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4108.1 - Older People, New South Wales, 2000  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 15/03/2000   
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Summary of topics

Characteristics of the older population
An ageing population
Population projections
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population
Overseas born population
Regional population
Regional growth

Main Findings

  • In 1998, there were 807,200 older people (aged 65 years and over) in NSW. This represents 13% of the total population of NSW. There are more older women than men.
  • The older population is increasing - both in number and as a proportion of the total population.
  • While in 1972, older people made up only 9% of the population, it is expected that this will rise to 18% or 1,346,000 in 2021.
  • The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is considerably younger than the total population. In 1996, only 2% were age 65 years or older.
  • In 1996, 27% of the older population were born overseas. The largest number were born in the UK with significant numbers coming from Italy, China and Greece.
  • The majority of older people live in the coastal areas. In some areas such as Great Lakes and Tweed Heads, nearly one in four of the total population were older people.
  • In NSW the older population is growing at a greater rate than the rest of the population. Between 1993 and 1998 the total population grew by 6%, whilst the older population grew at 10%.
  • Older people are less likely to move than younger groups. If they do move, they are more likely to move short distances within their local area.


Summary of topics

Living arrangements
People living alone

Main Findings

  • Most older people live with someone else, usually relatives and close family members. In 1996, 53% lived with their partner, 12% lived with other people, 27% lived alone and 6% were in aged care. As people age they are less likely to live with their partner and are more likely to live alone.
  • As women generally live longer than men, they tend to outlive their partners. This leads to differences in living arrangements. In 1996, 71% of older men lived with their partner compared with 40% of older women. This difference increases with age.
  • People aged 85 years and over were more likely to live in cared accommodation. In 1996, 33% of people aged 85 years and over lived in cared accommodation compared to only 1% aged 65-74 years and 8% aged 75-84 years.
  • Most older people who lived alone did so because of widowhood. As women have a longer life expectancy, they were the majority, outnumbering men 3 to 1. The proportion of older people living alone is expected to rise to 29% by 2006, after which it is expected to decline.
  • In 1998, 38,000 older people were primary carers. Of these 76% were caring for an older person, mostly their partners.
  • In 1998, 86% of older people received assistance from informal sources, usually family. Formal assistance was given to 51% of older people. Most formal assistance came from private-for-profit organisations.


Summary of topics

Life expectancy
Causes of death
Self perception of health status
Health related action
Reducing the risk of ill-health

Main Findings

  • Life expectancy at birth has increased from 68.0 years for men and 74.4 years for women in 1971 to 75.8 years for men and 81.6 for women in 1996-98. For older people the average life expectancy also increased. In 1971 men aged 65 could expect to live for another 12 years and women for another 16 Years. By 1998 this had increased to 16 years for men and 20 for women.
  • In 1998, the three major causes of death (ischaemic heart disease, cancer and stroke) accounted for nearly two-thirds of all deaths of older people in NSW.
  • In 1998, 54% of older people had a disability. Some 22% had a profound or severe restriction relating to the core activities of communication, mobility or self-care.
  • In 1995, two-thirds of people aged 65-74 years rated their health as excellent, very good or good. This rate dropped to 57% for older people aged 75 years and over.
  • In 1995, 94% of older people took some type of health related action. Most commonly this was the use of some type of medication (92%).
  • Exercise is a common activity for older people. In 1995, 55% reported some sort of exercise. Overall men were more likely to exercise than women - 61% compared to 50%. Of the aged population, 57% did not consume alcohol and 88% did not smoke tobacco.


Summary of topics

Time use
Social and community activities
Social participation

Main Findings

  • In 1997, older people spent a much smaller proportion of their time on employment related activities compared to the general population - less than 2% compared to 21%. They spent 41% of their waking hours on recreation and leisure activities compared to 29% for the general population. Older people spent more time on personal care activities than the general population - 3 hours 24 minutes per day compared to 2 hours 34 minutes. Older people spend a higher proportion of their time on 'passive' leisure pursuits. Common leisure activities are watching television, reading and relaxing.
  • Most older people tend to be physically active. In 1997, older people who participated in sport and outdoor activities spent about the same amount of time per day as those younger. However, the percentage of people participating in sport and physical activities declined with age from 77% of those aged 18-24 years to 42% for those aged 65 years and over.
  • In 1995, 15% of older people provided 24 million hours of voluntary work. The type of voluntary work varies with age. Older people are more likely to volunteer in welfare and community fields than education, sporting and recreational fields. Older people are more likely to volunteer for social and community reasons rather than to gain new skills or because of personal or family involvement.
  • Grandparents are important providers of low cost informal child care. In 1997 of the 262,000 households in NSW that used some form of informal child care, 72% was provided by grandparents.


