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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2003  
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Contents >> Population >> Population distribution: Population characteristics and remoteness

Population distribution: Population characteristics and remoteness

Between 1991 and 2001, the population in Inner Regional areas increased by 14%, while the number of people in Remote areas remained relatively stable.

Australia's population lives across a wide range of places from large, coastal cities to isolated, outback locations. The level of remoteness experienced by people is determined, to a degree, by their geographic location. However, the availability of services such as health and education, and opportunities for employment and social interaction can also influence experiences of remoteness. The distance a person must travel to access a full range of services and opportunities can therefore be used as an indication of remoteness. In addition, an individual's and family's access to services and opportunities can be affected by their cultural background, stage of life and other characteristics.

This article uses a new ABS geographic classification of remoteness to explore some of the characteristics of people across various regions of Australia. The classification summarises the remoteness of an area based on the road distance to different sized urban centres, where the population size of an urban centre is considered to govern the range and type of services available.


Measuring remoteness
Data presented in this article are drawn from the 1991 and 2001 Censuses of Population and Housing. Data presented are based on place of enumeration (96% of people counted in the census were at home on census night), and exclude overseas visitors. In Very Remote Australia, 15% of the population counted were not usual residents of this area, therefore results may be influenced by visitors.

The Remoteness Structure is a new ABS classification designed to provide a measure of remoteness across Australia. Remoteness Areas, as defined in Chapter 8 in Statistical Geography: Volume 1- Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC), 2001 (ABS cat. no. 1216.0), are based on the Accessibility/ Remoteness Index of Australia (ARIA). ARIA measures the remoteness of a point based on the road distances to the nearest ABS defined Urban Centres (which are classified to five population size classes). The basic premises of ARIA are that there are more services available in large towns than small towns, and that remoteness is a factor of the relative distance one must travel to access a full range of services.

The Remoteness Structure geographically classifies Australia into six areas according to their relative remoteness (or ARIA score). As remoteness is measured nationally, not all Remoteness Areas are represented in each state or territory. The six Remoteness Areas are: Major Cities of Australia; Inner Regional Australia; Outer Regional Australia; Remote Australia; Very Remote Australia and Migratory. The Remoteness Area names used in this article are abbreviated versions of these official names with 'Australia' omitted.

REMOTENESS AREAS ACROSS AUSTRALIA - 2001
Map - Remoteness Areas across Australia



Population distribution
In 2001, there were 18.8 million people living in Australia. Of these people, two-thirds were located in Major Cities. The rest were counted mainly in Inner and Outer Regional areas (31%), with only 3% of people counted in either Remote or Very Remote areas. The proportion of the population counted in each of the Remoteness Areas varied considerably across the states and territories. In 2001, almost all of the population of the Australian Capital Territory (99.8%) was located in a Major City, while the Northern Territory had higher proportions of people in Remote (22%) and Very Remote (25%) areas than any other state or territory.

DISTRIBUTION OF THE POPULATION ACROSS REMOTENESS AREAS - 2001
Major Cities
Inner Regional
Outer Regional
Remote
Very Remote
Total(a)
State/territory
%
%
%
%
%
%
'000

New South Wales
71.1
20.6
7.5
0.6
0.1
100.0
6,311.2
Victoria
73.5
21.0
5.4
0.1
-
100.0
4,612.1
Queensland
52.0
25.7
18.0
2.7
1.6
100.0
3,585.6
South Australia
71.6
12.3
11.9
3.1
1.1
100.0
1,458.9
Western Australia
69.7
11.8
9.6
5.3
3.4
100.0
1,832.0
Tasmania
-
63.6
33.8
1.9
0.6
100.0
454.8
Northern Territory
-
-
52.5
21.7
24.8
100.0
202.7
Australian
Capital Territory
99.8
0.2
-
-
-
100.0
309.2

Australia(b)
65.9
20.6
10.5
1.8
1.1
100.0
18,769.2

(a) Includes persons in Migratory category.
(b) Includes persons in Other Territories.

Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing

Between 1991 and 2001, the population of Australia grew by 12%. Major Cities experienced a similar population growth over the decade (13%). The population in Outer Regional and Very Remote areas grew by 5% each, while Remote areas remained virtually stable (declining by 800 people). Inner Regional areas had the greatest increase in population over the decade (14%).

In the ten years to 2001, some of the additional 484,000 people in Inner Regional areas were the result of migration to coastal areas and along commuter belts. Such Inner Regional areas can offer accessibility to services without the higher costs associated with living in Major Cities. Of those people who resided in a Statistical Local Area (SLA) within (or mostly within) the Major City area incorporating Sydney in 1996, 54,800 had moved out to the surrounding SLAs of Blue Mountains (C), Gosford (C), Hawkesbury (C), Wollondilly (A), and Wyong (A) by 2001. Over the same period, less than half that number (24,500 people) moved from these outer SLAs to the Major City area incorporating Sydney. High housing costs in capital cities particularly affect those on low incomes. People on government benefits who moved out of Sydney to non-metropolitan areas in 2001 indicated that a major reason for moving was housing affordability.1

In addition, people moving to Inner Regional areas along the coast may do so as a lifestyle choice. In the five-year period ending June 1999, all 15 SLAs outside capital cities which grew by more than 5,000 people, were coastal SLAs; eight of these were located in (or mostly within) Inner Regional areas of Australia (see Australian Social Trends 2000, Regional populations: growth and decline).



POPULATION CHANGE - 1991 TO 2001
2001
Change since 1991(a)
Remoteness Area
'000
%

Major Cities
12,373.3
12.9
Inner Regional
3,872.7
14.3
Outer Regional
1,978.5
4.9
Remote
334.7
-0.2
Very Remote
201.1
4.5

Australia(b)
18,769.2
11.9

(a) Based on 2001 Remoteness Areas.
(b) Includes persons in Migratory category.

Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
In the 2001 Census, there were 410,000 people who indicated they were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin. Indigenous peoples may experience both cultural and language barriers when accessing services in the community. In addition, a comparatively high proportion of Indigenous peoples live in regional and remote areas, away from many of the services located in larger urban centres. While the largest proportion of Indigenous peoples lived in Major Cities (31%), almost half (49%) lived in Outer Regional, Remote, and Very Remote areas combined, compared with 13% of the total Australian population. For more information about access to services in Indigenous communities see Australian Social Trends 2003, Services in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER PEOPLES - 2001
Indigenous
population
Proportion of Indigenous
population
Proportion of Remoteness
Area population(a)
Remoteness Area
'000
%
%

Major Cities
125.1
30.5
1.1
Inner Regional
83.2
20.3
2.2
Outer Regional
94.6
23.1
5.0
Remote
35.0
8.5
11.0
Very Remote
71.9
17.5
38.3

Australia(b)
410.0
100.0
2.3

(a) People who did not state whether or not they were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin were excluded prior to the calculation of percentages.
(b) Includes persons in Migratory category.

Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing.


The number of Indigenous peoples in Very Remote areas increased by 16% between 1991 and 2001, and as a result this group increased as a proportion of the total population of these areas (from 33% to 38%). This growth was consistent with the younger age profile and higher fertility rates of Indigenous peoples. The increase in the Indigenous population in Very Remote areas is largely the result of natural population increase. The increased propensity for people to identify as being of Indigenous origin is unlikely to have contributed significantly to growth in more remote areas; this was predominantly a factor in urban areas.2


People born overseas
The overseas-born population in Australia is highly urbanised. In 2001, 83% of those people born in another country lived in Major Cities. As a result, people born overseas accounted for 29% of the population in Major Cities, with this proportion being lower in the other Remoteness Areas at around 11%. A person’s proficiency in spoken English may affect their ability to communicate in day-to-day activities and access services. In 2001, 12% of those people born overseas and located in Major Cities did not speak English or did not speak it well. In comparison, all other areas had a lower proportion of people in these categories (between 3% and 4%). Migrants who do not speak English, or do not speak it well, may choose to settle in Major Cities where they are more likely to find other people who speak their language, and where they have better access to multilingual and other support services.3


