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Australia's estimated resident population at June 2003 was just under 19.9 million, an increase of 1.2% over the previous year (table 5.1). This figure has increased by 12.5% over the past decade. Australia's growth rate of 1.2% for the 12 months to June 2003 was the same as the overall world growth rate (table 5.2).
When compared with other countries, Australia's population growth rate was similar to New Zealand (1.1%), Canada and Thailand (each 1.0%), higher than Hong Kong (0.7%) and the United States of America (0.9%), considerably higher than Japan and Germany (each 0.1%) and the United Kingdom (0.3%), and well below the growth rates for Papua New Guinea (2.4%) and Singapore (1.9%).
In figures provided by the US Census Bureau's International Data Base for 227 countries, arranged from highest to lowest size, Australia's population ranked 52nd in the year 2003 and is projected to rank 65th in 2050.
Australia's estimated resident population of 19.9 million at June 2003 has grown by over 2.1 million during the past decade. The growth of Australia's population has two components: natural increase (the number of births minus the number of deaths) and net overseas migration (net permanent and long-term migration plus the migration adjustment). Since Federation in 1901, Australia's population has increased by over 16.1 million persons. Graph 5.3 shows the growth in Australia's population since 1788. The main component of population growth in Australia has been natural increase, which has contributed about two-thirds of the total growth since the beginning of the 20th century.
Table 5.4 shows that population growth has not occurred evenly across the states and territories. At Federation, South Australia had nearly twice the population of Western Australia, which in turn had only slightly more people than Tasmania. In 2003 New South Wales remained the most populous state, followed by Victoria and Queensland. Western Australia became the fourth most populous state in 1983, overtaking South Australia.
Components of population growth
Australia's population grew from 3.8 million at the beginning of the 20th century to 19.9 million in 2003. During the 1950s Australia experienced consistently high rates of growth, with an average annual increase of 2.3% from 1950 to 1959, while during the 1930s Australia experienced relatively low growth (0.8%).
Natural increase has been the main source of the growth of Australia's population since the beginning of the 20th century, contributing around two-thirds of the total increase between 1901 and 2003. Net overseas migration, while a significant source of growth, is more volatile, fluctuating under the influence of government policy as well as political, economic and social conditions in Australia and the rest of the world.
In order to measure net overseas migration, the ABS applies a number of adjustments to overseas arrivals and departures data. These mainly comprise adjustments designed to reflect differences between stated travel intentions and actual travel behaviour, but also include adjustments to account for short trips home taken by long-term travellers. Until recently, adjustments used by the ABS to produce net overseas migration estimates were collectively referred to as 'category jumping adjustments'. They are now referred to more simply as 'migration adjustments'.
The yearly growth rates due to natural increase and net overseas migration from 1901 to 2003 are shown in graph 5.5.
In 1901 the rate of natural increase was 14.9 persons per 1,000 population, compared with 5.8 in 2003. From 1901 to the 1940s the rate increased (to a peak of 17.4 per 1,000 population in the years 1912, 1913 and 1914) then declined (to a low of 7.1 per 1,000 population in 1934 and 1935). In the mid to late-1940s the rate increased sharply as a result of the beginning of the baby boom and the immigration of many young people who then had children in Australia, with a plateau of rates of over 13.0 persons per 1,000 population for every year from 1946 to 1962.
Since 1962 falling fertility has led to a fall in the rate of natural increase. In 1971 the rate was 12.7 persons per 1,000 population; a decade later it had fallen to 8.5. In 1996 the rate of natural increase fell below 7.0 for the first time, with the downward trend continuing from then on. ABS population projections indicate that continued low fertility, combined with an increase in deaths due to an ageing population, will result in natural increase falling below zero sometime in the mid-2030s.
Since 1901 the crude death rate has fallen from 12.2 deaths per 1,000 population to a low of 6.6 which was recorded in 2001. The crude birth rate has declined by 53% from 27.2 births per 1,000 population recorded in 1901 to 12.7, the lowest ever birth rate, which was recorded in 2001. Crude birth and death rates from 1901 to 2003 are shown in graph 5.6.
Population age and sex structure
Since the turn of the 20th century the populations of all ages have grown significantly, but older age groups have grown more than young age groups. The ageing of Australia's population is illustrated in graph 5.7 for the years 1901 and 2003.
5.7 AGE DISTRIBUTION OF POPULATION - 1901 and 2003
(a) The 85+ age group includes all ages 85 years and over and therefore is not strictly comparable with five-year age groups in the rest of this graph.
Source: Australian Historical Population Statistics - on AusStats (3105.0.65.001); Population by Age and Sex, Australian States and Territories (3201.0).
Between 1983 and 2003 the number of persons aged 15-64 years increased by 32%. At the same time there was an increase in proportion of population aged 65 years or more. The proportion of children 0-14 years decreased while their absolute numbers increased by 6% (graph 5.8).
The median age of the Australian population - the age at which half the population is older and half is younger - has increased by 6.0 years in the last 20 years from 30.2 years in 1983 to 36.1 years in 2003. Australia's population is ageing because of sustained low fertility - which has resulted in proportionally fewer children in the population - and increased life expectancy. Graph 5.9 shows the median ages of the population for the states and territories in 1983 and 2003.
In 2003 the population of South Australia had the highest median age of all states and territories (38.2 years) followed by Tasmania (38.1 years) and New South Wales (36.4 years). The Northern Territory (30.3 years) had the lowest median age.
Tasmania experienced the largest increase in median age over the 20 years to 2003, increasing by 8.5 years from 29.6 years in 1983 to 38.1 years in 2003, and had almost equalled South Australia (which increased from 31.0 in 1983 to 38.2 years in 2003).
The proportion of children aged 0-14 years in the population has declined from 24% in 1983 to 20% in 2003. Over the same period, the proportion of the population aged 15-64 years increased marginally to 67% while the proportion of people aged 65 years and over increased from 10% to 13% (table 5.10).