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Core 1: Health Priorities in Australia

What are the priority issues for improving Australia’s health?

A growing and ageing population

Key Messages

  • Australia’s population is growing and ageing. The ageing population is the consequence of sustained low fertility levels and increasing life expectancy at birth.
  • With our ageing population, comes a number of health challenges to our community. An increase in people living with chronic diseases and disabilities, places a higher demand for health services and workforce shortages as well as the financial strain to provide these services.
  • Government priority is to encourage healthy ageing so as to enable people to contribute for as long as possible and to reduce the burden on our health care system.
  • It is projected that there will be little growth in the number of available carers, compared with the anticipated rise in demand for home-based support. This is likely to result in a shortage of carers in the future.

Australia’s population is projected to grow from around 22 million people currently to 35.9 million people in 2050. The ageing of the population will see the number of people aged 65 to 84 years more than double and the number of people 85 years and over more than quadruple.

(The 2010 Intergenerational Report. 2010. Australian Government. The Treasury. (external website))

The 2010 Intergenerational Report. 2010. Australian Government. The Treasury
(The 2010 Intergenerational Report. 2010. Australian Government. The Treasury. (external website) p.10)

As a consequence, the proportion of the population of traditional working age and therefore the rate of labour force participation across the whole population is projected to decline. Australia’s population is projected to grow from around 22 million people currently to 35.9 million people in 2050.The number of people of working age to support every person aged 65 years and over is projected to decline to 2.7 people by 2050 (compared with 5 people now).

(The 2010 Intergenerational Report. 2010. Australian Government. The Treasury. (external website))

A direct consequence of declining death rates is that Australians in general enjoy one of the highest life expectancies in the world. Life expectancy at age 65 years increased only slightly between 1900 and 1970, but from 1970 on it has consistently improved. Improvements in life expectancy for persons aged 85 years have also occurred since the 1970s. Most of these gains in life expectancy among older Australians occurred during the latter three decades of the 20th century, when mortality from cardiovascular diseases (notably heart disease and stroke) fell rapidly.

Hand on mouseStudent activity
  1. Explore Section 2.1 – Australia’s changing population in Australia's health 2010. AIHW. (external website) with particular focus on the following graphs:
    • Figure 2.1: Age structure of the Australian population, page 20,
    • Figure 2.4: Trends in life expectancy at various ages, page 27.

    Make predications on what the age structure of the population may be to the middle of this century, and the impact that this may have on the health care system.

Check answer

Explore the links below to develop a deeper understanding of a growing and ageing population and its impact on Australia’s health.

Healthy ageing

Increased population living with chronic disease and disability

Demand for health services and workforce shortages

Availability of carers and volunteers

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