1370.0 - Measures of Australia's Progress, 2013  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 14/11/2013   
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Measures of Australia's Progress


Who lives in Australia? Context for measuring progress

    Population and Progress

    The characteristics of Australia's population (such as its size and composition) influence, and in turn are influenced by, many aspects of progress. Population factors such as births and migration result from individual and government choices, made in a social and economic context.

    This commentary provides information about the Australian population, to provide a context for interpreting and analysing Australia's progress. Some examples of the links between population change and dimensions of progress are outlined below, with details of Australia's changing population available on the following tabs.

    Image: Measures of Australia's Progress

    Changes in patterns of mortality, fertility and migration lead to changes in the age distribution of the population. This in turn contributes to changes in the demand for health and other services. As an example, the current aging of the population partly reflects an increase in life expectancy, whilst simultaneously contributing to an increasing demand for aged care services.

    Image: Measures of Australia's Progress

    The population's geographic and age distribution, as well as migration patterns, influence the labour market. In turn, changes in the labour market can influence the geographic distribution of the population, by encouraging people to move to where they can find employment.

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    Where people live also has important effects on the environment. The concentration of people in the coastal areas of south-eastern Australia has resulted in relatively high rates of land clearing for urban development, and increased demand for water, sewerage facilities and landfill sites. This urban expansion tends to occur in Australia’s more fertile areas leaving less land available for preservation or agriculture.

    Image: Measures of Australia's Progress

    Australia's democratic system of government is directly linked to population, as the size and distribution of the population are determined to ensure equal representation in the House of Representatives. As the population changes, parliamentary boundaries are redrawn, affecting the number of seats allocated to each Australian state and territory.

    The idea of governance goes beyond the functions of government to include broader participation in decision making by Australians, as well as such things as informed public debate and people's rights and responsibilities. The size, distribution and composition of the Australian populations underpins all these functions.

    Population size and progress

    The relationship between population size and progress is a contentious issue amongst Australians. Some Australians believe the population should grow quickly to reach substantially higher levels by the end of this century. These people point to the economic and social benefits of a larger and faster growing population, including increasing and maintaining Australia's national security (Sheridan, 2010).

    Other Australians believe that a large population would inhibit progress, as our environment cannot sustain a significantly larger population with a resultant higher level of consumption (Sustainable Population Australia, 2010).

    There are strong arguments and counter-arguments on both sides of the debate, which is made more complex when geographic distribution of Australia's population, and compositional factors such as age and sex are considered, and so population size cannot be used as an objective measure of progress.

Graph Image for Australia's population

Footnote(s): ;;(a) Total fertility rate represents the number of children a female would bear during her lifetime if she experienced current age-specific fertility rates at each age of her reproductive life. See Glossary.;(a) Estimates for September quarter 2006 onwards use an improved methodology. Caution should be exercised when comparing estimates over time.

Source(s): ABS Australian Demographic Statistics December 2012 (cat no. 3101.0); ABS Australian Historical Population Statistics (cat. no. 3105.0.65.001) ; ABS Australian Demographic Statistics December 2012 (cat no. 3101.0); ABS Australian Historical Population Statistics (cat. no. 3105.0.65.001) ; ABS Australian Demographic Statistics December 2012 (cat no. 3101.0); ABS Australian Historical Population Statistics (cat. no. 3105.0.65.001) ; ABS Australian Demographic Statistics December 2012 (cat no. 3101.0); ABS Australian Historical Population Statistics (cat. no. 3105.0.65.001)

Historical population growth

At June 2012, Australia's resident population was estimated at 22.7 million people. The population has increased by almost 19 million since Federation in 1901, and by just over 3 million since 2002.

The annual population growth rate was 1.7% for the year ending June 2012. This was down from 2.1% in June 2009, which was the highest growth in over 30 years. Historically, the lowest growth rates have been during World War I (-0.9 in 1916 and 0.0% in 1917), and during the Great Depression and World War II (0.7% to 1.1% during 1930 - 1946). The highest historical growth rates were immediately before and after World War I (3.7% in 1912, 3.6% in 1913, and 3.3% in 1919), and after World War II (3.4% in 1950 and 2.7% in the 1961 'Baby Boom').

Components of population growth

Population growth at the Australia level is made up of two components - natural increase (the difference between births and deaths) and net overseas migration.

Natural increase

From 1901 to 2012, Australia's death rate has more than halved, from 12.2 to 5.9 deaths per 100,000 population (ABS, 2013a; ABS, 2008). While this trend has some influence on Australia's natural increase, fluctuations in fertility rates are another significant factor affecting natural increase.

