THERE HAS been a lot of talk recently about how many Australians there will be in the future, and how we should prepare for this. A new population minister, Tony Burke, has been charged with preparing a strategy to cope with a forecast population of 35.9 million by 2050.
Underlying this growth in population is a changing age demographic. The federal Treasury predicts that the proportion of people aged 15–64 will reduce from 67.4 per cent of the population in 2010 to 60.2 per cent of the population in 2050, while the proportion of people aged 85 and over will increase from 1.8 per cent of the population in 2010 to 5.1 per cent of the population in 2050.
While the national implications for government budgets of population ageing have been comprehensively examined in Australia by Treasury in its Intergenerational Reports, much less attention has been devoted to more localised spatial implications. Yet it is already clear that the spatial implications of population ageing will create unprecedented challenges for the future delivery of government services. For example, small area population projections suggest that many regional and rural areas are likely to be characterised by strong growth in the number of aged Australians, allied with a dwindling number of children and a shrinking proportion of the population of labour force age.
Recent work at the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) has provided modeling capabilities that allow us to see where different groups will be living in the future, based on where people currently live and where people of different ages are predicted to live in the future. This modeling allows us to look at (for example) where older people who are living alone will be living in the future; and where children aged three to four with all parents working will be living.
A recent paper by NATSEM’s Ann Harding, Yogi Vidyattama and Robert Tanton, Population Ageing and the Needs-Based Planning of Government Services, uses this model to show where two groups – older people living alone, and families with young children and all parents working – would be living in 2027. The aim is to give some idea of where aged care units, and childcare services will be required in the future, and how many people in each area would need these services.
The paper shows that growth in the proportion of families with children aged three and four and all parents working will be strongest in Western Sydney (Parramatta, Auburn, Blacktown and Liverpool), but there are also areas in inner Sydney where high growth is expected. In Melbourne, areas experiencing high growth are to the east of the city (Knox, Yarra Ranges and Waverley East). In Brisbane, areas experiencing high growth are Waverley and Hills District. In Canberra, new areas like Ngunnawal and Palmerston in Gungahlin, and older western suburbs in Belconnen (like MacGregor, Flynn and Florey) will experience relatively high growth in the number of children aged three to four with all parents working.
In summary, for many cities, it tends to be the new areas where the demand for childcare places is going to be (so western Sydney; south-east outskirts of Melbourne; and new suburbs in North Canberra). But urban renewal has also meant areas closer to the city, traditionally seen as older suburbs, will also experience growth in the number of children aged three to four with all parents working.
Areas with a high growth in the proportion of people aged 70 and over living alone include Liverpool, Baulkham Hills and Camden in western Sydney; and some areas in inner Sydney. In Melbourne, the high growth areas are on the northern outskirts (areas like Hume and Whittlesea), and eastern (Casey and Cardinia) and western outskirts (Wyndham). In Brisbane, the high growth areas are to the north-west of the city (Griffin-Mango Hill), and in Canberra the newer suburbs of Ngunnawal and Nicholls, and the older Belconnen suburbs of McKellar and Bruce.
In terms of service provision to older Australians living alone, the general impression given by this research is that there will be a ring of outlying suburbs in each city where there will be strong growth in the number of older Australians living alone, suggesting considerable challenges in future service delivery to older Australians.
The Rudd government is right to be thinking about how we go about planning for the future demographics. Given the time lag in getting services like childcare places or aged homes in, the questions that need to be answered should not only be about a sustainable level of population overall, but also around where future services will be required to service the different populations in each area. This research shows that much of the growth for both these service populations will tend to be on the outskirts of the capital cities.
Robert Tanton is Principal Research Fellow at the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM)