Australians are living longer, healthier lives, but our birth rate is declining. The reality is; we’re dealing with an ageing population. Over the next 40 years, the proportion of our population aged over 65 is expected to almost double to around 25%.
A recent research paper shows that migration is slowing the rate of ageing of Australia’s population. It gives evidence that Australia’s shift to a skilled migration programme and increase in the number of international students can influence the rate of population ageing. Let’s find out more...
How do we measure the impact of overseas migration on population level?
The research, published in the Journal of Population Research at the end of March, looks at the age and number of immigrants and emigrants to and from Australia compared with the average age of our population.
In the decade between 2005 and 2015, Australia’s average age increased by 1.1 years from 37.5 years to 38.6 years – an increase of 5 weeks per year. Without migration, the research shows that Australia’s average age would have increased by 11 weeks per year.
During this period, the number of overseas arrivals was almost double the level of overseas departures, and the arrivals were generally younger.
So, Australia’s population is still ageing, but immigration effectively slows the rate of ageing.
Australia’s average age differs by region
Australia’s median age also differs quite dramatically in our states and territories. The Northern Territory has the youngest average age of 32.4 years and Tasmania has the oldest at 42 years.
Between 2005 and 2015, Tasmania’s average age jumped from 38.6 years to 41 years. The research attributes this larger increase to the impact of interstate migration in the region. Those leaving Tasmania were younger than its interstate arrivals, which contributed to the average age increase over time.
The research reveals the diversity of population change within a country. Australia’s skilled migration programme and increased international student intake has helped to slow the rate of ageing nationally, but the regions may have their own distinct population concerns.
Population ageing is a global phenomenon
Australia isn’t the only country facing the problem of an ageing population. The UN says more than half of governments worldwide consider population ageing to be a ‘major concern’.
Japan has the world’s oldest population - 33% of Japan’s population were aged 60 years or over in 2015. Germany is next in line with 28% aged 60 years or over, followed by Italy and Finland.
Countries like Japan face an uncertain economic, social and political future. Japan needs to increase its labour supply, but as a largely homogenous country, it also faces the challenge of integrating immigrants into its society and culture.
Here in Australia, we have the advantage of a long, successful history of immigration and integration. We’re fortunate to live in a diverse and multicultural society and Australians broadly support and embrace our multiculturalism.
Looking to the future...
Growth in the number of people of traditional workforce age in Australia is expected to slow to almost zero by the 2040s. However, as shown by this recent research, national immigration policies can have a significant impact on our ageing population.
This is not the time to put up barriers and reduce our immigration levels. Instead, we need to maintain our labour supply and avoid the economic stagnation caused by an ageing and shrinking workforce.
Policies specifically tailored to our regions and territories are needed too. The Tasmanian government already has a ‘Population Growth Strategy’ in place to grow its population. Its strategy centres on bolstering job creation and workforce development, supporting interstate and overseas migration and building on and promoting Tasmania’s liveability.
What do you think? Is migration the key to a prosperous future for Australia?
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