Every stat tells a story.

2021 Census highlights increasing cultural diversity

Media Release

New analysis of the 2021 Census data, published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) today, shows the proportion of overseas born and second generation migrants in Australia have steadily increased since the end of World War II, as counted in the 1947 Census.

Duncan Young, General Manager of the Census said, “It is the suite of cultural diversity questions in the Census, such as ancestry, country of birth, English proficiency, languages spoken, citizenship status, year of arrival and religious affiliation, which allows us to better understand the increasing complexity and growing cultural diversity in Australia.

“The ancestry variables in the Census provide a self-assessed measure of ethnicity and cultural background. When used alongside the country of birth of individuals and their parents, Census data provides a good indication of the ethnic background of all Australians”.

In the first Census in 1911, the proportion of Australians who were born overseas was 18 per cent. In 2021, more than seven million people in Australia were born overseas, this is almost 30 per cent of the population. It is an increase from 6.1 million, or 26 per cent, in 2016. Over a million people arrived in Australia since the 2016 Census and of these 230,000 are from India, 137,000 are from China and 71,000 are from Nepal.

Most of Australia’s population are descendants of migrants and as a result, the most common ancestries align with the most common countries of birth of the population over time. In 2021, Australia’s top five ancestries largely reflected waves of British and European migration and were the same top five as reported in 2016. The five most common overseas countries of birth were the same in 2021 as reported in 2016, however India has moved from fourth largest to second largest. India only sits behind England for overseas countries of birth in Australia.

Shared language is a component of understanding ethnicity. In 2021, 5.6 million people or 22 per cent, reported using a language other than English at home. This was an increase from 4.8 million people or 20.6 per cent in 2016. For people who used another language at home, the Census asked how well they spoke English. In 2021, 3.4 per cent of the population spoke English not well or not at all.

Speaking ahead of the 2021 Census – cultural diversity data seminar jointly hosted by SBS and ABS today, Mandi Wicks, SBS Director of News and Current Affairs said, “Since SBS began in 1975, languages have been at the heart of what we do. During the past 45 years, Australia’s demography has changed enormously, and today SBS delivers content in 63 languages. The Census data is key to informing which languages we service by considering the size of language communities, their recentness of arrival and their needs”.

Read the analysis on 2021 Census - Cultural diversity in Australia or explore Census data on the SBS Census Explorer. The analysis features case studies into Indian and Nepalese communities in Australia.

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