The National Strategy for an Ageing Australia

Attitudes, Lifestyle and community Support

Page last updated: 02 October 2009

Current and future generations of older people will certainly share a common goal of wanting to stay connected to the community and be valued for their past and present contributions to society and to the economy. They will also want to remain active and independent so that they can participate in family and community life. With increased longevity and successful approaches to healthy ageing it is likely that larger numbers of older people will continue to participate in the community to an extent that was not possible for earlier generations.

The capacity of older Australians to participate in and stay connected to society is affected by a range of factors. Appropriate housing, transport and technology for example, can assist older people to participate in society. Health technology can also extend years of healthy living and independence. Positive community attitudes to older people and the ageing process can influence the level of involvement of older people in society. The links that older people have with their family, their friends and the broader community affect both their contributions to the community and the support the community can provide to them.

Attitudes to Older Australians

Positive attitudes to older people are fundamental to social cohesion now and as the population age mix changes over the coming decades. The encouragement of positive attitudes by older Australians to the ageing process will also yield benefits to individuals and the wider community.

Current community perceptions of older people still suffer from stereotypes formed in earlier times. The options open to older people then were more limited, and their expected lifespan and health a lot lower, than they are today and certainly than they will be in the future. Current attitudes to older people are not always positive or supportive and bear little relationship to the diversity of lifestyles and contributions of older people. The media often portray older people in stereotypical or negative ways and frequently show them to be frail and defenceless.

Older people in the workforce often experience negative attitudes in relation to their capacity and willingness to adapt to change. Younger people are often unaware of the actual contributions made by older people and their knowledge and experience is not always seen as relevant because of the perceived immense differences in their lives.

Negative, or at the very least uninformed attitudes, can act as barriers to people's lifestyles, their capacity to participate in society, and in their quality of life and health. Older people, just like people of a younger age, are all individuals, they have varying capacities and abilities to adapt to change and use their talents and skills to contribute to the economy and the community.

Despite these sometimes negative or uninformed attitudes, there is plenty of good will and respect for older people in the Australian community. An increasing number of people are showing what it means to grow older and continue to make a positive contribution to the community. This contribution is being made through paid or voluntary work or social, cultural, educational and recreational avenues. Widespread understanding of what is happening as the population ages will be important for harmony between the generations.

It will also be important that older people have a better understanding of the new possibilities for their ongoing productive participation in the economic and social life of the community. The perceptions of age and what is considered old are changing. We will increasingly distinguish between the young old and the old old.

The growing size of the older cohort will increase their influence on public policy and other aspects of community decision-making processes. The whole population will need to work together to establish the right balance between competing needs. This process will require adjustments in thinking and policies, not only to accommodate the needs of an older population but also to continue to draw on their skills, experience and talents. If we are successful in this process the nation will have a bigger pool of human resources to draw upon in coming decades than ever before.
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The Lifestyles of Older People

With people living longer, the period after retirement from paid work is becoming longer, and for many people, more active. They have more time for education, recreation, cultural pursuits and voluntary work. People will expect more from retirement and will be looking to have quality lifestyles wherever possible. The baby boomers will lead this trend and some will have the wealth to make it happen. Older people will continue to seek appropriate access to services to support their day to day living needs as well as other activities.

There are a number of elements that affect the lifestyles of older people. Obvious elements include housing, transport and the ability to use common forms of technology. But there is a range of other elements, such as access to health and aged care services, access and capacity to participate in recreation, tourism and leisure activities as well as ongoing learning, that affect older people's quality of life and their involvement in society.

Individual, community, government and business resources and services are available to support the lifestyle needs of older Australians. Much of this 'infrastructure' is designed and operated without particular attention to the different needs of people as they age. Our houses, buildings, roads, buses, trains, ferries, planes, communications, shopping centres, entertainment venues, public spaces, hospitals and other health and care facilities will need to be looked at critically as the population ages. It will be important to ensure that they are appropriately designed for use by all people, including older people. Rising consumer expectations of life in retirement and of service quality, combined with the increasing personal wealth of older people, are likely to drive this reconsideration of the infrastructure that supports our lifestyles.

