Developed economies, including Australia, have increasingly been using international migration to compensate for demographic trend and skill shortages. Australia has one of the highest proportion of overseas-born people in the world: an estimated 26% of the total resident population was born overseas. This is expected to increase over the next decade.
So the health of immigrants and their use of health services are having increasing impacts on demands on the health system, its responsiveness, and the national health profile.
One of the most significant demographic trends in Australia today is the ageing of the population. This is an increase in the share of older people – defined as people aged 65 and older – relative to the youth (0 to 14 years) and working-age population (15 to 64 years). One in six Australians is now over 65, compared to one in seven in 2011 and only one in 25 in 1911.
The reasons for this trend are complex. These include the impact of the “baby boomer” generation and declines in fertility and mortality, combined with an increase in life expectancy.
Older people are living longer, which is an achievement of our health system. But an increase in life expectancy and decline in the death rate have created a paradoxical situation in which these older people have increased the country’s rates of illness and disability. This has led to a rise in health-care costs and an increase in use of health services, as well as hospitalisation.
While an ageing population adds to the burden on the health system, an intake of migrants who are generally young and healthier than the average Australian, due to their selectivity, might help balance this out. So, in fact, increasing migration would be of benefit to Australia’s health.
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