Although older Australians (aged 65 years or more) constitute just over 10% of the population, they account for more than one-third of total health expenditure in Australia. It is often assumed that old age is a time of universal ill-health, and little attention has been paid to inequalities in health at older ages. This report shows that the inequalities in the health of younger Australians continue into older ages.

By all available measures of socioeconomic status (education level, equivalent family income and areas of socioeconomic disadvantage), there is a consistent relationship in Australia between socioeconomic status and health which persists among older people, although less marked than for working-age people. Older men and women with low family income or low education level report that their health is worse, are generally more likely to be inactive, overweight or smokers, and report higher levels of health service use.

This report is the second in a series of four reports which systematically document health differentials in Australia using national population health and mortality data relating to the late 1980s. The first, entitled Health differentials among adult Australians aged 25-64 years, was published earlier this year by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.