Top 10 countries of birth for the overseas-born population since 1901

22 November 2018

PDF version [378KB]

Joanne Simon-Davies, Chris McGann
Statistics and Mapping Section

Introduction

Australia’s first population Census was conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in 1911. [1] Prior to this, each colony had been responsible for its own census collection. The census held during the first year of Federation in 1901, was collected by each state separately. When planning for the 1901 Census, it was clear that Federation was forthcoming, and a uniform census schedule was developed. Regardless of who conducted the census, the question “In which country was the person born” has been asked since the commencement of the census in Australian colonies during the 1800s.

ABS currently uses the Standard Australian Classification of Countries, 2016 (SACC) to categorise the country of birth list. According to the ABS[2], country names within the SACC reflect country titles recognised by the Australian Government. The ABS monitors changes in the official recognition of country titles by the Australian Government and updates the SACC as necessary to ensure the classification remains current. At times, there may be a delay in changing a name, especially if there is instability in a region or if the new country is yet to be recognised internationally.  The SACC adopts a broad definition of 'country' that includes the following national entities:

  • sovereign nation states (for example, Australia, Indonesia, Philippines)
  • administrative subdivisions within some sovereign states (for example, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are devolved administrations of the United Kingdom)
  • external territories and dependencies (for example, the Falkland Islands – a British overseas territory). These categories are discrete geographic areas with varying degrees of political and economic autonomy. In general, they are physically isolated from the country to which they are dependent
  • regions under disputed ownership or control (for example, Western Sahara region of North Africa, West Bank).

When examining the results of the question of where someone was born, it is easy to see the consequences of political upheaval in many parts of the world. For example, a person born in Ceylon in 1933 would record Sri Lanka today, or those born in British India in the 1920s, would now record India, Bangladesh, Pakistan or Myanmar (Burma)[3] as their country of birth. In more recent years, the breakup of Yugoslavia in 2001 resulted in five successor states including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia and Montenegro.

Due to the various changes to country structures over time, there have been many forms of the country classification. In this statistical snapshot, there has been no attempt to change names to match current country name. The names used at the time of a particular Census are listed, for example, Ceylon and British India, even though they no longer officially exist.

The data

Figure 1 shows the proportion of Australia’s population born overseas, at each Census since 1901. Between 1901 and 1947 there was a steady decline in overseas born, from 22.6 per cent to 9.8 per cent—1947 was the only Census at which the overseas born proportion has been below 10 per cent. As expected, the largest component of overseas born was from the United Kingdom and Ireland, accounting for around 80 per cent of overseas born in 1901, then falling to around 70 per cent by 1947.

Since 1947, more than 7.5 million people have migrated to Australia.[4]  Despite the post-war migration boom with immigration from a broader range of countries, the United Kingdom continued to be the largest source of migrants, with the majority of people arriving under post-war assisted passage schemes being from the United Kingdom.

Post-war migration agreements were also in place for several other countries including Malta, The Netherlands, Italy, West Germany, Turkey and the former Yugoslavia.[5] By 1954, Italy was the second largest source of overseas born, and this continued until the 1980s when New Zealand moved into second place. With increased migration from Asia, fewer than one in five overseas born are now from the United Kingdom although it is still the largest source. China, India and the Philippines are curently the other top five countries after the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

Top ten countries of birth for each Census are shown in the tables following the graph.

Figure 1: Proportion of Australia’s population born overseas, 1901 to 2016

Figure 1: Proportion of Australia’s population born overseas, 1901 to 2016

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, selected census publications

