Numbers will fall unless immigration levels are maintained The population of Australia will fall, even as life expectancy increases, unless immigration levels are maintained, the country's Bureau of Statistics has forecast. In the bureau's lowest projection, an estimated 18.9 million people would live in Australia by the end of the century, compared with 19.7 million now. But if net migration remained at about 130,000, the population could grow to just under 38 million, the study suggests. Either way, there is comforting news for children who are born in Australia later this century. If medical technology and care improve at the same rate as the past 30 years, babies who are born in 2050 will live about 15 years longer than those who are born today. The present life expectancy for men is 77 but those who enter the world in the middle of the century can expect to live to 92.2. For girls it is even higher - their life expectancy will be 95 compared with the current figure of 82.4. Just how far this trend can continue is open to debate. While medical advances will eradicate more and more diseases, most scientists agree that sooner or later the body's cells will die faster than they reproduce. What is clear, however, is that like many other parts of the world, Australia will have to support a much bigger elderly population in future. The Bureau of Statistics says there will be more Australians over 65 than under by 2051. This has major implications for the economy and health services. On the plus side, the elderly are likely to stay healthy into old age. However, another report published by the bureau and the Institute of Health and Welfare reveals little progress has been made in narrowing the gap that sees Aborigines dying on average 20 years earlier than other Australians.