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One of the greatest social challenges of the 21st century is global ageing. Resulting from increased lifespans and declining fertility, ageing populations present enormous opportunities and challenges to society. In the United Nations’ World Population Ageing: 1950–2050 report, the reality of this demographic change is described as ‘unprecedented, without parallel in the history’ and ‘profound, having major consequences and implications for all facets of human life’. As societies all around the world come to terms with this change, it is essential that policy makers in Australia have access to independent research that addresses the social and economic challenges of population ageing and provides in depth and unique ageing demographics of our country and region. 

In the 2017 round of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centres of Excellence scheme, the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR) has been awarded $27.3 million, over seven years, to generate crucial new knowledge to inform social and economic responses to population ageing. Originally established following success in the 2011 Centres of Excellence Round, this new funding will enable CEPAR to continue its multidisciplinary research program involving psychologists, economists, actuaries, demographers, epidemiologists, sociologists, behavioural organisation specialists and gender experts.

Centre Director, Professor John Piggott, says “Population ageing is an issue of paramount importance to all; Australia’s population is ageing now, and strategies to cope must be developed soon, or we will find ourselves in the difficult circumstances confronted by countries which have aged without sufficient advance planning."

“The new award will build on CEPAR’s success so far. Over the last five years, we have established a global reputation for research on this issue, contributing major advances in knowledge across a range of disciplines. CEPAR’s linkages with leading international research institutions speak to the importance of these issues internationally and Australia’s growing reputation as a world leader in policy and practice innovation in this area."

“Our research program comprises four interconnected streams, covering demographic and economic modelling; decision making, expectations and cognitive ageing; work design and successful ageing in the workforce; and sustainable wellbeing in later life. The latter including not only physical but financial wellbeing as well.”

This ambitious program is supported by twelve world-class chief investigators, five of whom are new. “I am especially pleased that three of the five new team members are women," says Professor Piggott. “These include Professor Hazel Bateman, who together with continuing chief investigator, Professor Kaarin Anstey, will serve as one of two deputy directors; Professor Sharon Parker [an ARC Australian Laureate Fellow], who will lead the research on work design and the mature workforce; and Professor Marian Baird who brings a strong gender lens to the research.”

“To see how CEPAR research can have major impact, you only need to consider the potential size of the mature age workforce,” says Professor Piggott. “According to Australian Bureau of Statistics data, in Australia, the size of this potential pool of workers is projected to increase from 3.1 million people aged 55–65 today to 5.6 million aged 55–67 in 2050, taking account of the increased Age Pension access age.”

The Department of the Treasury, a partner organisation of CEPAR, has estimated that a five percentage point increase in mature labour force participation would increase gross domestic product (GDP) by 2.4 per cent by 2050 in the 2010 Intergenerational Report.

“Our research projects into participation incentives, and into workplace and job design for mature workers, provide both sides of the labour market with mechanisms to encourage many more of these people to retain labour force attachment for longer, reducing waste and unemployment,” says Professor Piggott.

“Another important element of our research program focuses on guiding financial decision making. Superannuation assets in Australia are currently worth about $2 trillion,” says Professor Piggott. “Households have to decide about how to contribute, invest, and draw down their superannuation. Some estimates say that by 2040, the superannuation pool will be $13 trillion. It is important that we provide the evidence base for policy and industry to guide individuals in these choices.”

Professor Piggott says that the involvement of major government departments like the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Social Services will enable CEPAR to directly influence the formulation of policy and intervention strategies, while private sector partners will take new knowledge into innovative business practice.

CEPAR, alongside other ARC-funded research, is providing the evidence base that will ensure that governments, businesses, and consumers are well informed so that they can prepare for, and make better decisions, for an ageing world.