The total fertility rate was around 3.1 children per woman in 1921. This dropped to 2.1 during the Great Depression, and then rose again to the highest level (3.5) during the 'Baby Boom' in 1961. Fertility rates declined steeply to 1.9 in 1981, and has remained around that level since (the rate is currently 1.9, up from a low of 1.7 in 2007). This is below the national replacement level of 2.1 births per woman. Fertility rates are affected by social factors such as gender role expectations and value of women's choice in reproduction, as well as economic factors which may encourage female workforce participation (OECD, 2003).

This changing social and economic landscape has additionally resulted in many women delaying motherhood until later in life. The median age of women giving birth increased from a low of 25.4 years in 1971, to 30.6 years in 2011 (ABS, 2012a; ABS, 2008).

Net Overseas Migration

Overseas migration plays an important role in Australia's continuing population growth. Over the past decade, the contribution of net overseas migration (NOM) to Australia's annual population growth has fluctuated between 46% and 66%, contributing 59% in the year ending June 2012.

NOM levels vary from year to year, being influenced by Australian immigration policy as well as by political, economic and social conditions both in Australia and internationally. NOM grew from 110,600 people in the year ending June 2002 to a high of 299,900 people in the year ending June 2009, and down to 219,000 in 2012 (ABS, 2013a; ABS, 2008).

Net Interstate Migration

At the state and territory level, population growth is additionally influenced by net interstate migration (NIM). Over the past decade, Queensland has consistently recorded an annual NIM gain from the rest of the country. The last decade's average annual gain for Queensland was 21,100 people. New South Wales and South Australia have consistently recorded NIM losses over the past decade, with average annual NIM of -22,300 and -3,000 respectively. Western Australia had the highest percentage gain for NIM in 2011-2012, at 0.47%. (ABS, 2013a).

Future population growth

The ABS produces a range of population projections, modelling how Australia's population would change over a 50 year period if fertility, migration and life expectancy rates were to continue in line with current trends, or if these rates were to increase or decrease. Projections based on the 2011 Census will become available in November 2013, and will be available here: https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/3222.0. Of particular interest in the next projections will be not only how the size of Australia might change by 2061, but also how the age profile might change.
Age Composition

The age structure of Australia's population has changed significantly over the last century. A decline in fertility rates, and increases in life expectancy have seen the median age rise from 22.5 years in 1901 to 37.3 years in 2012.

Children under 15 years made up 35.1% of the population in 1901, compared with 18.9% in 2012. Conversely, the proportion of over 65 year olds in the population has increased from 4.0% in 1901 to 14.2% in 2012. A similar pattern was seen for those aged 85 years and over - rising from 0.1% in 1901 to 1.9% in 2012.

Consequently, the ratio of children (0 - 14 years) to 'working age' population (15 - 64 years) has decreased over this period from 58 children per 100 working age adults to 28 children. Conversely, the ratio of older people (over age 65) to working age has increased from 7 older people per 100 working adults, to 21 older people. This results in a decrease in the overall dependency ratio, from 64 to 49 people outside the 'working age' for every 100 inside it (ABS, 2008; ABS, 2013a).

Sex Composition

The ratio between men and women has also changed over time. In 1901 there were 110 males for every 100 females (in part due to the relatively high proportion of Australian immigrants who were male) (ABS, 2008).

In June 2012, there were slightly fewer males than females in Australia (99 males for every 100 females). However, this sex ratio differs by age. The sex ratio at birth is approximately 106 males per 100 females (ABS, 2012a). Higher male mortality rates result in the ratio being about even for the 15-74 years age group, and the ratio decreases markedly above the age of 75 years (73 males per 100 females) (ABS, 2013a).

Net overseas migration can also influence the sex ratio; in 2011-12 the sex ratio (males per 100 females) of people arriving in Australia was 94:100 for 15-29 year olds, compared to 122:100 for 35-49 year olds (ABS, 2012c).

Image: Graph - Population structure - 1901 and 2012
Sources: ABS Australian Demographic Statistics, Dec 2012 (cat. no. 3101.0)
ABS Australian Historical Population Statistics, 2008 (cat. no. 3105.0.65.001)

For a more detailed view of the changing age and sex structure of the Australian population, check out the ABS animated population pyramid.
Population Density

For every square kilometre of land in Australia there are only, on average, around three Australians. However, this statistic hides the fact that Australia is a highly urbanised country. Most of the Australian population is concentrated in coastal regions particularly in the south east and, to a lesser extent, the south west of the continent. At Federation, just over one-third of the population lived in capital cities (36%). This proportion increased steadily to reach almost two thirds (65%) by the 1970s, and has remained relatively stable since (66% in 2012).

