4160.0.55.001 - Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics, Jun 2015  
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The term 'population' is most commonly used to refer to the total number of inhabitants of a place, be it a town, a region, or a country. For example, it may refer to the total number of men or women in Australia, the number of children in a particular state or territory, or even the total number of children attending a particular school. Conceptually a population is any complete group of people with at least one characteristic in common.

While population can be simply defined, the concepts associated with its measurement can be complex. There are numerous ways in which people can be classified based on their characteristics, or combination of characteristics, to form population groups. Depending on the issues of concern, people can be classified according to their country of birth, employment status, occupation, income, health status, their experience of particular life events and so on.

In the Australian context the official population measure is the estimated resident population (ERP), which is based on the concept of usual residence. In this context, usual residence refers to the address at which a person lives or intends to live for six months or more. However, some of the other population concepts that are relevant to different analytical situations include:

  • population present - based on where people are at a particular point in time
  • usually resident population - based on where people are usually resident using a range of criteria
  • legal population - based on citizenship and residency permits
  • economic population - based on economic concept of residence
  • working population - based on place of employment
  • service populations - based on demand for and use of services in a particular area.


Characteristics of the population (such as its size, distribution and composition) influence and are influenced by many aspects of wellbeing. For example, changes in patterns of mortality, fertility and migration lead to changes in the age distribution of the population, which can contribute to changes in demand for health and other services. This may directly and indirectly affect the wellbeing of individuals, their families and their communities. If change occurs at a rapid rate, changes in the population size of a town or region, either up or down, people may require people to have the capacity to adapt quickly. This can engender a sense of optimism or pessimism about the future and affect people's sense of wellbeing. Similarly, changes in the composition of the population, in terms of the balance between men and women, between children, adults and elderly people, and between people with different cultural backgrounds or different value systems, can lead to anxiety or tension impacting on the cohesion of society.

In a national consultation conducted by the ABS in 2011-12, many Australians said that it is important that the population grow sustainably, so that the needs of Australians today can be met without compromising the needs of future generations. For some this involved sustaining economic performance, using more renewable energy, sustainable consumption and production patterns, or living sustainably, while for others it involved slower population growth. (MAP 2013, ABS).

Information on current population conditions and historical trends can be monitored using information on:
  • population trends and estimates - size, structure, distribution and density
  • migration, fertility, and life expectancy patterns
  • geospatial data
  • service demand
  • vital registrations (birth and death).


Information about changes in the demographic structure and geographic distribution of the population is vital to understanding how to service, sustain or enhance the wellbeing of the general population and particular populations of interest. Demographic change is an underlying issue for many social, political, economic and environmental concerns. This is because changes in the size, distribution and composition of a population underlie a large number of issues concerned with meeting economic and social needs. For example, the changing size and structure of the population influences the economy and people's wellbeing, the demand for health and education services, the labour market and impacts on the environment.

There are a range of events, pressures and drivers of change that have the potential to substantially affect wellbeing. In relation to the size, growth, structure and distribution change of the population some examples of these factors include:
  • population growth and the impact on resources (environmental and economic) and equitable provision of services across the population
  • implications from population composition changes e.g. an ageing population and a decline in the dependency rate (the size of the working age population to the size of the non-working age population) and reduced productivity and later retirement
  • economic, social and political drivers of migration and fertility decisions
  • economic and social inequality impacting on differences in life expectancy
  • new technologies in health impacting on life expectancy.


Many individual and government choices relating to population factors, such as births and migration, are made through government policies in a social and economic context. Internal migration can be influenced by private sector investment (e.g. cafes and supermarkets) or public sector investment (e.g. public amenities and infrastructure) that attract people to a particular area.

There are many ways that the composition and distribution of the Australian population can be influenced. Some examples include actions to:
  • plan for and invest in infrastructure and services, to meet the needs of the future population using projections of growth, composition and density
  • encourage development and adoption of sustainable technologies
  • support sustainable development and geopolitical stability internationally
  • manage migration streams
  • influence socioeconomic and geographic factors relating to patterns and levels of fertility - including the use of taxes and subsidies
  • reduce health differentials associated with inequality
  • support the sustainability of communities.


Population is included as one of the social statistics themes since it provides both contextual information for other themes, and contributes to wellbeing in its own right. To gain a better understanding of the population in Australian society, look through the pages on:
  • Population groups
  • Family and community
  • Culture and leisure
  • Health
  • Learning and knowledge
  • Work
  • Economic wellbeing
  • Housing
  • The built and natural environments
  • Information, communication and technology
  • Crime, safety and justice
  • Governance


Need some more information on population? This section can point you in the right direction.

National Statistical Service, Statistical Spatial Framework - This Framework provides a common approach to connecting people-centric (socio-economic) information to a location, and improve the accessibility and usability of this spatially-enabled information.

Developing National Capacity in Population and Social Statistics in Asia and the Pacific: A framework, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.
A framework of the Technical Advisory Group on Population and Social Statistics (TAG-PSS) to help guide countries in assessing current national practices in collecting, compiling, processing, analysing and disseminating a core set of population and social statistics.

National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM), Population and Demography - The National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) is an economic and social policy research centre for microsimulation, economic modelling and policy evaluation.



The delivery of a child, irrespective of the duration of pregnancy, who, after being born, breathes or shows any evidence of life such as heartbeat.


Death is the permanent disappearance of all evidence of life after birth has taken place. The definition excludes deaths prior to live birth.

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.

Net interstate migration

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).

Natural increase

Excess of births over deaths.

Net population growth

For Australia, net population growth is the sum of natural increase and net overseas migration. For the states and territories, net population growth also includes net interstate migration.

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.


Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2015, Australian Demographic Statistics (cat. no. 3101.0)

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013, Measures of Australia's Progress (cat. no. 1370.0)