Australia in numbers

Joanne Simon-Davies, Statistics and Mapping 

The Briefing book aims to provide a suite of briefs on topics that may be salient to the incoming parliament. As an introduction to these briefs, this article provides a big-picture overview of the economic and social context through a series of data-driven snapshots. These selected statistics reflect both structural trends– such as population ageing, longer term immigration trends, and the skills and capacity of the labour force, as well as some of the recent disruptions to these longer-term trends triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key economic and demographic indicators, Australia

Indicators (a)   Time period
    March Quarter
Economic indicators   2012 2017 2021 2022
Wage Price Index (total) (annual change) % 3.6 1.9 1.5 2.4
Consumer Price Index (annual change) (original) % 1.6 2.1 1.1 5.1
Gross domestic product (chain volume) (annual change) % 4.8 2.1 1.4 3.3
Current account balance (at current prices) $b -17.4 -8.4 20.3 7.5
Terms of trade—Index .. 110.6 97.5 113.5 122.9
    March (month)
Labour force indicators   2012 2017 2021 2022
Persons 15 years and over
Unemployment rate % 5.2 5.9 5.7 4.0
Underemployment rate (b) % 7.2 8.6 7.9 6.3
Long-term unemployment share (c) % 18.4 23.2 30.9 24.8
Labour force participation: males % 71.8 70.5 70.9 70.8
Labour force participation: females % 59.1 59.5 61.9 62.2
Persons 15 to 24 years
Youth unemployment rate % 11.8 13.0 11.7 8.3
Youth underemployment rate % 14.0 17.3 19.2 13.9
    September Quarter
Demographic Indicators   2011 2016 2020 2021
Annual population growth rate (original) % 1.5 1.7 0.8 0.3
Components of annual population change
Natural Increase (original) no. 154,518 154,883 133,388 136,185
Net Overseas Migration (original) no. 194,040 229,509 75,627 -67,268
Total growth (original) no. 328,369 395,582 209,015 68,917

(a) All data is seasonally adjusted data unless stated otherwise.

(b) The rate is the share of employed people in the labour force that want, and are available for, more hours of work.

(c) The ratio is the long-term unemployed (unemployed for 52 weeks or more) as a share of total unemployed population.

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), National, State and Territory Population, September 2021 (Canberra: ABS, 2022); ABS, Labour Force, March 2022 (2022); ABS, Wage Price Index, March 2022 (2022); ABS, Consumer Price Index, March 2022 (2022); ABS, Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure and Product, March 2022 (2022); ABS, Balance of Payments and International Investment Position, March 2022 (2022)

Estimated resident population, Australia


Source: ABS, Historical Population, 2016 (Canberra: ABS, 2019); ABS National, State and Territory Population, September 2021 (Canberra: ABS, 2022) 

The figure above shows the difference in the age distribution of the Australian population in 1981 and 2021. The 2021 structure reflects population ageing and the changing ‘old age dependency ratio’. The latest Intergenerational report (p. 31) notes:

In 1981–82, for every person aged over 65, there were 6.6 working-age people. In 2019–20, for every person aged over 65, there were 4.0 working-age people. … The rapid decline in the old-age dependency ratio [from 2010-11onwards] … is largely due to the baby boomer generation reaching age 65.

The increase in the male proportion of the population over 65 in 2021 compared to 1981 also reflects improvements in men’s life expectancy at age 50.  A 50-year-old man could expect to live another 25 years in 1980–82 compared with another 33 years in 2018–20.

The latest Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population estimates are as at June 2016 when the median age of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population was 23.0 years, compared to 37.8 years for the non-Indigenous Australian population. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population has a younger age structure than the non-Indigenous population, reflecting higher fertility rates as well as higher mortality rates than the non-Indigenous population.

In 2020–21, Australia’s annual population growth fell sharply from an annual increase of 1.3% to an increase of just 0.2% as international border restrictions were implemented to contain the COVID‐19 pandemic. This was the slowest growth in over a century. The 2022–23 Budget (p. 1) suggests:

As travel returns to pre‐pandemic conditions, population growth is projected to increase to
1.4 per cent by 2024–25 and then gradually decline to 1.2 per cent by the end of the medium-term in 2032–33. These growth rates are similar to those expected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, losses in migration during the pandemic will lead to our population being smaller and older than forecast before the pandemic.

