Australia’s population is ageing and longevity is increasing. In other words, we’re getting older and living longer. In fact, the life expectancy of Australians in retirement has almost doubled in the last 150 years thanks to advancements in healthcare and a better standard of living.
The Australian government’s most recent intergenerational report projects the number of Australians aged 65 will more than double by 2054-55, with 1 in 1,000 people aged over 100 and eligible for a letter from our reigning monarch. In 1975, just 1 in 10,000 received this communication.
Further, the report states Australians will continue to have one of the longest life expectancies in the world. In 2054-55, life expectancy at birth is projected to be 95.1 years for men and 96.6 years for women (figure one), compared with 91.5 and 93.6 years today.
Australians are living longer and healthier lives. We have successfully put in place the social environment and healthcare services to enjoy impressive health during retirement, second only to Japan in both longevity and healthy longevity (figure two).
The increased life expectancies illustrated in figure one result from improvements in health, education and public safety, as well as better standards of living.
Examples include improvements in road safety, such as seat belt laws and random breath testing, both of which contribute to a lower annual road toll than those recorded a couple of decades ago.
Medical advancements have also been influential. Examples include the availability of heart by-pass surgery, an increase in the number and efficacy of cancer treatments and improved drug therapies. Education has helped too – the anti-smoking campaign has curtailed the number of smokers and most people better understand the importance of diet and exercise.
The intergenerational report suggests similar breakthroughs could be possible in the next 40 years. Stem cell therapy, new medicines and advancements in biotechnology could all contribute to further improvements in both health and life expectancy.
Perhaps more strikingly, since the introduction of compulsory superannuation in 1992, Australians at retirement have gained an extra decade of longevity.
It’s estimated that retirees aged 65 today will live, on average, until 84 for men and 87 for women. While we should celebrate a new and extended phase of life, it is very hard for national economic systems or individual savings plans to accommodate such significant and rapid changes.
The blessing of longevity is a new and extended phase of life which will endure well past 90 for many people. The curse is that all individuals need to plan for uncertain longevity well past average life expectancy.
Long, healthy lives will enable Australians to spend a greater part of their retirement living independently. We can expect to live – and need to plan for – around 25-30 years in retirement. Are you ready?
 2015 Intergenerational Report, Australia in 2055 – https://treasury.gov.au/publication/2015-igr