Australia’s latest population analysis has revealed the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on life expectancy and long-term population numbers with both figures noticeably decreasing over the last three years.
Yet while those numbers have gone down, Australia’s Baby Boomer population is set to blowout retirement and aged care numbers.
According to Treasury’s 2022 Population Statement, last year’s Omicron wave contributed to a sharp increase in deaths, as total deaths caused by COVID-19 were six times higher than in 2021.
In total, close to 130,000 people died in the first eight months of 2022, 13.2% more than in 2021, directly contributing to life expectancy in Australia.
Life expectancy has dipped by 0.4 years for males (80.8 years) and females (84.9) in 2021-22 and 0.2 years for males (81) and 0.3 years for females (85) in 2022-23.
Projections indicate those numbers should still increase though, reaching 87 years for females and 83.5 years for males by 2032-33, although uncertainty remains over COVID-19’s long-term impact.
Approximately 7,700 deaths were attributed to COVID-19 in 2022, which accounted for 5.5% of deaths in residential aged care since November 2021, where figures last week peaked at their highest number since August.
120 resident deaths occurred in the week ending 5 January, the highest weekly total since August of last year, and the second consecutive week with 100+ deaths in aged care.
However, the impact of vaccinations has been noticeable, just 3.3% of COVID-19 infections resulted in death for aged care residents throughout 2022, compared to 33% of cases in 2020.
The increased number of deaths has directly impacted Australia’s projected population – it is now expected to be 29.9 million by 2033, which is 1.2 million fewer people than predicted in 2019.
Federal Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, said that although population growth has slowed down, it is on the way to recovery already.
“The past few years have seen some of the biggest changes to our population since Federation,” said Dr Chalmers.
“As a result of the international travel restrictions introduced to slow the spread of COVID-19, Australia experienced the first net outflow of overseas migration since World War II. This has had an impact on cities and regions across the country.
“Ongoing demographic challenges like ageing will continue to influence how our population evolves over time.”
Dr Chalmers said that the removal of COVID-19 restrictions will help population growth recover.
Although life expectancy has dropped, the Baby Boomer wave is hitting its peak.
Australia’s 65+ population is expected to grow by 50% over the next 20 years, with almost a quarter of the population aged 65+ in 2060.
The Treasury 2022 Population Statement revealed that by 2033 the old-age dependency ratio – the number of people aged 65 and over compared to the number of people aged 20-64 – will reach 31.2%, an increase of over 5% to today.
Melbourne University Demographics Professor, Peter McDonald, told News.com.au this will place an increased burden on Australia’s aged care system.
“We need to be concerned about it because the wave is coming, the Baby Boomer generation is not that far away,” said Professor McDonald.
“The issue is that older people, particularly people aged 80 and over, is where the growth of population will be very big.
“The Baby Boomer generation is coming into those ages, and the population over 80 tends to be relatively expensive in terms of health care, residential aged care and so on.”
Professor McDonald said planning is essential to account for issues like labour shortages, particularly as aged care is facing the loss of up to half the existing workforce.
The Government has previously warned the aged care sector that it must prepare for the Baby Boomers, with Aged Care Minister Anika Wells stating that the industry must embrace creativity, technology and international best practice.
Minister Wells said it would not be one rogue wave, but rather a rising tide, a comment echoed by the Treasury in their report, which outlined that Australia is currently in the middle of an influx of people entering retirement.
The ageing population also means Australia’s median age – that is the exact middle number, or in this case age, of Australia’s population – rises as well.
By 2033, the median age of Australians is projected to be 40.1 years old and the number of people aged 65 and over will be 19.9% of the total population – an increase of 3%.