Remoteness Areas

Reflecting Australia's unique distribution of population, the ABS employs a geographical categorisation based on remoteness. The remoteness structure divides Australia into six broad regions of remoteness: major cities, inner regional, outer regional, remote, very remote and migratory. These categories are based on the distance from a given area to major population centres, as a reflection of the region's access to various services.

At June 2012 (ABS, 2013b), the proportion of Australians living in each of these regions was as follows:
Major cities - 70.4%
Inner Regional - 18.3%
Outer Regional - 9.0%
Remote areas - 1.4%
Very remote areas - 0.9%

Image: Map - 2011 Australian Statistical Geography Standard: Remoteness Structure
Source: ABS Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS): Volume 5 - Remoteness Structure, July 2011, (cat. no. 1270.0.55.005)

State and Territory populations

Since European settlement in Australia, New South Wales (NSW) has consistently been the state with the highest population. Between 1901 and 2012, NSW decreased only slightly from 36% of Australia's population to 32% Victoria has maintained the second highest population since Federation, decreasing from a 32% to a 25% share. Queensland has grown from 13% to 20%, and Western Australia has overtaken South Australia as the fourth most populous state, increasing from 5% to 11% since 1901 (ABS, 2008; ABS, 2013a).

Over the past decade, negative interstate migration has been consistently experienced by NSW (total -3.4%) and South Australia (-2.0%), while Queensland (5.8%) and Western Australia (2.2%) have had the highest interstate migration gains (ABS,2013a).
Graph Image for Population distribution by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander status - 30 June, 2011
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is estimated to be around 3.0% of the total Australian population (669,900 people) (ABS, 2013c). Over recent decades, the number of people identifying as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin has increased. This is due to a range of factors including changing social attitudes, political developments and improved measurement.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is relatively young, with a median age of 21.8 years, compared to 37.6 years for the non-Indigenous population in 2011. (ABS, 2013c) This younger age distribution reflects the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population's higher mortality rates and higher fertility rates. In 2011, the median age at death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was 55 for males and 59 for females, compared to a total median age at death of 79 for males and 85 for females (ABS, 2012b). The 2011 fertility rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women was 2.7 babies per woman, compared to 1.9 babies per woman for the total population (ABS, 2012a).

The majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live in New South Wales (31.1%), and Queensland (28.2%). While only 10.3% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live in the Northern Territory, they make up almost one third (29.8%) of the total Northern Territory population. In all of the other states and territories, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up less than 5% of the total population of their respective states and territories (ABS, 2013c).

Whilst almost all (90%) of the non-Indigenous population lives in Major cities and Inner regional areas, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is fairly evenly distributed across Major cities (34.8%), Inner regional (22%), Outer Regional (21.8%) and Remote/Very remote areas (21.4%) (ABS, 2013c).

Graph Image for Overseas born populations
Overseas Born Population

Australia, along with New Zealand, Canada and the United States, has traditionally been considered a 'settlement country'. These countries have historically experienced positive net overseas migration, and consequently have relatively high proportions of the population who were born overseas. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2010, Australia had the fourth highest proportion of overseas-born residents from a selection of 38 countries (OECD, 2013).

Australia has experienced successive waves of immigration over the past century. Each wave has been characterised by a different predominant region of origin, usually related to world events of the period. For example, immigration from Britain, Germany, Italy and Poland increased markedly following World War II (ABS, 2008).

North-West Europe has historically been the most common region of birth for Australians born overseas. This reflects Australia's history as a British colony, as well as the 'White Australia' immigration policy, which was in place until 1973. While the percentage of Australians born in Europe has declined over the past decade, the percentage of Australians born in the various regions of Asia has been increasing (ABS, 2012c). In 2010-11, the most common regions of birth for overseas-born Australians were North-West Europe (7.1%), Southern and Eastern Europe (3.6%), and South East Asia (3.6%).

Need some more info on the population theme? Hopefully this tab can point you in the right direction

This tab contains the following further information for population:


ABS Migration, Australia (cat. no. 3412.0)
ABS Population Projections, Australia (cat. no. 3222.0)
ABS Australian Demographic Statistics (cat. no. 3101.0)
ABS Australian Historical Population Statistics (cat. no. 3105.0.65.001)
ABS Australian Population clock
ABS Animated Population Pyramids
ABS Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS): Volume 5 - Remoteness Structure, July 2011 (cat. no. 1270.0.55.005)
ABS Estimates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians (cat. no. 3238.0.55.001)
OECD 2013, 'International Migration', in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Factbook 2013: Economic, Environmental and Social Statistics, viewed 1 May 2013 at <www.oecd-ilibrary.org>.


