Changes over time in DSP

Changes over time in Disability Support Pension (DSP) can be seen in overall numbers and as a proportion of:

  • the Australian population
  • income support recipients.


Overall, the number of DSP recipients aged 16–64 grew by 10% over the last 2 decades—from about 623,000 in 2001 to a peak of around 802,000 in 2012 (29% increase). The number then steadily declined to 684,000 in 2018 (15% decrease between 2012 and 2018).

This trend varied by sex and age. For example:

  • Female DSP recipients—increased by 60% from about 232,000 to 373,000 between 2001 and 2012, before declining to around 319,000 in 2018 (a 15% decrease between 2012 and 2018).
  • Male DSP recipients—the rate of increase in earlier years was considerably slower than for females (11% for males from about 391,000 in 2001 to a peak of 433,000 in 2011). The rate of decline in recent years has been similar to that of females (to about 366,000 in 2018 or by 16% between 2011 and 2018).
  • Overall for those aged 25–49—this was the slowest increase in the number of DSP recipients by age (7%, compared with 18% for those aged 16–24 and 11% for those aged 50–64 between 2001 and 2018). This was largely influenced by the more rapid growth in DSP recipients between 2001 and 2012 for those aged 16–24 and 50–64—38% and 31% respectively, compared with 24% for those aged 25–49.

Proportion of the Australian population

When accounting for population growth, the proportion of the Australian population aged 16–64 receiving DSP remained relatively stable, increasing slightly between 2001 and 2011 (4.9% to 5.4%) and declining thereafter to 4.3% in 2018.

This trend differs between males and females:

  • Males—the proportion aged 16–64 receiving the DSP steadily declined from 6.2% in 2001 to 4.6% in 2018.
  • Females—the proportion aged 16–64 receiving the DSP increased from 3.7% in 2001 to 5.0% in 2011, and then steadily declined to 3.9% in 2018 (Figure 1).

These declines are likely largely a result of changes over this period in how disability was assessed. Further, the large increases in female DSP recipients coincides with increases in the qualifying age for Age Pension, and closure of some payments.

Proportion of the income support population

The last 20 years has seen an overall increase in the proportion of income support recipients aged 16–64 receiving DSP—from 23% in 2001 to a peak of 32% in 2012, before declining to 30% in 2018.

The rate of increase has been steeper for females than males:

The rapid growth in female income support recipients receiving DSP is largely driven by the mature-aged population (aged 50–64), with the proportion of females receiving DSP doubling in this age group from 22% in 2001 to 44% in 2018. This compares with corresponding declines for males aged 50–64, from 62% in 2001 to 55% in 2018.

These differing rates of increase has resulted in the gender gap converging over the last 20 years. In 2001, the proportion of males aged 50–64 receiving DSP was almost 3 times as high as females. It reduced to 1.3 times as high in 2018 (Figure 2).

This trend is largely influenced by the consolidation of payments provided to those of mature age. This has particularly affected females and it coincides with decreasing proportions receiving Age Pension and payments closed to new entrants.

Figure 1 Alternative text

Line graph showing the proportion of 16-64 year olds who received the disability support pension (DSP), from 2001 to 2018, for males, females and everyone. The chart shows the difference in the proportion of males receiving DSP compared to the proportion of females has decreased from 2001 (6.2% of males and 3.7% of females) to 2018 (4.6% of males and 3.9% of females).

Figure 2 Alternative text

Line graph showing the proportion of 16-64 year old recipients of income support payments who received the disability support pension (DSP), from 2001 to 2018, for four age group categories. The reader can select to display the graphs by sex. The chart shows males, aged 25-49, receiving an income support payment are more likely (34%) in 2018 to receive the DSP than females (17%).