PEOPLE BORN OVERSEAS(a) - 2001
Overseas-born population
Proportion of overseas-born population
Proportion of Remoteness Area population(b)
Remoteness Areas
'000
%
%

Major Cities
3,409.0
83.0
29.2
Inner Regional
431.7
10.5
11.7
Outer Regional
208.9
5.1
11.2
Remote
35.0
0.9
11.2
Very Remote
19.5
0.5
10.4

Australia(c)
4,105.6
100.0
23.1

(a) Born overseas includes Australian External Territories, 'Inadequately described', 'At sea', and 'Not elsewhere classified'.
(b) People who did not state their birthplace were excluded prior to the calculation of percentages.
(c) Includes persons in Migratory category.

Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing.


Demographic characteristics
In 2001, there were 98 males for every 100 females in Australia. Women outnumbered men in Major Cities and Inner Regional areas, but in the more remote areas there were a greater number of males than females. The highest ratio of males to females occurred in Very Remote areas where there were 125 males for every 100 females. With the exception of the Indigenous population, most adults living in Very Remote areas are likely to be located there for work, with much of this employment focused on male-dominated industries (such as Mining, and Agriculture, forestry and fishing). Men account for 67% of lone person households in Very Remote areas, compared with 45% in Australia overall.

MALES AND FEMALES IN REMOTENESS AREAS - 2001
Graph - Males and females in Remoteness Areas - 2001

Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing.


In 2001, the median age in Major Cities (the age at which half the population are older and half are younger) was 35.1 years. In Inner Regional areas the median age was highest at 37.3 years; median ages then declined consistently as remoteness increased, to 32.3 years in Very Remote areas. These variations in median ages across Remoteness Areas are due to underlying differences in the age profile of these areas.

AGE PROFILE OF REMOTENESS AREAS - 2001

Major Cities
Inner Regional
Outer Regional
Remote
Very Remote
Australia(a)

Age group (years)
%
%
%
%
%
%
0-14
20.0
22.3
22.6
23.2
23.6
20.8
15-24
14.3
12.7
11.9
11.2
13.7
13.7
25-34
15.5
12.0
13.0
15.5
17.1
14.5
35-44
15.4
14.9
15.3
16.2
15.1
15.3
45-54
13.6
13.9
14.0
13.8
12.9
13.7
55-64
8.9
10.1
10.5
10.2
9.9
9.4
65 and over
12.3
14.1
12.8
9.7
7.7
12.6

Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

years
years
years
years
years
years
Median age
35.1
37.3
36.8
35.0
32.3
35.7

(a) Includes persons in Migratory category.

Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing.


In 2001, Major Cities had the highest percentage of young adults (aged 15-24 years) as a proportion of the population (14%). Major Cities provide opportunities for education, employment and social interaction, which are general requirements of people in this age group. There is a recognised pattern of young people migrating out of country areas to cities, seeking such services and opportunities (see Australian Social Trends 2003, Youth migration within Australia, and Regional differences in education and outcomes). Consistent with this movement, Outer Regional and Remote areas had the lowest proportions of young adults (12% and 11% respectively).

Inner Regional and Outer Regional areas had the highest proportions of people aged 65 years and over (14% and 13% respectively), contributing to higher median ages for these Remoteness Areas. In addition to lifestyle factors, non-metropolitan areas have a comparatively lower cost of living than capital cities, and these locations attract and retain older people (see Australian Social Trends 2002, Regional population ageing). Further, rates of disability increase with age, affecting just over half (54%) of those people aged 65 years and over.4 Many Inner Regional areas have the necessary population base to support specific services for the aged, such as nursing homes, and are generally located closer to capital cities where more specialised services are available.5

The lowest proportions of people aged 65 years and over were in Remote and Very Remote areas (10% and 8% respectively). This may partly be the result of older people moving away from these areas to less remote locations, such as Inner Regional areas, to access health services and other forms of assistance.6 The lower percentage of older people is also likely to be related to the higher proportion of Indigenous peoples in these areas and their significantly lower life expectancy compared with the total Australian population (see Australian Social Trends 2002, Mortality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples).

