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MIGRANTS AND DISABILITY
The trend towards increased net overseas migration seen in migration flow data is also reflected in data collected in household surveys. Between 2003 and 2009, the Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC) recorded a considerable increase in the number of recent migrants residing in Australia, growing six times as fast as the total population during the period (58% compared with 10%). As a proportion of the population, the growth in the number of recent migrants living in Australia represented a change from 3.8% in 2003 to 5.5% in 2009.
While growth between 2003 and 2009 in the number of recent migrants living in Australia was seen across all states and territories, some states and territories recorded larger net increases than others. As can be seen in the table below, Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria all saw substantial net growth in the number of recent migrants that resided there with net increases of 140,500, 84,300 and 78,600 people respectively from 2003 to 2009. The percentage change in recent migrants between 2003 and 2009 in South Australia (183%), Tasmania, Northern Territory and ACT (121%) and Queensland (120%) was also notable.
In all states and territories, the rate at which the recent migrant population grew was substantially greater than the rate at which the total population grew between 2003 and 2009. Growth over and above the rate of population growth indicates that recent migrants constituted a larger proportion of the state or territory population in 2009 than they did in 2003.
ARE RECENT MIGRANTS TO AUSTRALIA YOUNGER AND MORE HEALTHY THAN THE WIDER POPULATION?
In 2009, persons aged 15-34 years comprised two-thirds (68%) of the net contribution to NOM, with persons aged 20-24 years alone comprising one-quarter (25%) of net contribution to NOM.
Age characteristics seen in migration flow data are similarly reflected in data collected in the SDAC as can be seen in the graph below. In 2009, more than half (57%) of recent migrants residing in Australia were aged 15-34 years despite this age group representing only 28% of Australia's total population.
Although there has been a substantial increase in the number of recent migrants residing in Australia between 2003 and 2009, there was little change to the age structure of the recent migrant population between these years. Between 2003 and 2009, the average age of recent migrants remained the same at 28 years, although this was still considerably lower than the Australian average of 37 years in 2009.
As the likelihood of experiencing a health condition or disability increases with age, the relatively young age of recent migrants is a factor influencing their overall health as a population. Similarly, as many Australian visas require that applicants meet a range of minimum health requirements, these requirements may also be a factor in recent migrants being healthier.
While the SDAC does not capture detailed health status information from respondents, it does collect information on whether respondents experienced a disability or long-term health condition. This can serve as a simple indicator of overall health. In 2009, recent migrants were substantially less likely to have either a disability or long-term health condition than the wider Australian population, with 4% reporting a disability and 9% reporting a long-term health condition. This compares with the rates for the total Australia born population where 18% reported a disability and 21% reported a long-term health condition.
HAVE RECENT MIGRANTS INFLUENCED THE RATE OF DISABILITY IN AUSTRALIA?
Disability rates at 2009
As people who have recently migrated to Australia are generally younger and more healthy than the wider population, the observed rate of disability in Australia is generally lower than it would otherwise be if these people were not included in the population.
In 2009, the total disability rate in Australia was 18.5%. When recent migrants were removed from the population, the rate of disability in Australia was higher, at 19.3%. This indicates that recent migrants lowered the total rate of disability in Australia by just 0.8 percentage points in 2009.
The trend for recent migrants to lower the rate of disability in Australia was observed across all states and territories. In Western Australia, the trend was particularly apparent, as the total disability rate for this state would have been 1.1 percentage points higher in 2009 had recent migrants not been included in the population.
Between 2003 and 2009
Although recent migrants effectively lowered the overall rate of disability in Australia in 2009, only a small part of the change to the total disability rate between 2003 and 2009 can be attributed to changes in the recent migrant population. Between 2003 and 2009, the total rate of disability in Australia fell 1.5 percentage points, while the disability rate excluding recent migrants also fell, but by 1.3 percentage points. This indicates that only 0.2 percentage points of the total 1.5 percentage point decline between 2003 and 2009 can be attributed to changes in the recent migrant population.
While this influence was seen to some extent across all Australian states and territories, the influence was only statistically significant for some Australian states. Specifically, change in the disability rate between 2003 and 2009 attributable to recent migrants was significant for Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, while for other states and territories, the influence was not statistically significant.
HAVE RECENT MIGRANTS INFLUENCED THE RATE OF DISABILITY FOR AUSTRALIA'S MIGRANT POPULATION?
Australia has a large and diverse migrant population. Although recent migrants are generally young and in good health when they migrate to Australia, there are a considerable number of migrants who have resided in Australia for many years and are entering an ageing demographic where a a health or disability issue becomes more prevalent.
As the number of young and healthy migrants entering Australia has increased in the last few years, so too has their impact on the migrant rate of disability in Australia. In 2009, the rate of disability for the whole migrant population was 20%. When recent migrants were removed from this population, the rate grew to almost 25%. This substantial difference (4.6 percentage points) is the extent to which recent migrants lowered the rate of disability for migrants in Australia.