    12/16 month rule

    A method for measuring an overseas traveller's duration of stay or absence which takes an approach to measure usual residence that does not have to be continuous, as opposed to the continuous approach used under a '12/12 month rule'. Under a '12/16 month rule', incoming overseas travellers (who are not currently counted in the population) must be resident in Australia for a total period of 12 months or more, during the 16 month follow-up period to then be included in the estimated resident population. Similarly, those travellers departing Australia (who are currently counted in the population) must be absent from Australia for a total of 12 months or more during the 16 month follow-up period to then be subtracted from the estimated resident population.

    The 12/16 month rule therefore takes account of those persons who may have left Australia briefly and returned, while still being resident for 12 months out of 16. Similarly, it takes account of Australians who live most of the time overseas but periodically return to Australia for short periods.

    Dependency ratio

    The dependency ratio is a measure used to compare the size of the working age population to the size of the non-working age population, calculated as the sum of people aged 0-14 and 65 years and over (that is, 'dependents') divided by the number of people aged 15-64 years, multiplied by 100.

    Estimated Resident Population (ERP)

    The official measure of the population of Australia is based on the concept of usual residence. It refers to all people, regardless of nationality, citizenship or legal status, who usually live in Australia, with the exception of foreign diplomatic personnel and their families. It includes usual residents who are overseas for less than 12 months over a 16 month period. It excludes overseas visitors who are in Australia for less than 12 months over a 16 month period.

    Estimates of the Australian resident population are generated on a quarterly basis by adding natural increase (the excess of births over deaths) and net overseas migration (NOM) occurring during the period to the population at the beginning of each period. This is known as the cohort component method and can be represented by the following equation:

    P(t+1) = P(t) + B - D + NOM, where:

    P(t) = the estimated resident population at time point t
    P(t+1) = the estimated resident population at time point t+1
    B = the number of births occurring between t and t+1
    D = the number of deaths occurring between t and t+1
    NOM = net overseas migration occurring between t and t+1.

    For state and territory population estimates, an additional term is added to the equation representing net interstate migration (NIM) occurring between 1 and t+1, represented by the following equation:

    P(t+1) = P(t) + B - D + NOM + NIM.

    Natural increase

    Excess of births over deaths.

    Net Interstate Migration (NIM)

    The difference between the number of persons who have changed their place of usual residence by moving into a given state or territory and the number who have changed their place of usual residence by moving out of that state or territory during a specified time period. This difference can be either positive or negative.

    Net Overseas Migration (NOM)

    Net overseas migration is the net gain or loss of population through immigration to Australia and emigration from Australia. Under the current method for estimating final net overseas migration this term is based on a traveller's actual duration of stay or absence using the '12/16 month rule'. Preliminary NOM estimates are modelled on patterns of traveller behaviours observed in final NOM estimates for the same period one year earlier. NOM is:
      • based on an international traveller's duration of stay being in or out of Australia for 12 months or more over a 16 month period;
    the difference between:
      • the number of incoming international travellers who stay in Australia for 12 months or more over a 16 month period, who are not currently counted within the population, and are then added to the population (NOM arrivals); and
      • the number of outgoing international travellers (Australian residents and long-term visitors to Australia) who leave Australia for 12 months or more over a 16 month period, who are currently counted within the population, and are then subtracted from the population (NOM departures).

    Population growth

    For Australia, population growth is the sum of natural increase and net overseas migration. For states and territories, population growth also includes net interstate migration. After the Census of Population and Housing, intercensal population growth also includes an allowance for intercensal discrepancy.

    Replacement fertility rate

    Replacement level fertility is the number of babies a female would need to have over her reproductive life span to replace herself and her partner. Given the current mortality of females up to age 49 years, replacement fertility is estimated at around 2.1 babies per female. Replacement fertility rate = (1 + Sex Ratio at Birth) / Probability (Female survives to average childbearing age).

    Total Fertility Rate (TFR)

    The sum of age-specific fertility rates (live births at each age of mother per 1,000 of the female population of that age) divided by 1,000. It represents the number of children a female would bear during her lifetime if she experienced current age-specific fertility rates at each age of her reproductive life.