Elder abuse

Understanding issues, frameworks and responses
Research Report No. 35 – February 2016

4. Australia's older population: Demography and health statistics

This part of the discussion focuses on two important aspects of the social, demographic and health backdrop to the issues considered in this paper. It profiles the demographic characteristics of older Australians on the basis of ABS data derived from the 2011 Census (in particular ABS, 2012b, 2013c) and sets out projections in relation to ageing. The discussion also highlights a range of issues, including relationship status, living circumstances, cultural background and disability status that are relevant to a range of considerations in relation to risk factors and response opportunities for elder abuse, as identified in the preceding section. The discussion also uses Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) data to identify the health implications of our ageing population, which again provides insight into the extent of some risk factors and response opportunities for elder abuse.

4.1 Older Australians

Older Australians have increased significantly as a proportion of the total population, reaching 15% (15% women, 14% men) in June 2014 (ABS, 2015a), compared with 7% in 1941 (n = 3 million). The proportion of people aged 85 years and older tripled between 1971 and 2014, from 0.5% to 2%. Population projections indicate that these trends are set to continue, due to a combination of improved life expectancy and fall in fertility rate since the late 1960s. The ABS has projected that persons aged 65 years and older will account for 20-21% of the Australian population by 2040, and 21-23% by 2050 (Figure 1). The projections indicate that from less than 2% in 2011, persons aged 85 years and older will represent about 4% of the Australian population by 2040, and 4-5% by 2050.

4.2 Relationship status

In terms of relationship status, 73% of men and 63% of women in the 65-69 year age bracket were recorded as being married in the 2011 Census (ABS, 2012b), with this differential broadening in the older age brackets due to the lower life expectancy of men compared to women (80.3 years for men cf. 84.4 years for women in 2014) (ABS, 2015b). The proportions of men and women who reported being widowed peaked in the 90+ age group, at 49% of men and 85% of women. Widowhood was most common for men when they were in the 90+ age bracket, with 49% having this status, whereas for women, 85% in this age group were widowed. Widowhood was common for women in 75-79 year age bracket (40%), compared with just 5% of men.

In the 85-89 year old age bracket, 59% of men were married, compared to 19% of women (ABS, 2012b). The proportion of divorced men in the 65-69 year old age bracket was 13%, compared with 15% of women.

4.3 Cultural background

In the 2011 Census, Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander peoples made up 3% of the population under 64 years, and only 1% in the 65 years and over group (ABS, 2012b).

Australia's older population reflects significant cultural diversity due to post-war immigration policies, with 36% of 65+ year olds having been born overseas (compared to 24% of people under 65 years old) (ABS, 2012b). Among the older immigrants, 25% in 2011 were from non-Anglo countries, compared with 12% from the UK and Ireland. The country of origin with the largest representation of older Australians, after the UK and Ireland, was Italy, followed by Greece. Australia's older population will become increasingly culturally diverse, with weakening dominance of immigrants from European countries. Indeed, while 5% of people aged 65 years and over were from Asian countries in 2011, the proportions were 8% of people aged 50-64 years, and 11% of those aged 35-49 years.

Figure 1: Proportion of projected population aged 65+ years and aged 85+ years, based on three alternative sets of assumptions, 2011-2101

Proportion of projected population aged 65+ years and aged 85+ years, based on three alternative sets of assumptions, 2011–2101. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: Series A: total fertility rate = 2.0 births per women from 2026; net overseas migration = 280,000 from 2021; life expectancy = 92.1 and 93.6 for men and women from 2061. Series B: total fertility rate = 1.8 births per women from 2026; net overseas migration = 240,000 from 2021; life expectancy = 85.2 and 88.3 for men and women from 2061. Series C: total fertility rate = 1.6 births per women from 2026; net overseas migration = 200,000 from 2021; life expectancy = 85.2 and 88.3 for men and women from 2061.

Source: ABS (2013b).

4.4 Disability

Increasing increments of older Australians are classified as having a profound or severe disability across the 65+ year age brackets, standing at 9% for 65-69 year olds, and rising to 67% in the 90+ age group according to 2012 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (ABS, 2013a).

AIHW estimates indicate that 342,800 Australians had dementia in 2015, with this reflecting a rate of one in ten in the 65+ age group, and three in ten for the 85+ age group.3 AIHW projections indicate that the number of people with dementia will grow to 400,000 in 2020 and 900,000 in 2050. More than 50% of permanent residents in Australian Government-funded aged care facilities in 2013-14 had a diagnosis of dementia.

4.5 Where do older Australian live?

In 2011, the two states with the highest concentrations of older Australians were Tasmania and South Australia (16% each; ABS, 2013c), followed by NSW, Victoria, Queensland and WA, which were close to the national average of 14%. The two territories had noticeably lower proportions, especially the Northern Territory, with 6%, reflecting the higher proportion of Aboriginal people in that territory, who typically have a younger age profile than non-Indigenous Australians.

Most older Australians, like most Australians, lived in major urban areas in 2011 (65%; ABS, 2013c). About a quarter of older Australians (23% men and 24% of women) lived in other urban areas (smaller cities and towns). Bounded localities, classified as areas with between 200 and 900 people, were home to 3% of older men and 4% of older women. Of older people, 10% of men and 7% of women lived in rural areas.

For the 65-74 year old age bracket, the most common living arrangement was living in a private dwelling with a spouse or partner, with 67% in these circumstances (74% men and 60% women; ABS, 2013c). In the 75-84 and 85+ age brackets, the gender differential increased, with 46% of men and 11% of women aged 85 years and older living in this situation. A quarter of all older Australians lived alone (32% of women and 17% of men), while 8% lived with other relatives, including their siblings or children.

The higher life expectancy of women is reflected in the patterns in their living circumstances among older men and women. Thirty-two per cent of older women lived alone in 2011, compared to 17% of older men (ABS, 2013c). More older women than men lived with family members other than a partner (65-74: 10% women cf. 4% men; and 85+ years: 15% women cf. 7% men). Most commonly, people in these arrangements were living with one or their children.

Most people aged 65 years and over lived in private dwellings (94%; ABS, 2013c). The most common other living circumstance was non-private dwellings (covering a range of non-self-contained, mostly supported, arrangements). By the age of 85 and older, the proportion of people living in non-private dwellings was 18% (men) and 31% (women), compared with 2% (men) and 1% (women) aged 65-74.

3 See the AIHW's information on dementia: <www.aihw.gov.au/dementia/>.