Life expectancy at birth, Australia


Source: ABS, Historical Population, 2016 (Canberra: ABS, 2019); ABS Life Tables, 2018–2020 (2022) 

Australia has one of the highest life expectancies of any nation, ranked sixth highest for both men and women. Only Japan, Switzerland, Singapore, Spain, and Italy have higher life expectancies than Australia. Australian men and women have higher life expectancy than similar countries, such as New Zealand, the UK, and the US.

In recent years, life expectancy (at birth) for males has improved at a faster rate than for females. Over the past 10 years, life expectancy for males increased by 1.7 years and for females by 1.3 years. Around 30 years ago, life expectancy at birth in Australia was
73.9 years for males and 80.1 years for females, a gap of 6.2 years. This gap narrowed to 4.1 years in 2018–20.

Life expectancy is much lower among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples than the non-Indigenous population. Nationally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males born in 2015–2017 are expected to live to 71.6 years and females to 75.6 years, and non-Indigenous males and females to 80.2 years and 83.4 years, respectively. The Close the Gap in life expectancy within a generation, by 2031 target is not on track to be met.

When comparing the states and territories there is considerable variation. The ACT has the highest life expectancy (males at 82.1 years and females at 85.9 years), and the Northern Territory has the lowest (males at 76.2 years) and females at 81.0 years).

Fertility rate, Australia


Source: ABS, Historical Population, 2016 (Canberra: ABS, 2019); ABS, Births, 2020 (2021) 

In the last few decades, Australia, similar to other OECD countries, has undergone a demographic transition from high fertility to low fertility (3.64 children per woman in 1912 compared to fewer than 1.95 in 1981 and 1.58 children in 2020). The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) dropped during the 1930s Depression but rose strongly during the post-World War Two baby-boom., Since the 1970s the rate has mostly sat at fewer than two children per woman. The record low fertility rate of 1.58 in 2020 can be attributed to fewer births and birth registrations in most jurisdictions in a year marked by COVID-19 disruptions.

On Australia’s future population (p. 4):

The 2022–23 Budget assumes COVID-19 will not have an adverse impact on Australia’s total fertility rate. The fertility rate is assumed to be 1.66 babies per woman in 2021–22 and then fall to 1.62 babies per woman by 2030–31 and remain there thereafter, reflecting a long running trend of families having fewer children and doing so later in life. Despite the declining fertility rate, births are forecast to increase from 298,000 in 2020–21 to 310,000 in 2025–26, and to 326,000 by 2032–33, as the number of women of childbearing age continues to increase.

Leading causes of death in Australia

  2011 2020(a)



no. Rank no. Rank
Ischaemic heart diseases 21,526 1 16,587 1 84.1
Dementia, including Alzheimer's disease 9,864 3 14,575 2 89.1
Cerebrovascular diseases 11,245 2 9,470 3 86.1
Malignant neoplasm (cancer) of trachea, bronchus and lung 8,117 4 8,457 4 74.5
Chronic lower respiratory diseases 6,565 5 7,102 5 80.4
Malignant neoplasm of colon, sigmoid, rectum and anus 5,206 6 5,483 6 77.1
Diabetes 4,211 7 5,148 7 81.4
Malignant neoplasms of lymphoid, haematopoietic and related tissue 3,979 8 4,754 8 78.5
Diseases of the urinary system 3,384 10 4,019 9 87.2
Malignant neoplasm of prostate 3,294 11 3,568 10 82.5
Accidental falls 1,872 17 3,395 11 87.3
Heart failure and complications and ill-defined heart disease 3,486 9 3,249 12 88.9
Malignant neoplasm of pancreas 2,416 14 3,244 13 75.2
Malignant neoplasms of breast 2,938 12 3,144 14 72.0
Intentional self-harm [suicide] 2,393 15 3,139 15 43.5
COVID-19 NA NA 898 38 86.9

 (a) Causes of death data for 2020 are preliminary and subject to revision.

