Australian Bureau of Statistics
1370.0 - Measures of Australia's Progress, 2004
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 21/04/2004
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Population size and trends
Australia's resident population at June 2003 was estimated at 19.9 million people - an increase of more than 16 million since 1901, when the population was recorded at 3.8 million. The natural increase in our population, defined as the excess of births over deaths, has been the main source of growth during this period. Another source of increase is net overseas migration.1
Since June 1993, Australia's population has increased by more than 2 million. However, the rate of growth over the decade has been, on average, markedly slower than growth rates in most previous decades.
Since the early 1960s, falling fertility has led to a drop in the rate of natural increase. In 1921, a woman could be expected to give birth to around 3.1 children in her lifetime. Twenty years later, the expected number of births as measured by the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) had declined to 2.25 children. Since then, fertility rates have fluctuated considerably, the highest being 3.55 in 1961. In 2002, Australia had a TFR of 1.75 babies per woman.2
Australia is large in area. Compared with other countries, its population is small relative to its size. For every square kilometre of land there are only around two Australians. But this statistic hides the fact that 84% of the population is contained within the most densely populated 1% of the continent.
The majority of Australia's population is concentrated in two widely separated coastal regions. The larger of these is the east to south-east region, the smaller lies in the south-west parts of the continent.
Total fertility rates, 1922–2002(a)
Population age and sex composition
The age structure of the population has changed significantly over the last century. A decline in birth rates, changes in migration patterns and increases in life expectancy have meant that children under 15 now make up a smaller proportion of the population. Conversely, in 1901 only 4% of the population was 65 or over whereas by June 2001 this figure had risen to over 12%.
The balance between men and women has also changed. In 1901 there were 110 men for every 100 women (in part due to the relatively high proportion of Australian immigrants who were male). This gap has closed. At June 2003, there were slightly fewer men than women in Australia (100 men for every 101 women).3
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population
Historically, it has been difficult to measure accurately the size of Australia's Indigenous population. In the last two decades, the likelihood of people identifying themselves as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander has increased. This has been the result of changing social attitudes, political developments, improved statistical coverage and a broader definition of Indigenous origin. In June 2001, the total Indigenous population was estimated to be approximately 2% of Australia's total population - about 460,000.3
Links between population and progress
The size and shape of Australia's population influences, and is in turn influenced by, many aspects of progress considered in this publication. Some Australians believe the population should grow quickly to reach substantially higher levels by the end of this century - they point to the economic and other benefits not just of a larger population but also of a growing population.
Other Australians are of the view that our environment cannot sustain a significantly larger population and that economic progress will be generated mainly through productivity enhancements, rather than just through an increase in the scale of economic activities.
Two of the environmental arguments advanced for stabilising our population are:
Arguments raised to counter these two views include the following:
Where people live also has important effects. Concentrating people within an area can have localised environmental effects, such as air pollution in cities. The concentration of people in the coastal areas of south-eastern Australia has also resulted in relatively high rates of land clearing for urban development, together with the need to provide water, sewerage and landfill sites.
The population's geographic and age distribution also influences the labour market. Changes in the labour market, in turn, can influence the geographic distribution of the population, by encouraging people to move to where they can find employment.
1. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2003, Year Book Australia 2003, cat. no. 1301.0, ABS, Canberra.
2. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2003, Births Australia, 2002, cat. no. 3301.0, ABS, Canberra.
3. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2003, Australian Demographic Statistics 2003, cat. no. 3101.0, ABS, Canberra.
4. State of the Environment Advisory Council 1996, Australia - State of the Environment Report 1996, CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne.
5. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2001, Labour Force Australia, cat. no. 6202.0, ABS, Canberra.
6. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2003, Proportion in Working Ages Set to Decline, Media Release, cat. no. 3222.0, ABS, Canberra. ABS population projections use the estimated resident population at 30 June 2002 as a base population. Population projections are not predictions or forecasts. They simply show what would happen to Australia's population if a particular set of assumptions about future levels of births, deaths and net overseas migration were to hold for the next 50 to 100 years. The assumptions about levels of future fertility, mortality and migration are based on long-term trends, current debate, and possible future scenarios arising from research in Australia and elsewhere.
Counting Australia's millions
This page last updated 17 September 2008
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