How will housing need to change?

Housing is an essential requirement for people of all ages. Safe and secure housing is particularly important for older people, and access by all older Australians to housing (private and public) that is affordable, accessible and suitable for their needs will be a priority as the population ages.

Home ownership is very high among older Australians, with outright ownership by far the most common tenure type for Australians aged 65 years and over.24 The benefits of this to older people include lower housing costs, security of tenure, and having an asset that may be realised for consumption.

Different life cycle stages correspond broadly to different living arrangements and can affect the type of housing that people require as they grow older. For example there may be fewer or no children at home, declining health or onset of disabilities or the death of a partner, a greater desire to be closer to friends and families and an increased need for ready access to facilities. These changes can lead to older people looking for housing which is smaller, safer, more secure, and in closer proximity to services, transport and family.

While the changing age profile alone will affect the type of housing required, there are other trends in marriage, family and work patterns and living arrangements in Australia that will also impact on the housing people will need and want in older age. There is a trend for example, for individuals to move between a greater number of households than in the past and for this to continue into later life.25 People in their 50s and 60s appear to be moving more often than earlier generations as a result of downsizing housing and lifestyle options.26

These changes are likely to lead to changes in the types of housing that older people will seek in retirement. We might see a growing demand for single unit accommodation suited to older people. We might also see changes in the demand for public housing (as a result of higher divorce rates) and maybe changes in home ownership patterns in the future. In the private rental market we might see greater pressure for improved security of tenure as people seek to retain links with local services and communities.

Consumers, industry and governments will certainly need to give greater attention to housing design which is suitable to older people - whether it be housing specifically for older people or housing which meets the changing needs of people as they age. The ability of the structure and design of housing to be adapted to support peoples' varying levels of independence will provide future cohorts of older people with more options to remain in their own homes and communities.
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How will transport needs change?

Transport is important for enabling access to services, family, friends and it supports greater social interaction. Current transport options include car, public transport, and private transport provided by business or community organisations. Car ownership in the community is very high, with 95 per cent of couple households (with or without children) owning one or more registered motor vehicles.27 However, there are groups within the community where car ownership levels are much lower and therefore the need for public transport is greater. Over 40 per cent of lone person households 65 years and over, for example, do not own a motor vehicle.28

It is likely that the main impact on transport infrastructure will be an increase in the number of older people driving, or needing to use general public transport or specific transport to get them to the doctor or other service. Our transport system will need to be managed to ensure that it meets the range of diverse needs that older people will have. Not all older people have disabilities, but some need a little extra consideration to cater for their varied needs. The costs of transport, including car registration costs, public transport costs and even taxi fares will continue to influence transport options and usage.

The issue of fitness to drive a motor vehicle will continue to be an important matter for both the individual and the community. Licensing authorities will need to continue to exercise sensitivity and care in this area. There will also need to be greater consideration of older drivers in road and car design.

There are likely to be larger numbers of older people using public transport as their main form of transport. Issues such as the price of fares, the scheduling of services, and the design of buses and trains will be important to the suitability of services to older people. The availability of transport services, whether public or private will continue to be a key issue for older people in rural and remote areas of Australia. For these people, lack of adequate transport can pose major barriers to participation in the community and to the accessing of necessary services.

With the spending by older consumers expected to grow by 61 per cent over the next 10 years across the board, businesses will need to recognise and respond to different patterns of demand for goods and services by this growing group.29 One service that older people might be looking for is transport - and opportunities certainly exist for individual businesses or groups of businesses, such as those located in shopping malls to consider the benefits to their businesses of providing free or subsidised transport to retail or service centres.

What will be the communication and technology issues for older people?

Communication and information technology can be expected to change significantly over the next fifty years. Online technologies, especially from the home (and many of which we cannot even begin to imagine) are going to be paramount to servicing and improving the quality of life of older Australians. Ready access to information, the capacity to access and receive services, including health services, without needing to leave the home, the ability to communicate with people all over the world and the potential for learning and education, are just some of the ways in which new technology will be able to enrich the lives of older people and support their ongoing participation in society.