 Top 10 countries of birth for the overseas-born population since 1901

  1901 Census   1911 Census
Birthplace No. % Birthplace No. %
1. United Kingdom (a) 495 504 58.1 1. United Kingdom (e) 454 268 60.4
2. Ireland (b) 184 085 21.6 2. Ireland (b) 139 434 18.5
3. Germany 38 352 4.5 3. Germany 32 990 4.4
4. China 29 907 3.5 4. New Zealand 31 868 4.2
5. New Zealand 25 788 3.0 5. China 20 775 2.8
6. Sweden & Norway 9 863 1.2 6. Italy 6 719 0.9
7. South Sea Is. (c) 9 128 1.1 7. British India 6 644 0.9
8. British India 7 637 0.9 8. United States of America 6 642 0.9
9. United States of America 7 448 0.9 9. Denmark 5 663 0.8
10. Denmark 6 281 0.7 10. Sweden 5 586 0.7
Top ten total 810 113 95.5 Top ten total 710 589 94.4
Other 47 463 4.5 Other 42 038 5.6
Total overseas born 852 373 100 Total overseas born 752 627 100.0
Total population (d) 3 788 123   Total population (d) (f) 4 455 005  
% of Australian born overseas 22.6 % of Australian born overseas 16.9

 

  1921 Census   1933 Census
Birthplace No. % Birthplace No. %
1. United Kingdom (e) 571 354 68.1 1. United Kingdom (e) 636 312 70.6
2. Ireland (b) 105 033 12.5 2. Ireland (b) 78 652 8.7
3. New Zealand 38 611 4.6 3. New Zealand 45 963 5.1
4. Germany 22 396 2.7 4. Italy 26 756 3.0
5. China 15 224 1.8 5. Germany 16 842 1.9
6. Italy 8 135 1.0 6. China 8 579 0.9
7. British India 6 918 0.8 7. Greece 8 337 0.9
8. United States of America 6 604 0.8 8. British India 6 774 0.7
9. Denmark 6 002 0.7 9. South Africa 6 179 0.7
10. South Africa 5 408 0.6 10. United States of America 6 066 0.7
Top ten total 785 685 93.6 Top ten total 840 460 93.3
Other 53 894 6.4 Other 60 762 6.7
Total overseas born 839 579 100.0 Total overseas born 901 222 100.0
Total population (d) (f) 5 435 734   Total population (d) 6 629 839  
% of Australian born overseas 15.4 % of Australian born overseas 13.6

 

  1947 Census   1954 Census
Birthplace No. % Birthplace No. %
1. United Kingdom (e) 498 097 66.9 1. United Kingdom (g) 616 532 47.9
2. Ireland (b) 44 813 6.0 2. Italy 119 897 9.3
3. New Zealand 43 610 5.9 3. Germany 65 422 5.1
4. Italy 33 632 4.5 4. Poland 56 594 4.4
5. Germany 14 567 2.0 5. Netherlands 52 035 4.0
6. Greece 12 291 1.7 6. Ireland (b) 47 673 3.7
7. British India & Ceylon 8 160 1.1 7. New Zealand 43 350 3.4
8. Poland 6 573 0.9 8. Greece 25 862 2.0
9. China 6 404 0.9 9. Yugoslavia 22 856 1.8
10. United States of America 6 232 0.8 10. Malta 19 988 1.6
Top ten total 674 379 90.7 Top ten total 1 070 209 83.2
Other 68 831 9.3 Other 215 589 16.8
Total overseas born 743 210 100.0 Total overseas born 1 285 789 100.0
Total population (d) 7 579 358   Total population (d) 8 986 530  
% of Australian born overseas 9.8 % of Australian born overseas 14.3

 

  1961 Census   1966 Census
Birthplace No. % Birthplace No. %
1. United Kingdom (g) 705 187 39.7 1. United Kingdom (g) 908 664 40.1
2. Italy 228 296 12.8 2. Italy 267 325 12.5
3. Germany 109 315 6.1 3. Greece 140 089 6.6
4. Netherlands 102 083 5.7 4. Germany 108 709 5.1
5. Greece 77 333 4.3 5. Netherlands 99 549 4.7
6. Poland 60 049 3.4 6. Yugoslavia 71 277 3.3
7. Ireland (b) 50 215 2.8 7. Poland 61 641 2.9
8. Yugoslavia 49 776 2.8 8. Ireland (b) 55 175 2.6
9. New Zealand 47 011 2.6 9. Malta 55 104 2.6
10. Malta 39 337 2.2 10. New Zealand 52 104 2.4
Top ten total 1 468 602 82.6 Top ten total 1 764 462 82.8
Other 309 739 17.4 Other 366 029 17.2
Total overseas born 1 778 341 100.0 Total overseas born 2 130 491 100.0
Total population (d) 10 508 186   Total population 11 550 462  
% of Australian born overseas 16.9 % of Australian born overseas 18.4

