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The intergenerational report will try to scare us about ageing. It’s an old fear, and wrong

TJ Ryan Foundation Research Associate John Quiggin writes in The Conversation (23.8.23) about the release of the latest Intergenerational Report by Treasurer Jim Chalmers. The author argues that, while the report paints a concerning picture of future prosperity, the financial impacts of an ageing Australia shouldn’t be particularly worrisome.

‘The “problem” of Australia’s ageing population has been a concern for decades. Indeed, I have aged along with it. The first official report on the subject was produced in a report of the National Population Council entitled Greying Australia: Future Impacts of Population Ageing, which came out as I entered my 30s, sporting a full head of dark hair.

‘The latest Intergenerational Report, to be released on Thursday, comes weeks after – with thinner and greyer hair – I celebrated reaching the official pension age of 67 (raised from 60 for women and 65 for men). While ageing brings with it some regrets it is, as French actor Maurice Chevalier is supposed to have said: not so bad, when you consider the alternative.

‘But while individual Australians continue to age at a rate of one year per year, discussion of population ageing seems stuck in a 1980s timewarp.

‘The 2021 Intergenerational Report contained an extensive, and gloomy, discussion of the change in what it called the “old-age dependency ratio” – which it defined as the ratio of Australians of “working age”, which it said was 15–64, to those over 65. But it seems to have escaped the notice of the authors in the treasury that the school leaving age has climbed to 17, and the pension age has climbed to 67.

‘This reflects a much bigger problem. Projections of “population ageing” usually produce a future society that is exactly like the one we have at present except that there are more old people and fewer young people. In particular, it is usually assumed people of every given age will have much the same characteristics and live in much the same way as do at present.’

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