec68ca2571b00013d9fe!OpenDocument5. Generally in this article, where classifications used included a ‘not stated’ category, data in this category have been excluded prior to the calculation of percentages - in effect, this has ‘distributed’ those results across the remaining categories. See Explanatory Notes for more detail. In the case of the percentage of older persons who have undertaken one of the four activities, this has not been done because of the multiple classifications used.
6. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 1988, 'History of Pensions and Other Benefits in Australia', in Year Book Australia 1988, cat. no. 1301.0, ABS, Canberra, viewed 22 January 2013,
7. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2010, 'Older People and the Labour Market' in Australian Social Trends 2010, cat. no. 4102.0, ABS, Canberra, viewed 22 January 2013,
8. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2009, 'Trends in Superannuation Coverage', Australian Social Trends 2009, cat. no. 4102.0, ABS, Canberra, viewed 22 January 2013,
9. Australian Taxation Office 2012, Guide to superannuation for individuals, Australian Taxation Office, viewed 08/01/2013,
10. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2011, '50 Years of Labour Force Statistics: Now and Then', in Australian Labour Market Statistics, Oct 2011, cat. no. 6105.0, ABS, Canberra, viewed 22 January 2013,
12. Australian Government, 2004, Age Discrimination Act, 2004, Canberra, viewed 22 January 2013,
13. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2011, Childhood Education and Care, Australia, June 2011, cat. no. 4402.0, ABS, Canberra, viewed 14 December 2012,
14. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2008, 'Voluntary work' in Australian Social Trends 2008, cat. no. 4102.0, Canberra, viewed 16 January 2013,
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