Carer Evidence


The Australian population is ageing. In 2007, 16% of Australians were over the age of 65. Fewer births and a trend of longer average life expectancy, means that in 2056 projections over a quarter of the population, up to 28%, will be aged over 65. [1-2] This change in the age of Australians raises real challenges for government and service providers regarding carers and questions who might be providing care in the future. [3]

The nature of families is also changing. Separation, divorce and re-partnering, having and parenting fewer children or none at all, and a greater proportion of ageing Australians mean that smaller households and people living alone are more and more common. [4]

The upward trend of employment among women, those who are traditionally regarded as care providers, reduces their availability to provide palliative care. Where an illness is protracted, this can have financial and employment implications for carers. [5]

Geographical mobility of families in modern Australia means that family ties and social networks are stretched over distance, beyond the boundary of household or neighbourhood, often over States or even countries. Such ties are not captured in census data. As yet little is known how distance influences caring and carer needs. [6-7] This type of ‘distance care giving’ could have implications for the way in which palliative care services provide ongoing support to families.

Families and carers too, are diverse. Ex-spouses, younger family members and siblings may all take on carer roles. [8-10]

Such diversity requires relevant and responsive health policy and services to support the various groups of Australians currently providing informal care [11]:

  • 380,000 carers under the age of 26
    • 170,000 carers under the age of 18
  • nearly 2 million carers of prime working age (15-64)
  • 31,600 Indigenous carers over the age of 15
  • 620,000 carers born outside Australia
    • 366,700 of those born in other than main English-speaking countries
  • 454,000 carers over 65 – almost 1 in 5 persons.

Changes to family and carer patterns could have implications for the way in which palliative care services provide on going support to families and carers.


  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Older Australia at a glance: 4th edition. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare; 2007 Nov. Cat. no. AGE52.
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Population projections Australia, 2006–2101. Canberra: ABS; 2008. ABS cat. no. 3222.0.
  3. National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling. Who’s going to care? Informal care and an ageing population. Bruce, ACT: NATSEM, University of Canberra; 2004.
  4. Australian Government. Families in Australia: 2008. Canberra: Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet; 2008.
  5. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Carers in Australia: Assisting frail older people and people with a disability. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare; 2004. Cat. no. AGE41.
  6. McDonald P. Extended family in Australia: The family beyond the household. Fam Matters. 1992 Aug;32:4-9.
  7. Mature Market Institute. Miles away: The METLIFE study of long-distance caregiving (294kb pdf). Westport, CT: Mature Market Institute; 2004.
  8. Carers NSW. Who are young carers [Internet]. 2020 [cited 15 July 2020].
  9. Lingler JH, Sherwood PR, Crighton MH, Song MK, Happ MB. Conceptual challenges in the study of caregiver-care recipient relationships. Nurs Res. 2008 Sep-Oct;57(5):367-72.
  10. Willyard J, Miller K, Shoemaker M, Addison P. Making sense of sibling responsibility for family caregiving. Qual Health Res. 2008 Dec;18(12):1673-86. Epub 2008 Oct 27.
  11. Taken from Carers Australia 2010-11 Federal Budget Submission. Statistics from: 
    1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Disability, ageing and carers, Australia: Summary of findings, 2003. Canberra: ABS; 2004. ABS cat. no. 4430.0.
    2. Australian Bureau of Statistics. The Health and welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, 2008. Canberra: ABS; 2008. ABS Cat. no. 4704.0.
    3. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Migrant Data Matrices, 2007: Disability, Ageing and Carers, 2003. Canberra: ABS; 2007. ABS Cat. no. 3415.0.

Last updated 15 July 2020