The relatively wide gap between the migrant disability rate, and the migrant disability rate excluding recent migrants was reflected in all states and territories. The states where this difference caused the largest net differences were South Australia (5.8 percentage points) and Victoria (5.4 percentage points).
Between 2003 and 2009
Recent migrants also contributed substantially to the decline seen in the total migrant rate of disability between 2003 and 2009. Although the rate of disability for migrants as a whole declined 1.3 percentage points between 2003 and 2009, there was no statistically significant change to the rate when recent migrants were removed from this population. This indicates that most, if not all, of the total 1.3 percentage point decline to migrant disability rate between 2003 and 2009 was due to the influence of recent migrations.
For states and territories, recent migrants were seen to influence the reduction in the migrant rate of disability in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania. For other Australian states and territories, some differences were observed, however, these were not statistically significant.
As new migrants to Australia are generally young and healthy, the increasing number of recent migrants residing in Australia has had only a small impact on the rate of disability in Australia. In 2009, the rate of disability in Australia would have been 0.8 percentage points higher than its current rate of 18.5% had there been no recent migrants in Australia.
The recent inflow of migrants to Australia has also only modestly influenced the change in the total rate of disability observed between 2003 and 2009. The total rate of disability in Australia fell 1.5 percentage points, while the disability rate excluding recent migrants also fell, but by 1.3 percentage points. This indicates that only 0.2 percentage points of the total 1.5 percentage point decline between 2003 and 2009 can be attributed to the influx of recent migrants.
For the migrant population, the impact of recent migrants was noticeable. Where the rate of disability for migrants decreased between 2003 and 2009 (1.3 percentage points), the rate for the same population with recent migrants removed exhibited a small decline. This indicates the wider impact recent migrants had on lowering the disability rate for migrants in Australia.
One explanation for this decline is the 'healthy migrant effect'. Immigrant populations often have lower death and hospitalisation rates, as well as lower rates of disability and lifestyle related risk factors (Endnote 3). This in part can be explained by the fact that most migrants are partly selected on the basis of their health and, for some, their relatively high socioeconomic status. The wider benefit to the community of a growing population is that it assists in alleviating the pressures of an ageing population (Endnote 4).
Data sources and definitions
Data for this analysis are sourced primarily from the ABS Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC). This survey has been conducted at five to six year intervals since 1998 and captures various aspects of disability, ageing and caring in Australia. More information from the survey can be found in ABS Disability, Australia, 2009 (cat. no. 4446.0) and ABS Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings, 2009 (cat. no. 4430.0). Respondents provide information about their country of birth and their year of arrival in Australia which allows the analysis of recent migrants.
For the purposes of this article, Migrants have been defined as all persons who were born overseas and are living in private and non-private dwellings in Australia. Included in this definition are temporary migrants to Australia, such as international students or foreign workers, and migrants who have settled in Australia permanently. Excluded from this definition, and from the scope of the survey, are persons whose usual residence is outside Australia, such as short-stay visitors or tourists.
In this article recent migrants have been defined as migrants who specified that they arrived in Australia in either the survey year, or the five years previous. For example, recent migrants in the two most recent SDAC surveys would be defined as follows:
A six year time period has been selected so as to avoid overlap between survey years.
A person has a disability if they report a limitation, restriction or impairment, which has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least six months and restricts everyday activities. Impairments may restrict the functioning of the senses, anatomy or physiology. For more information, see the Glossary of ABS Disability, Australia, 2009 (cat. no. 4446.0).
Information on net overseas migration (NOM) has been sourced from ABS Australian Demographic Statistics, Mar 2011 (cat. no. 3101.0) and ABS Migration, Australia, 2009-10 (cat. no. 3412.0). Care should be taken when attempting to compare data from these sources with that collected in the SDAC as the collection methods for these datasets are fundamentally different. While broad trends recorded in migration data may be reflected in population survey data, more specific trends, such as the size or scale of changes, will not be comparable.
Net overseas migration (NOM) is the net gain or loss of population through immigration to and emigration from Australia. From September 2006, an improved methodology for calculating NOM was introduced. For more information on this methodology, see paragraphs 12-26 in Explanatory Notes of ABS Australian Demographic Statistics, Dec 2010 (cat. no. 3101.0).
1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), 2010, Australia's Health 2010: Australia's health no.12, cat.no. AUS 122, AIHW, Canberra.
2. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2011, Migration, Australia, 2009-10, cat. no. 3412.0, ABS, Canberra.
3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), Singh M & de Looper M, 2002, Australian health inequalities: birthplace, bulletin no. 2, cat. no. AUS 27, AIHW, Canberra.
4. Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), 2011, A Significant Contribution: The Economic, Social and Civic Contributions of First and Second Generation Humanitarian Entrants, Summary of Findings.
For further information about these and related statistics, contact the National Information and Referral Service on 1300 135 070.
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