 

  1971 Census   1976 Census
Birthplace No. % Birthplace No. %
1. United Kingdom (g) 1 017 981 40.0 1. United Kingdom (g) 1 044 418 38.8
2. Italy 288 252 11.3 2. Italy 279 470 10.4
3. Greece 158 969 6.2 3. Greece 152 352 5.7
4. Yugoslavia 128 211 5.0 4. Yugoslavia 143 102 5.3
5. Germany (h) 110 028 4.3 5. Germany (h) 106 854 4.0
6. Netherlands 98 633 3.9 6. Netherlands 91 548 3.4
7. New Zealand 74 050 2.9 7. New Zealand 83 929 3.1
8. Ireland (b) 63 292 2.5 8. Ireland (b) 66 954 2.5
9. Poland 59 471 2.3 9. Poland 55 912 2.1
10. Malta 53 471 2.1 10. Malta 55 822 2.1
Top ten total 2 052 358 80.6 Top ten total 2 080 631 77.4
Other 493 577 19.4 Other 608 524 22.6
Total overseas born 2 545 935 100.0 Total overseas born 2 689 155 100.0
Total population 12 719 506   Total population (f) 13 514 947  
% of Australian born overseas 20.0 % of Australian born overseas 19.9

 

  1981 Census   1986 Census
Birthplace No. % Birthplace No. %
1. United Kingdom (i) 1 075 754 36.5 1. United Kingdom (i) 1 072 049 33.5
2. Italy 274 965 9.3 2. Italy 260 983 8.6
3. New Zealand 160 746 5.4 3. New Zealand 199 905 6.3
4. Yugoslavia 148 563 5.0 4. Yugoslavia 149 282 4.7
5. Greece 145 840 4.9 5. Greece 136 887 4.3
6. Germany (h) 109 262 3.7 6. Germany (h) 113 466 3.6
7. Netherlands 95 101 3.2 7. Netherlands 94 404 3.0
8. Poland 58 951 2.0 8. Viet Nam 82 705 2.6
9. Malta 56 787 1.9 9. Poland 66 922 2.1
10. Lebanon 49 392 1.7 10. Malta 56 123 1.8
Top ten total 2 175 361 73.7 Top ten total 2 232 726 69.9
Other 775 496 26.3 Other 963 052 30.1
Total overseas born 2 950 857 100.0 Total overseas born 3 195 778 100.0
Total population (f) 14 516 896   Total population (f) 15 542 567  
% of Australian born overseas 20.3 % of Australian born overseas 20.6

 

  1991 Census   1996 Census
Birthplace No. % Birthplace No. %
1. United Kingdom (i) 1 107 358 30.0 1. United Kingdom (i) 1 072 562 27.5
2. New Zealand 264 126 7.2 2. New Zealand 291 388 7.5
3. Italy 253 417 6.9 3. Italy 238 246 6.1
4. Yugoslavia 160 624 4.4 4. Viet Nam 151 053 3.9
5. Greece 135 883 3.7 5. Greece 126 520 3.2
6. Viet Nam 121 811 3.3 6. China (j) 111 009 2.8
7. Germany 111 950 3.0 7. Germany 110 331 2.8
8. Netherlands 94 671 2.6 8. Philippines 92 949 2.4
9. China (j) 77 882 2.1 9. Netherlands 87 898 2.2
10. Philippines 73 007 2.0 10. India 77 551 2.0
Top ten total 2 400 729 65.1 Top ten total 2 359 507 60.5
Other 1 286 039 34.9 Other 1 542 143 39.5
Total overseas born 3 686 768 100.0 Total overseas born 3 901 650 100.0
Total population (f) (k) 16 771 803   Total population (f) (k) 17 752 829  
% of Australian born overseas 22.0 % of Australian born overseas 22.0

 

