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An ageing Australia: Preparing for the future

Commission research paper

This flagship report was released on 22 November 2013. An errata was released on 17 June 2014.

The report focuses on the effects of ageing on economic output (underpinned by changes in population, participation and productivity) and the resulting implications for government budgets were current policy settings to be maintained. In that context, it will help inform the forthcoming Intergenerational Report (IGR) by The Treasury.

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  • Key points
  • Media release
  • Contents
  • Data
  • Australia's population will both grow strongly and become older. Such slow but profound shifts in the nature of a society do not elicit the same scrutiny as immediate policy issues. The preferable time to contemplate the implications is while these near inevitable trends are still in their infancy.
  • Population ageing is largely a positive outcome, primarily reflecting improved life expectancy. A female (male) born in 2012 will on average live for an estimated 94.4 (91.6) years.
  • However, population growth and ageing will affect labour supply, economic output, infrastructure requirements and governments' budgets.
  • Australia's population is projected to rise to around 38 million by 2060, or around 15 million more than the population in 2012. Sydney and Melbourne can be expected to grow by around 3 million each over this period.
  • The population aged 75 or more years is expected to rise by 4 million from 2012 to 2060, increasing from about 6.4 to 14.4 per cent of the population. In 2012, there was roughly one person aged 100 years old or more to every 100 babies. By 2060, it is projected there will be around 25 such centenarians.
  • Total private and public investment requirements over this 50 year period are estimated to be more than 5 times the cumulative investment made over the last half century, which reveals the importance of an efficient investment environment.
  • Labour participation rates are expected to fall from around 65 to 60 per cent from 2012 to 2060, and overall labour supply per capita to contract by 5 per cent.
  • Average labour productivity growth is projected to be around 1.5 per cent per annum from 2012-13, well below the high productivity period from 1988-89 to 2003-04. Real disposable income per capita is expected to grow at 1.1 per cent per annum compared with the average 2.7 per cent annual growth over the last 20 years.
  • Collectively, it is projected that Australian governments will face additional pressures on their budgets equivalent to around 6 per cent of national GDP by 2060, principally reflecting the growth of expenditure on health, aged care and the Age Pension.
  • Major impending economic and social changes can create the impetus for new reform approaches not currently on the policy horizon. For example:
    • The design of the Age Pension and broader retirement income system might be linked to life expectancy after completion of the current transition to 67 years in 2023.
    • Using some of the annual growth in the housing equity of older Australians could help ensure higher quality options for aged care services and lower fiscal costs.
    • Wide ranging health care reforms could improve productivity in the sector that is the largest contributor to fiscal pressures. Even modest improvements in this area would reduce fiscal pressures significantly.

Preparing for an ageing population now

A report by the Productivity Commission, An Ageing Australia: Preparing for the Future, has found that Australia is facing a major slowdown in its growth in national income per capita and productivity outlook at the same time that ageing will start to make major demands on the budgets of all Australian governments. Actions taken early can make the transition to an older Australia easier.

The Commission projects that unless 'luck or appropriate policies intervene', net national income per capita, the best single measure of national prosperity, may grow by only 1.1 per cent per annum over the next five decades. In the last 20 'boom' years, the yearly growth rate was 2.7 per cent.

Simultaneously, the Commission estimates that population ageing will place pressures on government budgets of 6 per cent of GDP by 2060, and reduce labour supply per capita. It projects that labour force participation rates will fall from 65 to 60 per cent.

The population aged 75 or more years is projected to rise by 4 million from 2012 to 2060. In 2012, there were roughly, one centenarian for every 100 babies. By 2060, it is estimated that there will be 25 such centenarians. Meanwhile, Australia's population will continue to grow strongly, and is expected to lie between 34 and 42 million people by 2060, with the most likely outcome around 38 million. Sydney and Melbourne are projected to each have a population over 7 million.

Peter Harris, Chairman of the Commission, said: 'The best time to develop policies that address the inescapable implications of demographic change is while the transition is in its infancy. It is a good time to start a debate and to float creative policy options.'

The report makes no recommendations, but raises three areas for policy consideration.

