2015.0 - Census of Population and Housing: Selected Social and Housing Characteristics, Australia, 2001  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 17/06/2002  Reissue
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An error was detected in the coding of the data for Queensland which affected the male and female counts for the Queensland prison population. In effect, females were coded as males, and males as females. The reissued publication contains the corrected data. If you purchased this publication before 28 October 2003 you are entitled to a free replacement copy. Please contact the ABS' National Information and Referral Service (NIRS) on 1300 135 070.



This publication presents a range of social and housing statistics produced from the 2001 Census of Population and Housing for Australia, its States and Territories and their regions. For comparative purposes, it includes 1996 Census data presented on 2001 Census geography. In addition, selected 1901 Census data are included in table 1 to mark Australia's Centenary of Federation in 2001.

The tables in this publication provide selected characteristics of the population and their housing arrangements for Statistical Divisions and Statistical Subdivisions. The purpose of these tables is to allow a broad comparison of characteristics between geographic areas.

This publication also contains the Basic Community Profile (BCP) for Australia in total. This set of tables is provided to illustrate the wide range of data available from the Census. The BCP consists of 33 tables. This publication contains the first 21 tables which focus on the social and housing characteristics. The remainder of the BCP, tables 22 to 33, will be published in Selected Education and Labour Force Characteristics (Cat. nos 2017.0-8).

The statistics in this publication are mostly presented on the basis of where people were counted on Census Night ('as enumerated' counts). Counts of people based on where they usually live ('usual residence' counts) are also provided.


Census counts should not be confused with the Australian Bureau of Statistics' (ABS) official population estimate, the Estimated Resident Population (ERP) which is used for electoral purposes and in assisting in the distribution of government funds to state and local governments. ERP is the definitive population estimate and is derived from the census counts. For example, ERP includes an estimate of Australians temporarily overseas. For a fuller description of population measures and the derivation of ERP, please see paragraphs 7, 8 and 9 of the Explanatory Notes. Appendix 1 includes a table showing census counts and ERP for each State and Territory.

One of the important features of the Census is that it describes the characteristics of Australia's population and housing for small geographic areas and small population groups. While not available in this publication, data at the smallest geographic level (Collection District) are available in a range of census products. For more information on these products, please refer to Appendix 2-Census Products and Services. Concepts and definitions used in this publication are explained in the Glossary and more detailed information is available in the Census Dictionary (Cat. no. 2901.0). The Explanatory Notes in this publication provide a discussion of the scope and coverage of the Census, the different measures of population, and the limitations of census data.

Similar publications will be available for each State and Territory (Cat. nos 2015.1-8), providing data at Statistical Local Area level.



The Census of Population and Housing conducted on 7 August 2001 counted 18,972,350 people in Australia on Census Night. This represents an increase of 6.0% (1,079,927 people) in Australia's population since the 1996 Census (17,892,423 people). Queensland's population showed the largest growth since 1996, increasing by 8.5%, while Tasmania's population decreased by 0.7%.

Selected person characteristics

Australia's population is continuing to age as a result of low fertility and increased life expectancy. The median age in Australia was 35 years in 2001 compared to 34 years in 1996. The proportion of people aged 65 years and over increased to 12.6% (2,388,563 people) in 2001, from 12.1% in 1996 . The proportion of people aged 0-14 years decreased to 20.7% (3,934,011 people) in 2001, from 21.5% in 1996. The proportion of males and females in the population has remained stable, with slightly more females (50.7%) than males (49.3%).

Selected ethnic characteristics

The majority of people counted in Australia were Australian born (71.8% or 13,629,685 people), down from 73.9% in 1996. People born in the United Kingdom represented 5.5% (1,036,245 people) of the population, a decrease from 6.0% in 1996. English was the only language spoken at home by 79.1% of the population, a decrease from 81.4% in 1996. Of those people who spoke a language other than English at home, the highest proportion (1.9% or 353,605 people) spoke Italian, a decrease from 2.1% in 1996.

Indigenous people

The number of people who identified as being of Indigenous origin increased by 16.2% to 410,003 people in 2001, up from 352,970 people in 1996. The Indigenous population represented 2.2% of the total Australian population, up from 2.0% in 1996.

