Civic & social participation

Unpaid care provision

For the purposes of the ABS Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC), a carer is a person who provides ongoing help to, or supervision of, people with disability or a long-term health condition, or people aged 65 and over [1]. Survey results showed that people aged 65 and over represented 23% of all carers in 2015.

Some 620,000 (18%) older Australians provided care—and over 1 in 3 older carers (234,000 people) were primary carers. More than half (52%) of older carers themselves had some degree of disability.

Unlike younger carers, the majority of whom were women, older carers were made up of a similar proportion of men and women (52% and 48%, respectively). However, this changes as age increased, with men becoming more likely to be carers than women. Men accounted for 56% of carers in the 75–84 year age group and 66% of carers aged 85 and over. Despite this, women made up the majority of older primary carers (57%).

The number of informal carers increased from 521,000 older people in 2009 to 620,000 people in 2015. The largest increase was in the number of carers aged 85 and over, which increased by around 42%. The number of male carers aged 85 and over increased the most (45%) between 2009 and 2015 [1].

As well as the caring roles described above, many older people also care for children. Data from the 2016 Census show that 1 in 7 (14%) older Australians had provided some form of unpaid child care to a child or children under the age of 15 in the 2 weeks before Census night. Overall, 13% of all older Australians (or 425,000 people) had cared for a child who was not their own (compared with 5% of people aged 15–64). The likelihood of caring for children decreased as age increased: almost 19% of people aged 65–74 had provided care to someone else’s child in the past 2 weeks, compared with 7% of people aged 75–84, and 1% of people aged 85 and over [2].

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2017, around 1 in 5 (22%) children aged 0–12 received care from a grandparent. This proportion increased for children whose parents worked outside the home: grandparents provided child care for 28% of children who lived in two-parent families where both parents were working and single parent families where the parent was working [3].


Older Australians also participate in volunteering activities, providing time, service or skills through an organisation or group. According to the 2016 Census, around 668,000 Australians aged 65 and over (20%) volunteered their time within the 12 months prior to Census night, with the rate and time spent volunteering decreasing with age—24% for those aged 65–74, 19% for those aged 75–84 and 8% for those aged 85 and over [2].

Community and social engagement

Community and social engagement is an important part of wellbeing for Australians. According to the 2015 SDAC, almost all people aged 65 and over who were living in households had participated in social and community activities at home (98%) or away from home (94%) in the previous 3 months. Almost 9 in 10 (86%) older people reported visiting family or friends away from home [1].

The majority of older people living in households also participate in recreational activities in the community. In 2015, 49% of older people had participated in physical activities for exercise or recreation in the previous 12 months; 48% had attended a movie, concert, theatre or other performing arts event; 30% had visited a public library; and 24% had visited a museum or gallery. In total, over three-quarters of older Australians (77%) had participated in one or more recreational activities away from home in the past 12 months. [1].


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2016. Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, 2015. Cat. No. 4430.0. Canberra: AIHW.
  2. ABS 2016. Census, generated using ABS TableBuilder. Canberra: ABS.
  3. ABS 2018. Childhood education and care, Australia, June 2017. ABS cat. no. 4402.0. Canberra: ABS.