A population can be described in terms of the wellbeing of its members and the resources needed to sustain and enhance their wellbeing. Changes in the size, composition or geographic distribution of a population are important because they present a large number of issues concerned with meeting economic and social needs. Population numbers also put pressure on the environment in ways that may not be sustainable over the longer term and potentially threaten living standards. Predicting changes in population size, composition and distribution can help in developing strategies to meet changing needs and to enhance people's wellbeing.
What are some key social issues relating to population?
Ensuring that political representation and government expenditures are fairly distributed.
Whether or not continued population growth is sustainable.
The need to adapt to changes resulting from the ageing of the population.
Whether the annual number and mix of migrants coming to or leaving Australia is ideal.
Whether or not pro-birth policies should be adopted.
Identifying communities with greatest needs for resources.
Improving outcomes for the Indigenous population and other disadvantaged groups.
What are the key definitional challenges?
There are often fine issues of detail associated with defining who should be included or excluded from any population count. Issues include the choice of physical boundaries that define communities of interest, and, because people do not remain stationary, the selection of criteria to be used to say who belongs to a particular population. Examples of these choices include: those present at a point in time versus usual residents; where people live versus where they work; the criteria that best distinguishes between people living in more or less accessible areas.
What are the main measurement issues?
Censuses of the Australian population will be incorrect if people are missed, so ensuring the enumeration of all people no matter where they live involves a great deal of planning. The magnitude of any undercounts need to be estimated so that counts can be suitably adjusted. Post census population estimates and population projections demand data for each of the components of population change, namely, births, deaths and international migration, and, for regions within Australia, additional information on internal migration. Obtaining good quality data for some components, especially internal migration, is an ongoing issue of concern. Because of inconsistencies in the way in which people identify their Indigenous status and because of problems in identifying people of Indigenous origin in birth and death registration systems, obtaining accurate measures of the size of the Indigenous population presents an ongoing challenge.