Family characteristics
In 2001, the proportions of family, lone person and group households were similar across Remoteness Areas. However, multi-family households accounted for a greater proportion of family households in Very Remote areas (10%), compared with all other Remoteness Areas (between 1% and 2%).

Opportunities for employment, along with availability of health, education and other services, are important factors in attracting and retaining particular family types. The age distribution of people in an area is also linked to the presence of different family types. In 2001, older couples without children (where the male partner was aged 55 years or over) comprised almost one quarter of families in Inner Regional and Outer Regional areas (24% and 23% respectively), compared with 20% nationally. This is consistent with these areas having higher proportions of older people. In comparison, these predominantly ‘empty nest’ families (where adult children have left home) accounted for just 12% of families in Very Remote areas, where older people accounted for a smaller share of the population.

SELECTED FAMILY TYPES ACROSS REMOTENESS AREAS - 2001
Major Cities
Inner Regional
Outer Regional
Remote
Very Remote
Australia(a)
%
%
%
%
%
%

Couple family with children(b)
48.2
44.3
44.6
47.9
49.3
47.0
Couple family without children(c)
34.1
39.0
39.8
38.1
31.4
35.7
Male partner aged less than 35 years
7.9
5.1
5.5
7.0
7.5
7.0
Male partner aged 55 years or over
18.0
24.1
23.0
18.1
11.5
19.8
One-parent family(b)
15.7
15.5
14.3
12.6
17.2
15.4

All families(d)
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

(a) Includes persons in Migratory category
(b) Includes children of any age.
(c) Includes couple families without children not specified in table.
(d) Includes other family types not specified in table.

Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing.

Families in Very Remote areas were more likely to have children living with them than any other area - Very Remote areas had the highest proportion of both couple families with children (49% of all families), and one-parent families (17%). Families with children in Very Remote areas were also more likely to contain more children than those in less remote areas; the average number of children (aged less than 15 years) increased across Remoteness Areas from 1.8 children in Major Cities to 2.1 in Very Remote areas. There is a pattern of increasing fertility from city areas to regional and remote areas. In Major Cities, the lower levels of fertility are accompanied by higher levels of educational attainment and skilled occupations. In Remote and Very Remote areas, the higher level of fertility of Indigenous women contributed to the higher average number of children.7

AVERAGE NUMBER OF CHILDREN UNDER 15 YEARS IN FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN - 2001
Graph - Average number of children under 15 years in families with children - 2001


Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing


Endnotes

1 Marshall, N., Murphy, P., Burnley, I. and Hugo, G. 2003, Welfare Outcomes of Migration of Low-Income Earners From Metropolitan to Non-Metropolitan Australia, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute.
2 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1999, Occasional Paper: Population Issues, Indigenous Australians, 1996, cat. no. 4708.0, ABS, Canberra.
3 Birrell, B. and Rapson, V. 2002, ‘Two Australias: Migrant settlement at the end of the 20th century’, People and Place, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 10-25.
4 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1999, Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of findings, 1998, cat. no. 4430.0, ABS, Canberra.
5 Strong, K., Trickett, P., Titulaer, I., and Bhatia, K. 1998, Health in rural and remote Australia, AIHW, Canberra.
6 Neyland, B. and Kendig, H. 1996, ‘Retirement Migration to the Coast’, in Population Shift: Mobility and Change in Australia, eds Newton, P. and Bell, M., AGPS, Canberra.
7 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2002, Births, Australia, 2001, cat. no. 3301.0, ABS, Canberra.

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