2016 Census: Multicultural

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27 June 2017

Census reveals a fast changing, culturally diverse nation

The results of the latest national Census today reveal we’re a fast changing, ever-expanding, culturally diverse nation.

In communities across the country, there is an increasing variety in terms of country of birth, languages spoken, whether people are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, and religious affiliation (or secular beliefs). The Census captures all of these characteristics and highlights the rich cultural diversity of Australian society.

The 2016 Census shows that two thirds (67 per cent) of the Australian population were born in Australia. Nearly half (49 per cent) of Australians had either been born overseas (first generation Australian) or one or both parents had been born overseas (second generation Australian).

While England and New Zealand were still the next most common countries of birth after Australia, the proportion of people born in China and India has increased since 2011 (from 6.0 per cent to 8.3 per cent, and 5.6 per cent to 7.4 per cent, respectively).

Of the 6,163,667 people born overseas, nearly one in five (18 per cent) had arrived since the start of 2012.

In 2016, 83 per cent of the overseas-born population lived in a capital city compared with 61 per cent of people born in Australia. Sydney had the largest overseas-born population.

In 2016, there were over 300 separately identified languages spoken in Australian homes. More than one-fifth (21 per cent) of Australians spoke a language other than English at home. After English, the next most common languages spoken at home were Mandarin, Arabic, Cantonese, and Vietnamese. Tasmania had the highest rate of people speaking only English at home with 88 per cent, while the Northern Territory had the lowest rate at 58 per cent.

Meanwhile, the number of people identifying as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin is on the rise, increasing from 2.5 per cent of the Australian population in 2011 to 2.8 per cent (or almost 650,000 people) in 2016.

The latest Census data highlights that Australia is a religiously diverse nation, with Christianity remaining the most commonly reported religion (52.1 per cent of the population). The Islamic population with 2.6 per cent of the total population was the second largest religion, closely followed by Buddhism (2.4 per cent).

While the clear majority of Australians reported a religion, the 'No Religion' count increased to almost a third of the Australian population between 2011 and 2016 (22 per cent to 30 per cent). No religion was the most common individual response in the 2016 Census.

Australian Statistician David W. Kalisch said Census data is high quality, thanks to the participation of Australians.

“The Independent Assurance Panel I established to provide extra assurance and transparency of Census data quality concluded that the 2016 Census data can be used with confidence,” Mr Kalisch said.

“The 2016 Census had a response rate of 95.1 per cent and a net undercount of 1.0 per cent. This is a quality result, comparable to both previous Australian Censuses and Censuses in other countries, such as New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

“Furthermore, 63 per cent of people completed the Census online, embracing the digital-first approach and contributing to faster data processing and data quality improvements.

“2016 Census data provides a detailed, accurate and fascinating picture of Australia, which will be used to inform critical policy, planning and service delivery decisions for our communities over the coming years,” he said.

Census data is available free online. Use one of our easy tools such as QuickStats and Community Profiles to access the latest data for your area or topic of interest.

For more information on Australia’s cultural and linguistic diversity, go to Reflecting Australia - Stories from the 2016 Census.

You can also attend one of our free Seminars. To find out more about Census Data Seminar series, or to register, go to the ABS website.

Culturally and linguistically diverse Australia


Language spoken by a person at home (top 5)
English only - 72.7% (17,020,417)
English only - 76.8% (16,509,291)
Mandarin - 2.5% (596,711)
Mandarin - 1.6% (336,410)
Arabic - 1.4% (321,728)
Italian - 1.4% (299,833)
Cantonese - 1.2% (280,943)
Arabic - 1.3% (287,174)
Vietnamese - 1.2% (277,400)
Cantonese - 1.2% (263,673)

Country of Birth (top 5)
Australia – 66.7% (15,614,835)
Australia – 69.8% (15,017,846)
England – 3.9% (907,570)
England – 4.2% (911,593)
New Zealand – 2.2% (518,466)
New Zealand – 2.2% (483,398)
China – 2.2% (509,555)
China – 1.5% (318,969)
India – 1.9% (455,389)
India – 1.4% (295,362)

Religion (top 5)
No religion – 30.1% (7,040,717)
Catholic – 25.3% (5,439,267)
Catholic – 22.6% (5,291,834)
No religion – 22.3% (4,804,627)
Anglican – 13.3% (3,101,185)
Anglican – 17.1% (3,679,907)
Uniting Church – 3.7% (870,183)
Uniting Church 5.0% (1,065,794)
Christian, nfd – 2.6% (612,371)
Presbyterian and Reformed – 2.8% (599,515)