3105.0.65.001 - Australian Historical Population Statistics, 2014  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 18/09/2014   
   Page tools: Print Print Page Print all pages in this productPrint All

Compared with 100 years ago, Australians today are older, are more likely to live in urban areas, have fewer children and are more likely to be born overseas in countries outside of the British Isles.

Population size and growth

Stimulated by the gold rushes of the 19th century, Australia's population had nearly reached 4 million by Federation in 1901. For the first part of the 20th century natural increase was the main contributor to population growth, as better living conditions saw births outnumber deaths. Following the end of World War II in 1945, the total fertility rate grew and Australia actively embarked on an immigration program to boost the population. The rate of population growth has increased since the mid 2000s. Overseas migration is now the main driver of this, making up about 60% of population growth. In 2011, Australia's population increased to over 22 million people.

Population distribution

In 2011, over 85% of Australians lived in urban areas and nearly 70% lived in our capital cities, making Australia one of the world’s most urbanised countries. In contrast, 100 years ago less than 40% of Australia’s population lived in our capital cities. At that time, Melbourne was our largest city, with just over 500,000 people. Between 1911 and 1945, Sydney’s population grew by over 800,000 people, to almost 1.5 million, and it became Australia’s most populated capital city. Between 2001 and 2011, Brisbane’s population increased by 27%, making it the fastest growing of all Australia's capital cities in the 21st century.

Age and sex structure

Australia’s population today is much older and has a more balanced sex structure than a hundred years ago. At the turn of the 20th century, the median age was 22 years and 4% of the population was aged 65 or over. Men outnumbered women (by around 110 to 100), as the population had been significantly shaped by male-dominated immigration from overseas. By the late 20th century, low fertility, declining mortality, and the ageing of the large baby boom generation combined to see an increase in the numbers of older people. The median age in 2011 was 37 years, and 14% of the population were aged 65 and over. For every 100 females there were 99 males.


Over the 20th century, Australia’s total fertility rate fell from an average of 3.1 babies per woman of child bearing age in 1921 to 1.9 babies in 2011, although fertility rates fluctuated up and down over the period. During the Great Depression of the 1930s fertility dropped, then reached an all-time high in the baby boom that followed World War II. Social transformations of the 1960s and 70s, including increased female participation in the labour force and greater reproductive control, led to a rapid decline in the average number of babies per Australian woman. The total fertility rate has been relatively stable over the last three decades, and reflects the tendency for partnering and childbearing to occur at later ages than in the past.

Life expectancy

Over the past century, life expectancy at birth in Australia has steadily increased - by around 24 years for males and 25 years for females. These increases are due to declining death rates at all ages, reflecting improving living conditions, resulting from advances in public sanitation, food quality, and better health education, and medical advances such as mass immunisation and antibiotics. By 2011, a baby boy could expect to live 79.9 years, while a girl could expect to live 84.3 years, ranking Australian life expectancy amongst the highest in the world.

Overseas born population

In 2011, over one in four Australians were born overseas. There have been many historical changes in the source countries of immigrants since Federation, when people from Britain and Ireland made up over three-quarters of all Australia's overseas born population. Following WWII, Australia accepted large numbers of people from other European countries, particularly Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Greece. Since 1973, after the dismantling of the White Australia policy and broadening of Australia's immigration policies, new groups of migrants have been arriving from all parts of the world (and notably from Asia) increasing the diversity of Australia's population.


Australian Historical Population Statistics
contains a wide range of demographic data in spreadsheet format (Microsoft Excel), going back, where possible, to the beginning of European settlement (1788) of Australia.


Australian Historical Population Statistics has been restructured for the 2014 update and now consists of 10 data cubes. Data based on Marriage, Divorces and Marital Status have been discontinued. Also, the numbering of the data cubes has been re-arranged since the 2008 publication.

The 2014 update of Australian Historical Population Statistics contains data cubes on the following topics:

1. Population size and growth
2. Population age-sex structure
3. Population distribution
4. Births
5. Deaths
6. Life Expectancy
7. Migration
8. Country of birth
9. Overseas arrivals and departures
10. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population

See Data Cubes (I-Note) for a full listing of tables available in the 2014 update.


At the time of publication these data cubes contained published ABS data up to June 2011. More up-to-date data will be available from the ABS website – please see the individual ABS Demography publications listed as sources at the bottom of each spreadsheet A list of related ABS and other products is also available in the Explanatory Notes and the Related Information tab.


The following revisions to estimates published in the 2008 issue have been made:

  • Estimated resident population (ERP), and estimates of its components, have been updated to final for the period September quarter 2006 to June quarter 2011. All rates which use ERP as the denominator have been updated for this period to incorporate final ERP figures.
  • The historical ERP series has been recast from September quarter 1991 to June quarter 2011. All demographic data which reference ERP for this period has been revised. For further information see Explanatory Note 21.
  • Table 1.11 has been discontinued.
  • Tables 3.1 and 3.2: Population data for 1971 onwards are now presented on Australian Statistical Geography Standard (2011) boundaries.
  • Tables 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, 3.6 and 3.7 are new tables.
  • Table 4.7 is a new table.
  • Table 5.6 is a new table.
  • Tables 7.1, 7.2, 7.5, 7.6, 7.7 & 7.8: Tables have been revised back to July 2004 due to the rebuild of the overseas arrivals and departures system.
  • Tables 7.6 and 7.8: Data from 1981 has been revised to ensure that there is a consistent method of calculating the net interstate and overseas migration rate.
  • Table 8.15: 1971 Census data has been revised due to errors found in the previously published 1971 data.
  • Tables 8.20, 8.21, 8.22, 8.23 and 8.24: Country of birth data are now based on the Standard Australian Classification of Countries (SACC), Version 2.3.
  • Table 8.23 is a new table.
  • Tables 9.1, 9.2, 9.3, 9.4 & 9.5: Tables have been revised back to July 2004 due to the rebuild of the overseas arrivals and departures system.
  • Tables 10.11, 10.12, 10.13, 10.14 and 10.15 are new tables.


For further information about these and related statistics, contact the National Information and Referral Service on 1300 135 070.