How will Australia’s diverse population influence aged care?

Last updated on 21 May 2024

Aged care is not only experiencing a boom in consumers but also growth in diversity. [Shutterstock]

Australia has a storied history with migration, welcoming large numbers of Greek, Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Lebanese immigrants to our shores throughout the 1900s – among many others. They have all contributed to the multicultural society we live in today.

In the 2000s, those migration trends shifted, with India, Nepal and the Philippines becoming large sources of permanent migration for Australia. 

Now, new projections show that migrant backgrounds and cultural and linguistic diversity (CALD) are set to increase among older Australians, according to the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR).

CEPAR’s research from Migration and ageing: How cultural and linguistic diversity is set to boom among older Australians shows that the Average Australian is now one year older and three percentage points more likely to have been born overseas, compared to ten years ago.

Strong Asian migration trends indicate there will be about five times as many older Australians from Asia in 2056 as there were in 2021, and they will make up a fifth of the 65+ population. 

In total, one-third of Australia’s older population is expected to be from a non-English speaking country.

Rafal Chomik, the report’s lead author and a CEPAR Senior Research Fellow at UNSW Business School, said that nuanced and culturally appropriate responses to a growing CALD population are necessary.

“Australia is better than most countries in integrating migrant communities. Much of that is because of our skilled migration program. But the report shows that some migrants find the labour market challenging,” he said.

Thankfully, aged care is one sector that embraces its multicultural workforce, acknowledging the skills and qualities of a diverse employee cohort. 

In 2020, roughly one-third of the residential care direct care workforce identified as being from a CALD background, with personal care workers (PCWS) accounting for 91% of all CALD direct care workers. Many of these employees typically work for organisations with a higher CALD resident or client base, too.

“Recent migrants who experienced constraints related to language and unrecognised skills had positive experiences moving into aged care roles, deeming it ‘meaningful’ and ‘accessible’ work. Supporting existing and future migrants could help fill gaps in the care workforce,” the report stated.

However, Mr Chomik warned that challenges in working age can translate to risks in retirement. This is more likely to be true for older migrants who are now entering retirement age without substantial superannuation savings, lower financial literacy or potentially a lower likelihood of owning their own home. 

Certain demographics, such as those born in the Americas, Southern Europe and Africa, are less likely to have advanced care directives. Meanwhile, CALD groups overall are 70% less likely to end up in residential aged care compared to those born in Australia. 

“While migrants typically arrive with better health than the Australian-born population average, this health advantage tends to dissipate over time and their probability of disability in old age increases faster than for people born in Australia,” Mr Chomik said.

“This has implications for the aged care system because culturally and linguistically diverse communities have a strong preference for home care over residential care. With a boom in diversity of Australia’s older population, the shift to more home-based care services will need to be faster than otherwise expected.”

Interestingly, the research also points out that language barriers are more likely to be replaced by cultural barriers. Growth in those with poor English is expected to occur among Chinese and Mainland Southeast Asian migrants, but cultural challenges such as delivering culturally appropriate care are going to be important for all cohorts.

Other top concerns for providers to keep an eye on include older women having less access to planned healthcare services and men having fewer social connections. Mr Chomik and the report’s authors highlighted the impact of culturally appropriate community programs. 

Aged care research
culturally appropriate care
culturally and linguistically diverse
ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research