Australia’s population has hit the 25 million mark, based on the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ population clock—an estimate of growth based on latest official data on births, deaths and net overseas migration. Australia’s annual population growth was 1.6 per cent in 2017.
How did Australia look when we reached previous population milestones?
At Federation, Australia’s population was 3.8 million, and was growing at around 1.5 per cent each year. We reached five million in 1918, towards the end of the First World War. Indigenous Australians were not included in population estimates.
Despite the country’s focus on the war, Australia in 1918 was substantially an agricultural society with the Commonwealth Statistician’s Year Book 1901–1919 reporting in detail on acres used for farming (7,990,165 acres of wheat and 768,152 for oats) and bushels of yield (75,638,262 of wheat and 10,441,080 of oats). Other crops reported were barley, maize, hay, potatoes, sugar cane and grapes. Total value of all agricultural, pastoral and dairying production in 1918 was £190,116,000 ($16.8 billion in 2017 dollars).
The Year Book also reported on births (125,739), deaths (50,249) and marriages (33,141) in 1918. The crude birth rate (number of births per 1,000 population) was 25.25. Due to the impact of war casualties, the sex ratio (males per 100 females) had dropped below 100—from 108.5 in 1911 to 96.7 in 1918.
In 1918, over two-thirds of Australia’s population lived in New South Wales (38.4 per cent) and Victoria (28.4 per cent). Age profile data from the 1911 Census showed almost one-third of the population (31.6 per cent) were aged under 15 years and just over half (51.7 per cent) were aged under 25 years; only 4.3 per cent were aged 65 years and over. The overwhelming majority of Australians identified as being Christian (95.6 per cent) and were born in either Australia (82.9 per cent) or the United Kingdom (13.35 per cent).
It took another 41 years for Australia’s population to grow by a further five million, and the population reached 10,166,200 in December 1959.
In 1959 there were 226,976 births, 89,212 deaths and 74,363 marriages in Australia; the crude birth rate was 22.56.
New South Wales (37.3 per cent) and Victoria (28.0 per cent) still accounted for most of Australia’s population. The sex ratio had increased again to 102.1, due in part to higher levels of men migrating in the post-war period; in 1959, there were 124,022 long-term and permanent arrivals into Australia, with 52.9 per cent of these being male. Some 64,000 people arrived under assisted passage schemes in 1959, and 785,700 arrived under these schemes in the period from 1947 to 1959. The majority of these were British (mainly from the United Kingdom), with migration agreements also in place for several other countries.
Data from the 1954 Census showed 85.7 percent of the population were born in Australia; the proportion born in the United Kingdom and Ireland had fallen to 7.4 per cent, and Christianity was still the majority religion (89.4 per cent).
The proportion of Australia’s population aged under 15 years was similar to 1911 (30.0 per cent), and the proportion aged under 25 years was somewhat lower at 43.7 per cent; the proportion aged 65 years and over more than doubled to 8.5 per cent by the 1950s.
The Year Book’s focus had moved from agriculture to manufacturing and electric power generation and distribution, with statistics showing that, in 1959, there were 54,900 factories employing 1,088,000 people. Around 400 of these factories were described as being for heat, light and power.
Post-war immigration and the Baby Boom meant accelerated population growth; taking only 22 years to add another five million people. The 15 million population milestone was reached in 1981 with 15,053,500 at December that year; annual population growth was 1.67 per cent—the highest since 1971.
Population projections from the 1980s estimated the population would be between 22.1 million and 26.0 million by 2021.
In 1981, the crude birth rate rose for the first time in a decade, to 15.8. After moderate levels for most of the 1970s, net migration gain increased sharply during 1979, 1980 and 1981, following changes in migration intake targets and Australia’s acceptance of a large number of Indo-Chinese refugees as settlers.
As would be expect following the end of the Baby Boom, the proportion of Australia’s population aged under 15 years had fallen to 25.0 per cent by 1981 and the proportion aged 65 years and over continued to rise (9.7 per cent). There were 235,842 births, 109,003 deaths and 113,905 marriages in 1981.
New South Wales (35.1 per cent) and Victoria (26.5 per cent) were still the most populous states, however there was relatively strong population growth in Queensland (to 15.7 per cent) and contraction in Tasmania (to 2.9 per cent).
Defence and international relations were highlighted in the Year Book with reporting of an increase in the size of the Reserve Forces and commentary on Defence industry and equipment.
In 2004, Australia’s population reached 20 million—23 years after reaching the previous milestone.
Population growth had slowed to 1.20 per cent with a gradual decline in natural increase (births-deaths) and net overseas migration fluctuating. In 1996, the rate of natural increase fell below 7.0 persons per 1,000 population for the first time, and the downward trend continued, reaching 6.1 in 2004.
The proportion of people aged under 15 years continued to fall, down to 19.9 per cent of the population by 2004, while growth in the proportion of older Australians continued, with just over 2.6 million people (13 per cent of the total population) aged 65 years and over. There were 254,200 births, 132,500 deaths and 111,000 marriages in 2004.
Queensland’s population continued to grow—to 19.2 per cent of the total, and Tasmania continued to decline (2.4 per cent). New South Wales (33.4 per cent) and Victoria (24.7 per cent) were still the most populated states.
Around three-quarters of Australians in 2004 were born here, with the United Kingdom accounting for the largest proportion of Australians born overseas (1,190,900 or 5.9 per cent).
In 2004, labour, income, welfare and housing were highlighted topics in the Year Book, with articles on underemployment and wealth distribution.
It has only taken another 14 years to 2018 for our population to reach 25 million. What will Australia look like when we reach the next milestone?
Sources: ABS Year Books 1920, 1960, 1983, 2006 and ABS website