Media release: New report finds nothing to fear from an ageing population

26 October 2020

Media Releases 2020

EMBARGOED until Wednesday 28 October 2020

A discussion paper released this week finds that an ageing population is ‘more of a silver lining than a silver tsunami’. In a classic case of the cure being worse than the disease, the paper concludes that federal government policy of rapid population growth to off-set ageing brings far greater problems than any brought on by ageing itself.

The paper was commissioned by Sustainable Population Australia (SPA). It was written by Queensland University academic Dr Jane O’Sullivan who, for the past decade, has researched demographic pressures on food security, economic development and environmental sustainability.

SPA national president Sandra Kanck welcomed the discussion paper, saying it allows policy-makers to look at the population ageing issue from a new perspective – not from one of anxiety  but rather as a good news story.

“Basically, the population ageing panic is a beat-up, a fabricated crisis created by vested interests with their own agendas,” Ms Kanck said.

“The immigration hiatus caused by COVID-19 has heightened dire claims about population ageing. But Dr O’Sullivan’s in-depth report, which includes original data analysis and extensive literature review, sorts the facts from the spin.”

“As the report notes, Australia is still in the last stages of the demographic transition where the proportion of older citizens rises steadily,” said Ms Kanck. “This, however, is only a transition to a new stable level where the proportion of people over 65 will settle at around 28-33%, depending on life expectancy and whether our population stabilises or even gradually reduces in size.

“At no point will over-65s outnumber younger adults. Claims by lobbyists that Australia will be ‘one gigantic floating nursing home somewhere in the Pacific’ are simply scurrilous.”

The discussion paper finds that federal government policies to boost population growth through higher immigration and incentives to have more children, such as the baby bonus, do not prevent ageing in the long run.

“Having more children simply means there are more dependent children relative to the working age population,” says Ms Kanck. “And boosting the working age population through higher immigration has resulted in our labour market being over-supplied, contributing to youth unemployment, wage stagnation and rising inequality. The countries with the most elderly people don’t have fewer workers than us, just less unemployment.

“Treasury’s periodic Intergenerational Reports, which claim an ageing population stifles economic growth, have consistently ignored the costs of population growth, including infrastructure and environmental damage.  When these costs are taken into account, as well as the increasing wellness of older Australians, the benefits of low or negative population growth outweigh the costs of a slightly older population.”

“We do not need to fear an ageing population, nor should we try to offset its effects by boosting population growth,” said Ms Kanck. “When we consider the world’s mounting environmental and security challenges, all made worse by population growth, it’s great news that ending population growth is a win-win for the economy and the environment.”

(Link to the discussion paper can be found on the SPA page here.  We have also made a short video available on our YouTube channel).  PDF attached below.


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