The design of the Age Pension and the broader retirement system discourages an active economic role by older people, notwithstanding their far longer life expectancy. The current arrangements are at best arbitrarily linked to life expectancy. The report examines indexing the age at which people might access retirement benefits to longevity. It notes that after completing school, current generations will otherwise spend nearly half their lives not in the labour force, mostly in retirement.

Many older people are asset rich, but income poor. Innovative ways of accessing just a small share of people's housing equity could leave them with assets that still grow, while improving services and relieving some fiscal pressures. There appear to be large potential gains in efficiency in the health care sector. A policy agenda focused on lifting productivity in the health sector could relieve fiscal pressures, while not reducing service quality.

  • Preliminaries
    • Cover, Copyright and publication detail, Foreword, Contents and Abbreviations and explanations
  • Overview
  • Chapter 1 Introduction
    • 1.1 What this report is about
    • 1.2 Basic methodologies for examining the economic implications of ageing
    • 1.3 Structure of the report
  • Chapter 2 Australia's demographic future
    • 2.1 How are population projections produced?
    • 2.2 Net overseas migration
    • 2.3 The total and completed fertility rate
    • 2.4 Mortality rates and life expectancy
    • 2.5 The projections
    • 2.6 Ageing is a global phenomenon
  • Chapter 3 Labour supply
    • 3.1 A broad view of the supply-side of the economy
    • 3.2 The 3Ps framework for labour supply and economic growth
    • 3.3 The 'working age' gap
    • 3.4 Participation rates
    • 3.5 Unemployment (and employment) rates
    • 3.6 Many older workers work part-time
    • 3.7 Hours worked
  • Chapter 4 Productivity and economic growth
    • 4.1 Putting productivity growth in a context
    • 4.2 A few measurement issues
    • 4.3 What are the proximate drivers of labour productivity?
    • 4.4 What does the past aggregate picture tell us?
    • 4.5 Projecting Australia's future productivity rates and economic growth
    • 4.6 Australia's income
  • Chapter 5 Revenue and expenses
    • 5.1 Introduction
    • 5.2 Health
    • 5.3 Age and service pensions
    • 5.4 Aged care
    • 5.5 Education
    • 5.6 Other Australian Government expenditures
    • 5.7 Revenue
    • 5.8 Fiscal pressures created by population ageing
    • 5.9 What does the fiscal gap tell us?
    • 5.10 There are benefits from improving the analysis of fiscal outcomes
  • Chapter 6 Encouraging workforce participation
    • 6.1 What is (and isn't) the problem?
    • 6.2 The broader policy context
    • 6.3 The role of the Age Pension eligibility age
    • 6.4 Participation, work and life expectancy over the life cycle
    • 6.5 What are the goals of the Age Pension?
    • 6.6 The impacts of the pension age on workforce participation
    • 6.7 Aspects of linking the eligibility age to changes in life expectancy
    • 6.8 The links between the Age Pension and the rest of the retirement income system
  • Chapter 7 Income poor, asset rich: overcoming rationing and financing constraints
    • 7.1 Wealth and income by age
    • 7.2 Possible financing options to enable user co contributions
    • 7.3 How a government equity release scheme could work to help fund age related public expenses
    • 7.4 Possible effects of using equity release to fund co contributions
  • Chapter 8 Improving health care productivity to alleviate fiscal pressures
    • 8.1 Health sector productivity: rationale, concepts and some measurement traps
    • 8.2 Estimates of Australia's health sector productivity gap
    • 8.3 Potential sources of future health productivity gains
    • 8.4 Exploratory estimates of the fiscal benefits of future gains in health care productivity
  • Appendix A Modelling mortality trends
  • Appendix B Health expectancy
  • Appendix C Productivity estimates at the industry level
  • Appendix D Comparing projections
  • Appendix E The 3Ps
  • Appendix F The MMRF model
  • References

These attachments provide detail of the key models estimates that are presented in the An Ageing Australia: Preparing for the Future paper. The underlying data for all charts presented in the paper are also provided.

Download the data

Government expenditure modelling

Population modelling

Productivity modelling

Supply side modelling (except productivity)


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