Summary of topics

Types of houses
People living alone
Housing costs
Risks of falls
Moving home

Main Findings
  • In 1996 the majority of older people (93%) lived in private dwellings. Most lived in separate houses (70%). Another 14% lived in flats and a further 8% lived in semi-detached dwellings. While less than 2% of the population lived in non-private dwellings, older people accounted for about half. As people age, they are more likely to live in non-private dwellings. Of those aged 85 years and over, 34% lived in nursing homes and retirement and aged care accommodation.
  • In 1996, older people who lived alone were more likely to live in a separate dwelling than younger people - 59% to 45%. Women were more likely to live alone than men.
  • In general, older people are more likely to own their own home. In 1996, 79% of older people lived in a home that was fully owned by a member of the household, while only 5% lived in homes where mortgage payments were being made. Few older people live in rented accommodation - only 12% of which about a half rented from a state housing authority.
  • In 1997-98 the weekly median housing cost for owner/purchaser households was $16 where the reference person was 65 years and over compared to $49 for those in the 15-64 age range. This is similar to renters where the housing costs were $43 compared to $152.
  • The risks of accidents at home is high for older people. In 1995, 20% of older people had fallen at least once. The main reason for a fall was most likely to be an uneven, cracked or slippery surface (35%). An obstruction like a step or object on the ground was the next most likely cause (34%). In 1995, 17% of all households which had a person aged 65 and over had some structural modifications to prevent a fall. The most common modification was the installation of handgrab rails.
  • Older people do not move as often as younger people. In 1996 only 21% had moved in the previous 5 years. Older people who lived in non-private dwellings in 1996 were more likely to have moved than those living in private dwellings. In 1996 two-thirds of those living in non-private dwellings had moved in the previous 5 years.


Summary of topics

Labour force
Retirement Income

Main Findings

  • In general, participation in the labour force decreases with age. Only 6% of those aged 65 years and over participated in the labour force. While the rate dropped for men between 1979 and 1999 from 12% to 9%, for women it increased from 2% to 3%. The proportion of men working part-time increased with age. Of those men aged 65 years and over who were employed, 43% worked part time. While women's employment patterns were different, part-time work also increased with age with 72% of employed women aged 65 and over working part-time.
  • In 1997, retirement patterns differed between men and women. Of retired men, 21% retired aged 55-59 years, 33% retired between 60-64 years and one in five after age 65 years. For women, just over half (52%) retired before age 45 years, a further 22% between 45 and 55 years. Only 3% retired after age 65 years.
  • In 1997-98, the median gross weekly income for older income units was $254. This was less than half of younger income units ($600). Older people living alone had the lowest income of all units at $191 per week. The majority of lone income units were women (71%).
  • In 1997-98, Government pensions and allowances formed the main source of income for 77% of older people. Only 3% relied on wages or salary as the main source. Superannuation was the main source of income for 9% of older people.


Summary of topics

Use of transport
Problems with transport
Community transport
Purpose and duration of travel
Road accident victims

Main Findings
  • As with all transport users the most popular mode of transport for older people is the motor vehicle. In 1997 of the 1.5 million trips taken in the Greater Sydney Metropolitan Region, 68% were by motor vehicle. Older men are more likely to be drivers (62% of trips) while older women were more likely to be passengers (34% of trips). Walking accounted for 25% of trips made by older people, Older women used public transport more than older men - 9% of trips compared with 5%.
  • In June 1998, 12% of all licensed drivers were older people. Of men aged 65-74 years, 88% had licenses. This dropped to 75% of men aged 75-84 years then dropped significantly to 29% over 85 years. For women the percentages were 58% for those aged 65-74 years, 34% aged 75-84 years and only 5% aged 85 years and over.
  • In 1996, 7% of older people were unable to attend events due to transport problems. The main reasons were the person's disability or concern for safety. In 1998 28% of older people did not use public transport when it was available in their area, Of this group 86% stated they did not use it because they experienced problems when travelling. In 1997-98 over 1.6 million trips were made by older people or people with a disability in NSW using Community Transport. The most common reason was for a social or recreational purpose. Shopping accounted for a further 23%.
  • In 1997, the most common reason for all journeys was shopping (22%). Social visits accounted for 8% as did personal business/services.
  • In 1997, people aged 60 and over made up 11% of all road casualties although they made up 17% of the total population. Older people, however, are more likely to be killed as a pedestrian than any other age group. People aged 80 years and over had a 1 in 10,000 chance of being killed compared with a 1 in 50,000 chance for those aged 50-59 years.

    For further information see the NSW Department of Ageing and Disabilities at

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