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Age firmly on agenda

THE ageing of Australia’s population has been widely predicted. Less well understood is the commercial and social impact of this change.

The extent of the coming demographic shift was outlined in the Commonwealth Government Inter-generational Report. It said the number of Australians aged between zero and 55 would experience minimal growth over the next 40 years, to about 16 million.

Over the same period, the number of Australians aged 55 or over will more than double, from four million presently to about nine million.

Consulting group Access Economics believes “the wealth of Australia’s mature consumers has the potential to introduce a spending bonanza of proportions not seen before”.

Access has studied the spending habits of mature consumers and concluded that the ageing society will affect just about every industry, from the design of cars and houses to the selection of stores in shopping malls.

Mature consumers spend an above average share of their income on holidays, books and magazines and enjoy a flutter on lotteries, pokies and horses.

They cook at home, because they have the time and they are in the habit, so they spend-up big on home-wares but below average on fast food and restaurants.

Health is a big issue for mature consumers, and they spend big money on pharmaceutical goods and health insurance.

Indulging themselves and their grandchildren is another characteristic of the mature consumer, according to Access. This means they will spend a lot more on toys for their grandchildren and ‘toys’ for themselves, such as boats and tools for the workshop.

Dr Penny Flett, the chief executive of care group Brightwater, believes ageing should be seen as a social issue, not a health issue.

She predicts that many of the things we take for granted will need to be reassessed, right through to the design of dwellings and neighbourhoods.

Dr Flett also anticipates big changes in the aged care industry.

“We will be able to access much more to enable us to stay in the home and dwelling of our choice, wherever that may be,” she said.

“The nursing home will not be inevitable. Home-based services of all sorts and combinations will be available and accessible, on our terms, to support our continued independence.”

Dr Flett also predicted that the familiar retirement village of today, comprising a large collection of similar buildings arranged around a community centre, might turn into a virtual village.

In this scenario, the dwellings would be scattered throughout the community but connected electronically to the centre facility.

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