Culturally & linguistically diverse people

Australia's older population is multicultural and linguistically diverse. Many overseas-born Australians face substantial barriers in accessing and engaging with the essential supports and services that contribute to good outcomes.

Differing situations and needs

The older culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) population of Australia is not homogenous, and the situation and needs of individuals varies greatly. However, in general, older people from CALD backgrounds:

  • have poorer socioeconomic status, compared with the older Anglo-Australian population
  • may face substantial language barriers in accessing services
  • risk having differing cultural practices and norms, leading to lack of understanding of and barriers to service use [3].

Speaking English

In 2016, 37% of people aged 65 and over were born overseas, with 67% of these people born in Europe and 16% in Asia (for more information see Demographics). In 2016, among older Australians:

  • most reported speaking English well or very well at home (8 in 10, or 82%)
  • 12% spoke another language but reported speaking English well
  • 5% reported speaking another language and English only poorly
  • around 1% did not speak English at all [1].

Italian (3%) and Greek (2%) were the most commonly spoken languages other than English for people aged 65 and over.

Migration patterns

The proportion of migrants from Europe has been declining in recent years, falling from 52% in 2001 to 34% in 2016. This has been met with an increase in migration from Asian countries over the last few decades, with Asian languages represented more strongly in the younger population compared with the older population (Figure 1) [1].

Changes in migration patterns affect the linguistic diversity of people aged 65 and over. This can provide new challenges for meeting these people's needs for health, aged care and other services.


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2016. Census, unpublished data generated using ABS TableBuilder. Canberra: ABS.
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2016. National Aged Care Data Clearinghouse: AIHW analysis of unpublished data.
  3. Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia (FECCA) 2015. Review of Australian research on older people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds (PDF). Canberra: DSS. Viewed 5 May 2016.