Housing characteristics

There were 7,810,352 dwellings counted in Australia, an increase of 8.5% (615,179 dwellings) since 1996. Of these dwellings, 90.5% were occupied private dwellings, 9.2% were unoccupied private dwellings and 0.3% were non-private dwellings.

Occupied private dwellings

Dwellings which were fully owned or being purchased accounted for 66.2% of the 7,072,202 occupied private dwellings in Australia. Of the occupied private dwellings being purchased (1,872,132 dwellings), the median monthly housing loan repayment was $870. The median weekly rent for the 26.3% of occupied private dwellings being rented (1,858,324 dwellings) was $154.

Household characteristics

Of the 7,072,202 households counted in 2001, 68.8% (4,866,031 households) were family households, a decrease from 70.6% in 1996. The proportion of lone person households increased to 22.9% (1,616,213 households), up from 22.1% in 1996. The proportion of group households fell to 3.7% (262,551 households) in 2001, down from 4.1% in 1996.

New topics for the 2001 Census included Computer use at home and Internet use. The Census shows that nearly half of all households (48.6% or 3,436,287 households) used a personal computer at home in the week prior to the Census. For the same period, over one third of all households (36.1% or 2,550,051 households) reported using the Internet at home.

Family type

The 2001 Census counted 4,936,828 families in Australia, an increase of 6.0% since 1996. In 2001, almost half (47.0% or 2,321,165 families) of all families were couples with children, down from 49.6% in 1996. There were corresponding increases in the proportion of couple families without children (35.7%), up from 34.1% in 1996, and lone parent families (15.4%), up from 14.5% in 1996. This trend in changing family structure is examined in more detail below.

Topical issues

The following two sections, Changing family structure and Living alone, are included to provide a more detailed insight into two of the issues that were topical at the time of the 2001 Census. Some of the figures cited do not appear in tables in this publication, however all data are available from the ABS on request.

Changing family structure

There have been substantial changes in family structure in the last 30 years. While the proportion of couples with children and couples without children living with them have remained relatively stable over time, the proportion of lone parent families and lone person households have increased. Two of the factors which may be contributing to these changes are the ageing of the population, and divorce. There has been a steady increase in the proportion of divorced people in the population since the 1971 Census, although the divorce rate has remained stable since the mid-1970s.

In 2001, lone parent families represented 15.4% (762,632 families) of all families, a slight increase since 1996, but a significant increase from 5.7% (178,417 families) in 1971. This is due to the steady rise in the proportion of divorced people since the 1971 Census. In 2001, 7.4% (1,107, 005 people) of people aged 15 years and over were divorced, compared to 6.4% in 1996 and less than 2% (133,170 people) in 1971. There has been a corresponding decrease in the proportion of couple families with children who represented 47.0% (2,321,165 families) of all families in 2001, down from 49.6% in 1996, and 50.2% (1,569,868 families) in 1971.

The proportion of couple families without children has increased to 35.7% (1,764,167 families), up from 34.1% in 1996, but a decrease from 37.9% of all families in 1971. The recent increase in couple families without children is partly due to the ageing of the population. In particular, the oldest of the 'baby-boomers' are in their mid-fifties and are likely to become 'empty nesters' as their children leave home. In the younger age groups, this increase can be attributed to the trends of remaining childless or having children later in life.

In 2001, the proportion of other family types, such as two brothers living together, has remained stable at 1.8% (88,864 families) of all families since 1996, but has shown a large decrease since 1971 when they represented 6.2% of all families.

The average household size in 1971 was 3.3 people, decreasing to 2.7 people in 1996, with a further drop to 2.6 people in 2001. This decrease in average household size is related to the increase in the number of people living alone, and the declining fertility rate, a factor in which is delayed marriage. In 2001, 75.6% of 20-29 year olds (1,981,247 people) had never been married, increasing from 70.3% in 1996, and a significant increase since 1971 when only 35.7% (725,116 people) had never been married.

Living alone

Of the 18,363,310 people who lived in occupied private dwellings in 2001, 8.8% (1,616,213 people) were living alone, up from 8.3% in 1996 and 5.5% (665,938 people) in 1971. Lone person households accounted for 22.9% of all households in 2001, up from 22.1% in 1996 and 18.1% in 1971. While older people are more likely to be living alone than younger people, more young people are likely to be living alone than in the past. This is one indicator of social change in Australia.

