Population change in 2020

This article analyses the impact of COVID-19 on Australia's population and components of growth in the year 2020.

Released
17/06/2021

COVID-19 had a dramatic impact on Australia’s population in 2020. International travel and overseas migration slowed to a trickle, interstate migration patterns were disrupted, while births and deaths continued with relatively little change.

In 2020, Australia's population grew by 136,300 people, or 0.5%. This is a sharp decline from the 1.5% population growth in 2019. This article explores the components of growth and impacts on population by age.

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a) Annual components calculated at the end of each quarter.

Overseas migration

Since the mid-2000s, overseas migration has driven Australia's population growth. In 2020, overseas migration contributed only 3,250 people to Australia's population, a dramatic fall from recent years during which migration contributed around a quarter of a million people annually to our population.

During 2020, the impact of COVID-19 on global travel and migration was severe. In Australia's case, the effect was far more pronounced for people arriving than departing. Compared with 2019, migration arrivals in 2020 fell by 364,400 (or 60%), while departures fell by only 120,000 (or 33%).

The ACT, Queensland and Victoria all had net overseas migration losses in the 2020 calendar year, with Victoria losing almost 19,000 people. This was the first time since 2000 that any state or territory had an annual net overseas migration loss. All other states and the Northern Territory recorded small gains that were, at most, one-quarter the size of recent years.

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Interstate migration

While the total number of interstate movements was comparable to previous years (354,200 compared to 383,800, the 2015-2019 annual mean), interstate migration patterns changed markedly in 2020.

In the last decade, more people moved to, rather than from Victoria, including gains of more than 10,000 people each year from 2015 to 2019. In 2020, Victoria had a net loss of 12,700 people to other states and territories. The reverse was seen in South Australia and Western Australia, states that in recent times have lost more people than gained from interstate migration, each receiving a boost in population from interstate migration for the first time since 1991 and 2013 respectively. While interstate arrivals dropped for every state and territory, Queensland remained the migration destination of choice for Australians, receiving 29% of all interstate migration arrivals in 2020, up from 27% in 2019.

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Natural increase

There are no observed effects from COVID-19 in total births and deaths statistics to date. The pattern and causes of death were somewhat affected (see Measuring excess mortality in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic ) while preliminary birth data shows a continued decline already evident in previous years. 

Population by age

Impacts from net overseas migration declines were most pronounced in the younger population. In 2020 the total population grew by 0.5%, while the 15 to 29 year old age group declined by 2.3%.

The 60 year and older age group continued to grow in line with recent years, posting a growth rate of 3.2% in 2020, above the average of the previous 5 years (3.0%).

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Of the 15 to 29 year age group, the number of 20 to 24 year olds declined by 3.9%, while 25 to 29 year olds declined 2.1%. The 15 to 19 year olds bore the least impact, declining by only 0.7%.

The 20 to 24 year old population also declined in 2019, partly caused by a drop in net overseas migration unrelated to COVID-19.

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