AAG Hot Topic 2017

The economic opportunities of an ageing population – how much do we value the golden goose?

With the projected growth in the ageing population in Australia, there is an increasing awareness of the economic opportunities that this presents. Older people contribute to the economy in many ways (e.g. by staying in the paid workforce for longer, volunteering, unpaid caring for family members, supporting business through investing in superannuation, spending their resources as consumers, and making intergenerational wealth transfers). This has led to heightened interest from academia, government, business and the not-for-profit sector in leveraging demographic change into ‘golden eggs’.

Until recently much of the public discourse has been focussed on the costs of the ageing population, and who should pay for health care, aged care, pensions and other needs. Expenditure has been framed as a burden, rather than an investment in supporting older people to ‘keep laying.’ This approach has highlighted intergenerational tensions (e.g. competition for housing and inheritance impatience), which we explored in the Hot Topic for 2016

Now a more nuanced discussion is emerging about the economics of ageing, such as the Advisory Panel on the Economic Potential of Senior Australians report Turning Grey into Gold. How do we weigh up the opportunities of an ageing population against the costs? At what age do we stop expecting older people to make an economic contribution an allow them ‘time to rest? Do we value the social contributions older people make or only the dollar value of their economic contributions? How much are we willing to support disadvantaged older people to achieve their social and economic potential, so nobody ‘gets left behind?’