Under the age of 50 years, men are more likely to live alone than women, but after the age of 50, women are much more likely to live alone than men. In 2001, 6.0% (395,997 men) of all males aged less than 50 years lived alone, compared to 3.9% (255,691 women) of all females in this age group. In comparison,13.7% (336,550 men) of all males aged over 50 lived alone, compared to 23.3% (627,975 women) of all females in this age group.

Graph - Proportion living alone by 5 - year age group - 2001


While the number of younger people (aged 20-29 years) living alone has almost doubled in the past 30 years, the majority still live in family households. Over two thirds (71.2% or 1,765,435 people) of younger people were living in family households in 2001. This compares to 71.8% in 1996, and 88.2% living in family households in 1971.

The proportion of younger people living alone in 2001 was 7.1% (176,485 people) and while relatively stable since 1996, this is a rise from 4.7% (86,772 people) in 1971. This is part of a wider trend, with the proportion of people living alone increasing in each of the five year age groups, from 20-25 years to 60-64 years, since 1971. For younger people, this may be because living alone is seen as a practical option between leaving the family home and moving into a couple or group household.


Of people aged 75 years and over in occupied private dwellings (942,855 people), more than one third (36.9% or 348,307 people) were living alone, down slightly from 38.3% in 1996, but an increase from 33.2% in 1971. There are large differences in the proportion of men and women in this age group who live alone. In 2001, 21.5% (83,014) of men aged 75 years and over were living alone. In contrast, almost half (47.7% or 265,293) of all women aged 75 years and over were living alone in 2001. This is due to higher female life expectancy, with almost two thirds (61.9% or 410,443 women) of women in this age group being widowed.

Although all people aged 75 years and over represent only 5.8% of the Australian population, they represent 21.6% of people living alone. This is an increase from 20.1% in 1996, and 16.3% in 1971.


More than one quarter (26.2% or 424,146 people) of people who live alone, live in flats, units or apartments. Around 40% (69,978 people) of younger people (aged 20-29 years) who live alone, live in these types of dwellings.

Fifty five percent (893,173 people) of people who live alone, live in separate houses. Of all people who live alone, older people (aged 75 years and over) are more likely to live in this type of dwelling. Older people represent 58.7% (204,289 people) of the people who live alone in separate houses, an indication that many widowed people remain in the family home.

A significant proportion (44.4% or 717,172 dwellings) of dwellings occupied by people living alone are fully owned, with a further 14.2% (228,975 dwellings) being purchased. Of the 348,307 dwellings occupied by older people (aged 75 years and over) who live alone, 72.9% (253,777 dwellings) are fully owned.

More than one third (36.4% or 588,813 dwellings) of dwellings occupied by people who live alone are rental dwellings. Younger people living alone are more likely to be renting than older people living alone. Of the 176,485 dwellings occupied by younger people (aged 20-29 years) who live alone, 65.7% (115,969 dwellings) are rented. In contrast, only 18.0% (62,644 dwellings) of dwellings occupied by people aged 75 years and over who live alone, are rented.



Federation of the colonies into the Commonwealth of Australia took place on 1 January 1901. In the same year, Australia's States conducted a census. This article uses data from the censuses of 1901 and 2001 to sketch a picture of how we have changed in the last 100 years.

The States at Federation were New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. The Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory were not established as separate entities until 1911. In this article data for 1901 for the areas covered by the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory are included in South Australia and New South Wales respectively.

The Census

The Census of 1901 was conducted cooperatively by the States with each publishing their results separately. The 1901 data in this article have been obtained from those reports and from two publications:

Official Yearbook of the Commonwealth of Australia No. 1, 1901-1907, published by the Commonwealth Statistician; and

A Statistical Account of the Seven Colonies of Australasia 1901-1902, by T.A. Coghlan, Statistician of New South Wales.


In 1901 and during the reign of Queen Victoria, Australia became a Federation. Edmund Barton was appointed as Australia's first Prime Minister in the newly formed Federal Parliament, opened in Melbourne by the Duke of Cornwall and York. The first Governor General, Lord Hopetoun, was instated as the Queen's representative.

At the time of Federation, Australian contingents were assisting British forces against the Boer Republics in Africa and were also sent to assist the British in China.