Ensuring that older Australians are able to benefit from the advances in communication and information technology is an important national objective. Older people are clearly an important target group when it comes to addressing the digital divide in the new Information Economy. In the short term, there will need to be a concerted effort to impart to older Australians the value and benefit (in terms of saved money, time and physical effort and better personal security) of utilising online information and services, particularly from the home, or a public access facility.

As well as encouraging uptake of new technologies, it will also be important that attention is given to ensuring that older people have access to new online technology. Older people will also need the skills and confidence to use the new technology, and education and training opportunities will therefore be essential. Content and presentation for older people in online information and services is also an important issue requiring further attention if older Australians are going to embrace and benefit from these services.

Notwithstanding increases in average disability-free years, increasing numbers of older people are likely to mean increasing numbers of people with age-related sensory and mobility loss. We are also going to see an increase in the proportion of older people who are from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and in the proportion of older people who are ageing with a long-standing disability. It will therefore be critical that information, including online information and services, is available in a variety of formats and languages. The mass media will also need to give increased consideration to the needs and interests of an ageing population.

Just as information and communications technology is rapidly changing, so too is technology generally. Older people will have the time and the ability to learn the new technologies and they are already doing this in greater numbers. But we will need to make sure that older people are not excluded from the use of new technology through lack of access, lack of understanding of how to use the technology, or fear of using it. The design and delivery of new technology, including online information and services, will need to consider the functional and cognitive abilities of many more older users. Business is also going to have to recognise that if they wish to be successful in the growing 'silver' market they will need to make sure that their technology is understood by and can be used by older consumers.

Arguably, an ageing population will be much more reliant on technological and telecommunications solutions to deliver the services that older people will need and expect. The potential costs associated with meeting these needs and expectations, and the individual versus collective responsibility for meeting these costs, will need to be considered as the population ages and technology continues to change. Clearly the way in which technology, particularly information and communication technology, evolves over the next five decades will influence costs outcomes. For example, if in the future all online communication and information is via a single piece of hardware then the need for different or specialised pieces of equipment to provide particular services for older people might not be necessary. While technology will be useful for older people as a source of communication and information, it will be important that they maintain face to face contact and do not become socially isolated.
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Why will access to education and lifelong learning be important?

The concept of 'lifelong learning' implies continuous learning throughout life in both formal and informal learning environments. It is increasingly seen as an important factor that can contribute to economic and social wellbeing. Demand for ongoing education services for a larger, and in many cases already well educated, retired population can be expected to increase over the next decades.

Analysis by Access Economics suggests that stable population numbers for young people will result in demand for education services for this age group being relatively stable over the next decades, whereas demand for education services among older age groups can be expected to increase over the next decades. The education needs of the youth population will need to continue to be a high priority. However, there will also be a need for greater emphasis on lifelong learning to enhance workforce skills. This will improve overall national productivity to better meet the needs of an ageing population. If, as projected by Access Economics, the youth population is relatively static over this period the easing of upwards growth pressure on schools and tertiary training institutions may create opportunities to free some resources towards adult learning without an overall increase in resources for education purposes.

What will population ageing mean for tourism, recreation and leisure activities?

The current generation of retirees has already shown us their capacity and interest in both domestic and international travel. Other recreational and cultural pursuits are also high on the "to do when I retire list" for the majority of the population. This form of activity is good for the healthy ageing process and adds to the overall wellbeing of the community. There is also significant economic gain to the nation generated by the relevant industries.

The industries involved in the provision of these sorts of services will certainly need to consider the impact of a growing older population on the types of services that will be sought. In the travel industry for example, we would expect to see travel agents and airlines starting to pitch to different market demographics, with fewer backpackers, and more travellers willing to pay a little extra for creature comforts.

