One of the defining markers of Australia’s population is that it is ageing. Currently, the national median age is 37 years, which has increased by two years over the last two decades (35 years, 1999). When Australia’s Age Pension was introduced in 1909, life expectancy at birth was 57 years. Today, it exceeds 80, averaged across males and females. This means that Australians have gained an additional 25 years of life expectancy over a century, or more spectacularly – three months of life for every 12 months of time!
The primary enabler of this ongoing longevity gain has been the health system. Life expectancy increases will continue because of improved medical technologies, public health infrastructure, better public health measures, new and improved medical interventions and the improved survivability rates of major illnesses and cancers. With Australians living longer than ever before, there will be an increasing need for procedures and medical intervention, and a growing expectation from the public that these services will continue to be provided.
Living longer, working later
Whilst Aussies are living longer, they are also working harder. Currently, in a population of nearly 26 million, nearly a quarter (27%, 7,1 million) are aged over 55+. More than half of those over 55 (3.9m) are currently eligible to receive the pension. Today, a larger proportion of this cohort are choosing not to enter retirement but to continue working. 13% of 65+ are still participating on some level in the workforce, nearly doubling the rate more than a decade ago (8%, 2006).
The aged care workforce
Along with our ageing population, we also have an ageing workforce supporting them. The aged care sector is the oldest sector of employment by median age. The median age for a residential direct care worker is 48 and community direct care workers is 50 years. For comparison, the median age in the retail sector is 33, finance 37, construction 38, health 41 and education 42.
Because of the high median age of an employee in the aged care sector, half of the aged care workforce will be of retirement age in 15 years. Currently there are over 240,000 workers in this sector, equating to an average of 8,000 retirements per year over the next 15 years.
Australia will need to anticipate this shift in the industry as our retirement-ready-residents’ transition into aged care. Over the next ten years, there will be a total 4.27 million residents eligible to receive the pension (an 11% increase over ten years).