From an estimated 1,030 people at European settlement in 1788, Australia's population, as counted in the Population Census, grew to 3,773,801 by 1901 and to 18,972,350 by 2001.

Indigenous population

In 1901, the new Commonwealth acquired the constitutional power to make laws concerning 'census and statistics'. There was some debate concerning the inclusion of tribal Aborigines in the calculation of Australia's population. The debate concluded with section 127 of the Constitution, which stated that in reckoning population, 'Aboriginal natives' would not be included in the calculation, although they may have been counted in the Census. Section 127 was introduced principally so that the numbers of Federal politicians per State, as well as per capita Commonwealth grants, would be based on the total population of European and assimilated part-Aboriginal people. Section 127 was removed from the Constitution following a referendum in 1967. From 1971 Aboriginal people were included in the Census count.

In 2001, the Census counted 410,003 people of Indigenous origin, 2.2% of the population.

State distribution

Australia's most populous State in 1901 was New South Wales (which included the area now called the Australian Capital Territory) with 35.9% of the population. It was also the most populous State in 2001. The combined population of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory in 2001 represented 35.2% of the Australian population.

While the proportion of the population in New South Wales remained steady over the past century, the distribution in other States has changed. The proportion of the population in Victoria and Tasmania decreased from 31.8% to 24.5% and from 4.6% to 2.4% respectively. The proportion of the population of South Australia and the Northern Territory decreased from 9.6% to 8.8%. Queensland and Western Australia were the States to gain in proportion. Queensland grew from 13.2% in 1901 to 19.3% in 2001, while Western Australia grew from 4.9% to 9.8%.

The West

Between 1891 and 1901 the population of Western Australia increased nearly three fold due to the discovery of gold. The gold rush predominantly attracted adult males, including married men who left their families behind. Consequently, in the 1901 Census Western Australia had the highest proportion of males to females, the highest average income and the highest median age.

Over the century Western Australia's rate of population increase was greater than any other state and by the 1986 Census it had overtaken South Australia to become Australia's fourth most populous State.


In 1901 there were more males than females in Australia with males making up 52.4% of the population. In 2001, females make up the greater proportion of Australia's population at 50.7%.

An Ageing Nation

Australia had a younger population in 1901. Over the century the median age of Australia's population has increased from 22 years to 35 years.

The proportion of people aged 0-14 years has decreased from 35.1% in 1901 to 20.7% in 2001 and the proportion of people aged 65 years and over has increased from 4.0% to 12.6%.


Australia was the birthplace of 77.1% of the population in 1901, with 18.0% born in the United Kingdom. In the 2001 Census, 71.8% of people were born in Australia. The largest overseas born group in 2001 comprised people born in United Kingdom and Ireland at 5.8%, followed by New Zealand at 1.9% and Italy at 1.2%. No other country accounted for one or more percent.


Income figures were not collected in the 1901 Census but were estimated from various sources at the time. The mean annual income per inhabitant (including children aged under 15 years) for Australia was 46. The highest annual mean income (64 per inhabitant) was estimated for Western Australia and the lowest (42 per inhabitant) for Tasmania.

Australia changed to decimal currency in 1966, with an exchange of $2 for 1.

Of the States that existed at Federation, New South Wales had the highest median weekly individual income ($386) in 2001 for people aged 15 years and over. The lowest median weekly individual income was recorded by Tasmania ($314).


In 1901, data on Christian religions were released for all States and Australia, but data for other religions were available for some States only. Christians represented 95.9% of the population, with four major religious denominations accounting for 87.1% of the population. These were the Church of England (39.7%), Roman Catholic (22.7%), Wesleyan and other Methodists (13.4%) and Presbyterian (11.3%).

In 2001, Christians represented 68.0% of the population, with the two major denominations, Anglican and Catholic, accounting for 46.5% of the population. Buddhism accounted for 1.9% of the population and Islam for 1.5%. In 2001, around a quarter (25.3%) of the population stated they had 'No religion' or chose not to answer the question.


The Census of 1901 had three classes of dwelling: Inhabited, Uninhabited and Being built. In total there were 786,000 dwellings including 43,000 canvas dwellings or tents. Throughout the century the number of dwellings in Australia has grown ten fold to over 7.8 million in 2001, compared to the population which has grown five fold.