Age in Australia
WATCH: Numbers that matter information session recording

Below is a snapshot of the Age in Australia section from the Census 2021: Numbers that matter report – you can read more about the report and its authors below this story, as well as explore the other core themes covered by the report.

Every five years there’s great excitement about what the latest Australian Census will say about our nation. It is a snapshot in time that provides important data points; but insights can only be drawn when that data is mixed with the experiences of people closely in touch with our communities.  Tobias Dawson from Illawarra Retirement Trust provides that invaluable community voice in the story below.

Read more about the lived experiences and voices of community in the full Census 2021: Numbers that matter report.  Delivered by Perpetual Philanthropy and Not-for-profit in conjunction with Seer Data & Analytics.

Age in Australia

The Australian population in 2021 is approximately equal in males and females in each age range under 75 years. For each age range above 75, females represent an increasing proportion of the population of that age range. Around 4 in 5 people aged 100+ years are female.

Rates of core activity need for assistance have increased for our elderly population in 2021:

  • 42.42% of males and 53.43% of females aged 85+ had a core activity need for assistance in 2021
    compared with
  • 38.72% of males and 51.56% of females aged 85+ who had a core activity need for assistance in 2006.

Life expectancy increase by sex – 10 years to 2020 

Life expectancy

Life expectancy for males increased by 1.7 years to 81.2 years over the decade to 2020, increasing further to 81.3 in 2021.

Life expectancy for females increased by 1.3 years to 85.3 years over the decade to 2020, increasing further to 85.4 in 2021.

In recent years, life expectancy for males has improved at a faster rate than that for females.

  • Around 30 years ago (1991), life expectancy at birth was 74.4 years for males and 80.3 years for females, a gap of 5.9 years.
  • The gap has now narrowed to 4.1 years in 2019-21.

Source: ABS Life Tables

Life expectancy refers to the average number of additional years a person of a given age and sex could be expected to live, assuming current age-sex specific death rates are experienced throughout their lifetime.

Community voice: A view from above

by Tobias Dawson, Illawarra Retirement Trust

You’re viewing images from a drone flying above ageing Australia. What do you see?

Some good things. Life expectancy increasing into the mid 80s. Older Australians are far healthier, more active and engaged than before. A clearer view of real human needs. That the guy down the street we used to call a “grumpy old man” is actually a lonely man struggling with depression and anxiety.

But what you’d also see, everywhere, are gaps.

Today, there are over 20,000 homeless Australians aged 55 or over* and women are massively over-represented within this population. Woman or man, aged homelessness is a tragedy. Most people in that population die within five years.

From above we can see that aged care service provision is incredibly complex – there are a range of support options and multiple providers, but that complexity creates equity of access barriers that affect anyone struggling with mental or physical health, poor education, literacy or digital access.

Within residential aged care we see familiar hurdles blocking available support. Many residents need a referral to access services – but we can’t get doctors into centres and there’s a major shortage of mental health professionals with experience. The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety painted a picture that the care home sector is not an attractive place to live – or work. Low pay and competition from other sectors are just two of the reasons there are 22,000 job vacancies in the sector. A problem compounded by the halving of the volunteer workforce since 2016.

We’re seeing more people ageing at home, a good idea for many, if they are supported by a network of social services – doctors, nurses, occupational therapists – and even more importantly, if we can find ways to keep them connected to their community.

What does this all mean? That we need investment in system-agnostic service delivery that ensures an ever more diverse and complex ageing population get what they need from a range of high quality, expert service delivery agencies. That these agencies seamlessly intersect in sharing data, ideas – and care. We need lots of different service models that have one thing in common – they’re focused on the person. Because that person is my mother or father – and your mother and father. And one day it will be me. And you.

That’s why we need increased philanthropic investment in this sector and research joined-up with government policy. So we can all have an old and happy life rich with connections and purpose.

* Source: Census of Population and Housing: Estimating Homelessness


With thanks to our community voice for this story:

Tobias Dawson was Head of Strategic Partnerships at Illawarra Retirement Trust, one of Australia’s largest community-owned providers of independent living, aged care and home care. Today he is a partner in a social impact consultancy, Tomorrow Together, that helps businesses maximise their social impact.

Census 2021: Numbers that matter – Learn more

About the report and its authors

Census 2021: Numbers that matter, a strategic compendium for Australia’s for-purpose leaders, boards and philanthropists, which asks and answers the big questions about how to make our society better for all.  The above story is a snapshot of the introduction only, with an additional seven core themes curated in the report, where experts from Perpetual and other social sector organisations reflect on some of the big issues facing our communities, by exploring a series of data insights drawn largely (but not completely) from the 2021 Census.

About Perpetual

Perpetual’s Philanthropy and Not-for-Profit team is one of Australia’s largest advisory teams working with philanthropic individuals, families and for-purpose organisations, helping them have an impact with their giving, investments and communities. For not-for-profits they provide governance, investment management and spending policy advice. They work with philanthropists to develop their giving strategies, set up the most appropriate giving approach for their circumstances and help them assess, choose and support the organisations and causes that matter to them. They work to bring these two groups together and to support them with thought leadership and analysis that helps them achieve more for their communities.

Report Authors

Caitriona Fay, Managing Partner, Community and Social Investment, Perpetual Private
Jane Magor, National Manager, Philanthropy & Non Profit Services, Perpetual Private

Get in touch with the Perpetual and Seer Data & Analytics team with any feedback or questions:

The next steps

EXPLORE the Census 2021 data assets, including insights, an interactive dashboard, and new insight builder tool coming soon.

READ the full report including on the ground insights behind the numbers contributed by community sector leaders.

WATCH Census 2021: Numbers that matter information session recording, where report authors expand on the topics in the report.