Population and COVID-19

This article discusses the impact COVID-19 has had on Australia's population estimates and components in the first half of the year.

Released
17/12/2020

From March 2020, COVID-19 has changed the way that people live, work and travel.

Australia's estimated resident population continued to rise in the June quarter of 2020, but the growth rate (0.1%) was the slowest since quarterly population estimates began in June 1981. 

The annual growth rate also decreased to 1.3%.

What is slowing the growth?

The two main contributors to Australia's population growth are net overseas migration (overseas migration arrivals minus overseas migration departures) and natural increase (births minus deaths). Natural increase remains fairly steady over time and changes in net overseas migration drive changes in the total growth. Each component is examined in further detail below.

Net overseas migration

The June 2020 quarter was the first full quarter subject to international travel restrictions, limiting international arrivals to Australian citizens and permanent residents (including New Zealanders usually resident in Australia) on March 20th. The effect of this on overseas migration has been profound, driving the observed slow-down in population growth.

Overseas migrant arrivals fell from 124,400 in the June 2019 quarter, or 158,400 in the March 2020 quarter, to just 13,700 in the June 2020 quarter, a drop of 89% and 91% respectively. Overseas migrant departures also dropped to previously unseen levels, the June 2020 quarter figure of 19,600 being 77% lower than both a year prior and the previous quarter. The net result of overseas arrivals and departures was the first negative net migration for Australia since the June quarter of 1993, and is of similar size (-5900 in June 2020 quarter and -6300 in June 1993 quarter). 

For the 2019-20 year, total overseas migrant arrivals dropped 63,600 (11%) from 2018-19, while departures dropped only 6,500 or 2%. Other than the June quarter, overseas departures were at very high levels in 2019-20. Net overseas migration for the 2019-20 year was 184,200, 24% lower than in 2018-19.

Interstate migration

State and territory population is also impacted by interstate migration. There were 368,700 interstate movements in 2019-20, down almost 9% from 404,000 a year earlier. Compared to previous June quarters, interstate movements in the June 2020 quarter were the lowest since 2014.

Queensland gained the most people from net interstate migration (+6800) over the June 2020 quarter, while New South Wales lost the most (-4000). Victoria had the largest change in net migration, decreasing from +600 people in the previous quarter to -3000 in the June 2020 quarter. Further details on interstate and intrastate migration can be found in Regional Internal Migration Estimates, Provisional.

Total migration

The drop in migration to Australia has impacted some states more than others. New South Wales historically welcomes more than one-third of all overseas migrant arrivals in Australia, and usually shows a net loss of population due to interstate migration (more people move away from NSW than to the state from elsewhere in Australia). While the overseas migration pattern has been severely disrupted by COVID-19 restrictions, the interstate migration pattern has been impacted to a lesser extent. NSW still lost an historically similar number of people to the other states and territories, but didn't receive the influx of overseas migrants to make up for them. This is not the first time negative total net migration for NSW has occurred in the past 20 years, but it is the first time since the June 1993 quarter that both overseas and interstate migration are negative for the state.

In the past 20 years Queensland has been the most popular state for Australians to move to. In contrast to NSW, the population is buoyed by a more even contribution to its total net migration, usually having fewer overseas migrant arrivals than NSW but supplementing this with high net interstate migration.  This quarter's negative net overseas migration for Queensland, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, does not drive the total net migration negative, with the state population still gaining 5,700 people from total migration in the June 2020 quarter. 

Births

There are no observed effects of COVID-19 in births statistics to date. 

Total births for 2019-20 was steady at 304,100 compared with 304,700 in 2018-19. For the year ending June 30 2020, the total fertility rate continued its slow decline of the past decade, falling to 1.65 from 1.66 in 2018-19.

(a) The total fertility rate is the average number of children a woman would bear during her lifetime if she experienced the age-specific fertility rates of a given period at each age of her reproductive life (ages 15 - 49).

Deaths

There are no observed effects of COVID-19 in aggregated deaths statistics to date.

Total deaths for the 2019-20 year were 167,000, up 2.5% from the previous year but in line with figures from the past decade. The standardised death rate for the year ended June 30 2020 fell to its lowest level, dropping from 5.06 to 5.01.

For further details on causes of death, please see Provisional Mortality Statistics.

Looking ahead

The travel restrictions due to COVID-19 have had a profound effect on migration, a main driver of population growth.  The September 2020 quarter estimates (to be released 18 March 2021) are expected to show more of these impacts.