  2001 Census   2006 Census
Birthplace No. % Birthplace No. %
1. United Kingdom (i) 1 036 242 25.5 1. United Kingdom (i) 1 038 162 23.6
2. New Zealand 355 765 8.8 2. New Zealand 389 463 8.8
3. Italy 218 718 5.4 3. China (j) 206 591 4.7
4. Viet Nam 154 830 3.8 4. Italy 199 123 4.5
5. China (j) 142 781 3.5 5. Viet Nam 159 849 3.6
6. Greece 116 430 2.9 6. India 147 106 3.3
7. Germany 108 219 2.7 7. Philippines 120 538 2.7
8. Philippines 103 942 2.6 8. Greece 109 988 2.5
9. India 95 455 2.3 9. Germany 106 524 2.4
10. Netherlands 83 324 2.1 10. South Africa 104 128 2.4
Top ten total 2 415 706 59.4 Top ten total 2 581 472 58.6
Other 1 648 248 40.6 Other 1 823 946 41.4
Total overseas born 4 063 954 100.0 Total overseas born 4 405418 22.2
Total population (f) (k) 18 769 228   Total population (k) 19 855 288  
% of Australian born overseas 21.7 % of Australian born overseas 22.2

 

  2011 Census   2016 Census
Birthplace No. % Birthplace No. %
1. United Kingdom (l) 1 101 081 20.8 1. United Kingdom (l) 1 087 756 17.7
2. New Zealand 483 398 9.1 2. New Zealand 518 462 8.4
3. China (j) 318 969 6.0 3. China (j) 509 558 8.3
4. India 295 362 5.6 4. India 455 385 7.4
5. Italy 185 402 3.5 5. Philippines 232 391 3.8
6. Viet Nam 185 039 3.5 6. Viet Nam 219 351 3.6
7. Philippines 171 233 3.2 7. Italy 174 042 2.8
8. South Africa 145 683 2.8 8. South Africa 162 450 2.6
9. Malaysia 116 196 2.2 9. Malaysia 138 363 2.2
10. Germany 108 002 2.0 10. Sri Lanka 109 850 1.8
Top ten total 3 110 365 58.9 Top ten total 3 607 608 58.7
Other 2 173 978 41.1 Other 2 542 443 41.3
Total overseas born 5 284 343 100.0 Total overseas born 6 150 051 100.0
Total population (k) 21 507 719   Total population f) (k) 23 401 891  
% of Australian born overseas 24.6 % of Australian born overseas 26.3

 

(a) Includes England, Wales, Scotland and Other European British Pos. (Isle of Man, Channel Is., Cyprus, Gibraltar and Malta).

(b) Includes Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Ireland (undefined).

(c) South Sea Is. (so described).

(d) Excludes full-blood Indigenous persons.

(e) Includes England, Wales, Scotland, Isle of Man, Channel Is. and Other European British Possessions.

(f) Includes birthplace not stated.

(g) Includes England, Wales and Scotland.

(h) Includes German Democratic Republic and German Federal Republic.

(i) Includes England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man and Channel Is.

(j) Excludes Special Administrative Regions of China and Taiwan.

(k) Excludes overseas visitors.

(l) Includes England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, Channel Is., Jersey and Guernsey.

Sources:

ABS, Australian Historical Population Statistics, cat no. 3105.0.65.001, 2004, 2014.

ABS, Census of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1911, 1921, 1933, 1947, 1954.

ABS, Census of Population and Housing, 1966, 1971, 1976, 1981, 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001, 2006, 2011, 2016.


[1].   The census was called the Census of the Commonwealth of Australia from 1911 until 1961. From 1966, it has been known as the Census of Population and Housing.

[2].   Australian Bureau of Statistics, Standard Australian Classification of Countries (SACC), 2016 (cat no. 1269.0).

[3].   Myanmar (Burma) became an independent state in 1937 and would not have been included in the British India in the 1947 Census.

[4].   Department of Home Affairs, Fact sheet – Key facts about immigration.

[5].   Department of Home Affairs, Fact Sheet – More than 65 Years of Post-War Migration.

 

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