When Peter Costello famously encouraged Australian families to have a child for Mum, one for Dad and one for the country, he was focused on a significant national challenge, the ageing of the population.
Population ageing is the product of two demographic trends, longevity and a declining birthrate. It is a challenge for many western nations, including Australia.
Australians are living longer, on average, than at any time in the past. While this will increase costs, especially for aged and health care, it is not an insurmountable problem. It is the combination of longer living and declining fertility that threatens the economic growth of the nation.
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When you think of the long-term unemployed, it is unlikely that the first image that comes to mind is of a grandparent.
Yet the reality is that over a quarter of people on Newstart Allowance are in their fifties and sixties, and one third of the long-term unemployed are in these age brackets.
The issues around age discrimination in the workforce are disturbing and need to be addressed if we are to ensure our economy remains sustainable as the population ages.
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Retirees. They’re living it up nowadays, blowing any pitiful inheritance their kids could expect on all their tree-changes, sea-changes, and various kinds of me-changes.
But a number of Gen Ys - my generation - reckon they’re still going to get a fair bit from their parents when they die.
According the ING Direct Financial Wellbeing Index, one in seven Gen Ys are expecting to rely on their parents’ inheritance to support them in retirement.
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Aged care. It’s not a very sexy topic. In fact many of us are so unwilling to consider elderly life, a successful architect in the sector has received death threats from residents opposed to the building of nursing homes in their neighbourhoods.
Seriously, death threats. Want to build a $12 million super-brothel with 40 rooms? Sure! But no old people thanks.
Maybe it’s because we don’t want to contemplate our own decline, but it’s become increasingly clear our modern tendency to group older people together in neatly delineated residential pockets isn’t working. A study released this week, perhaps unsurprisingly, found lonely people aged 60 and over faced a 22.6 per cent increased risk of death.
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My grandma will never own a computer.
She has a mobile phone, one with a flip screen that her kids and grandkids have programmed contacts into. Lately she has become a big texter, messaging grandkids to see how they went at footy or whether they want her to pick them up from school.
But the family probably won’t get her a computer. Logic is she doesn’t need or, really, want one. Besides, she’s got plenty of people who are happy to look things up for her. It’d be a challenge to teach her computers - the learning process would be long, the jargon difficult. And there’d be big questions about her security online.
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Last week I was standing at a pedestrian crossing at the Adelaide Airport with my two kids, aged five and eight. There was a car coming towards us, moving fairly slowly and appearing to slow down. In one of those split-second moments which people without kids will pontificate about, but which parents understand, we started to step onto the crossing.
The driver didn’t stop. He went straight through, missing us by inches. I shouted at him, as did a bystander, but he kept meandering along the road for about another 30m. He stopped his car smack-bang in the middle of the road, right on the white line between two lanes, where a security guard approached him to inquire as to what the hell he was doing.
The driver was so old that he possibly didn’t even know he was in a car at all. He looked like he was 90 in the shade. At least.
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Earlier this week, 86-year-old Leroy Luetscher temporarily became my idol. The Arizona pensioner was reportedly enjoying a spot of gardening when a freak accident left a pair of garden shears lodged in his eye socket. That’s right, his eye socket.
The handle went past his eye and through his neck, eventually resting on his external carotid artery, leaving him to walk around like some sort of Edward Scissor-Face.
Luetscher, who is expected to make a full recovery, said he was “grateful to the doctors and staff” and left it at that. No blog. No finger-pointing. No attempt to use the incident to become a breakfast radio star or get a retweet from Snooki. The guy was all class and dignity. Elderly blokes like Luetscher make Jack “check out my one arm push-ups” Plance seem like no big deal.
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