Community Contribution and Support

For many older people, quality of life is determined by the strength of their family relationships, the links they have with the broader community, and the extent to which they feel they are valued and respected members of society. With the population ageing, we as a nation will need to recognise the importance of these factors for the wellbeing of older people. We will also need to recognise that continuing social changes will have an impact on some of the traditional support networks available to older people. For example, family relationships are changing through a combination of social factors that include rising divorce rates, people remaining single, never having children, higher mobility and greater geographic spread of family members. The demands of working lives and modern living have also meant that people's links with the broader community might be fewer than in the past.

There is a range of life-changing events, such as retirement from work, death of a partner or taking on a caring role for another person, that can arise as we age. If older people's links with their family or broader community are weak, these life changing events can result in older people becoming isolated or requiring higher levels of formal support than otherwise would be the case. With the ageing of the population, there will be issues for governments, communities and individuals to ensure that older people requiring greater support, do not become marginalised by their communities, or become victims of abuse or suicide.

Personal safety - both in the home and out in the community - is an important issue for older people. One of the challenges for the future will be ensuring that we have policies and programs that effectively target those situations in which older people are vulnerable, such as in high crime neighbourhoods and/or in relation to specific types of crime. We will also need policies that target situations in which older people are experiencing a fear of crime to the level where it actually limits their quality of life and results in social isolation.

As a nation we will also need to look at the potential to enrich communities by using the accumulated 'social capital' that is embedded in a larger older population. Social capital is a new term used to describe the age-old concept of social glue. It relates to how engagement in society by its members leads to trust and cooperation for mutual benefit. It will be important that as a society we recognise and value the wealth of experience of the older population. For those older people who wish to remain or become engaged in working to help and support others in the community, appropriate opportunities and supports will be important. Other members of society who wish to help a growing group of older people should also be encouraged and recognised for their contribution to creating a better society.
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Goal 1

Society has a positive image of older Australians, appreciates their diversity and recognises the many roles and contributions they continue to make to the economy and the community.

Goal 2

That public, private and community infrastructure is available to support older Australians and their participation in society.

Actions required to meet these goals include:
  • Encouraging governments, businesses, the media and communities to promote and support more positive images and attitudes to ageing and older people;
  • Promote better communication and understanding between older and younger people;
  • Increasing the focus on older Australians and an ageing population in public policy development;
  • Encouraging business, service providers and the community to recognise the skills, knowledge and capacity that older Australians can bring to the paid employment and volunteer sectors;
  • Improving access for all older Australians to affordable accommodation through financial or other assistance;
  • Exploring options that enable older people to maintain their accommodation in accord with their needs, or enable them to move to accommodation which better suits their needs;
  • Improving consumer and housing, design and building industry awareness of housing options for older people, and encouraging innovative housing designs;
  • Increasing the availability of access to transport options that meet older people's needs in terms of timeliness, safety, cost, design and flexibility;
  • Increasing the focus in road and vehicle designs on the needs of older drivers;
  • Encouraging business, communities and local government to meet the gaps in transport requirements of older people with flexible, innovative models;
  • Providing safe access to services and facilities through good design of public spaces and the built environment;
  • Ensuring that older Australians are able to stay connected to society through various communication avenues, and are able to access information, including online information and services, in formats which are appropriate to their needs and skills;
  • Encouraging the design of user-friendly and standardised technology, and providing opportunities for education and training to assist older people to understand and use new technology, including online information and services;
  • Ensuring that there are appropriate opportunities that support lifelong learning and enhance the skills and interests of a larger group of older people;
  • Encouraging business to respond to the increasing market of older Australians, through the provision of appropriate choices in both products and services; and
  • Understanding better the way social capital operates and benefits Australian communities.

Who has a role in achieving these goals?

  • Commonwealth Government
  • State and Territory and local Governments
  • Industry sectors such as housing, transport, tourism etc
  • Individual business and cooperatives
  • Educational institutions
  • Media/advertising industry
  • Social researchers
  • Health care professionals
  • Consumer and not-for-profit organisations
  • Australians of all ages
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