Source: ABS, Causes of Death, 2020 (Canberra: ABS, 2021)

In 2020, the 5 leading causes of death were Ischaemic heart disease, Dementia including Alzheimer's disease, Cerebrovascular diseases (such as stroke), Lung cancer, and Chronic lower respiratory diseases. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the top 5 causes were: Ischaemic heart disease, Diabetes, Chronic lower respiratory diseases, Malignant neoplasm of trachea, bronchus and lung, and suicide.

The latest data from the ABS reports there were 898 deaths from COVID-19 in 2020, making it the 38th leading cause of death. This changed dramatically in 2022, with recent estimates from the Department of Health suggesting COVID-19 may become a leading cause of death in Australia in 2022. The Department of Health’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases numbers and statistics reports the number of Australian deaths associated with COVID-19, from the start of the pandemic to the end of May 2022 was 8,469. The department’s COVID-19 Australia: Epidemiology Report 57 notes 1,319  COVID-19 associated deaths in 2021 suggesting more than 6,200 deaths were associated with COVID-19 in 2022.

Australia’s population by country of birth– top 10 ranking

Country of birth 2001 % of all overseas born Country of birth 2021 % of all overseas born
England 927,630 20.8 England (1) 967,390 12.9
New Zealand 389,600 8.8 India (10) 710,380 9.5
Italy 229,850 5.2 China (5) 595,630 7.9
Vietnam 163,490 3.7 New Zealand (2) 559,980 7.5
China 153,360 3.4 Philippines (9) 310,620 4.1
Scotland 141,850 3.2 Vietnam (4) 268,170 3.6
Greece 128,700 2.9 South Africa (12) 201,930 2.7
Germany 118,340 2.7 Malaysia (13) 172,250 2.3
Philippines 114,260 2.6 Italy (3) 171,520 2.3
India 98,070 2.2 Sri Lanka (18) 145,790 1.9
Total Australian-born 14,822,350 76.9 Total Australian-born 18,235,690 70.9
Total overseas born 4,452,360 23.1 Total overseas born 7,502,450 29.1

Source: ABS, Australia's Population by Country of Birth, 2021 (Canberra: ABS, 2022)

High levels of immigration to Australia in the years before 1891 resulted in 32% of the population counted as overseas-born in the first country-wide census in 1891 (noting that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were not counted until the 1971 Census). This proportion fell to a low of 10% in 1947 due to lower levels of migration during the First World War, the Great Depression, and the Second World War. Post-war immigration saw the proportion of overseas-born population rise rapidly. Since then, there has been a fairly steady increase in the size of this group.

In 2021, about a third (29.1%) of Australia’s estimated resident population were born overseas (7.5 million people), down from 29.8% in 2020 (7.7 million people). This was the first decrease in the proportion of people born overseas since 2000. The decline reflects travel restrictions as a result of COVID-19, limiting overseas migration in and out of Australia.

Australia has a relatively high proportion of the population who are overseas born, compared with other countries with high migrant numbers (except Saudi Arabia).  In 2020, the US had 50.6 million migrants with 15.3% of their total population born overseas, Germany had 15.8 million migrants (18.8% of their population), and Saudi Arabia with 13.5 million migrants (38.6% of their population).

Components of population change, to 30 June 2021


Source: ABS, Historical Population, 2016 (Canberra: ABS, 2019); ABS National, State and Territory Population, September 2021 (2022) 

Australia's population growth is comprised of natural increase (births minus deaths) and net overseas migration (NOM) (migration arrivals minus migration departures). The contribution of these two components has changed over time. In 1978–79, natural increase represented 68% and NOM 32%. In 2019–20, natural increase represented 41% and NOM 59%. Population growth fell dramatically when Australian borders closed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the year ending June 2021, natural increase was 134,800 people and NOM was minus 88,800 (a decrease of 281,500 people since the previous year). The Australian border-opening in February 2022 is expected to lift NOM, but it is unclear if it will return to pre-COVID levels.

Higher education enrolment counts by citizenship


Source: Department of Education, Skills and Employment, Student Enrolments Pivot Table, (Canberra: Australian Government, 2022) 

Between 2001 and 2020, higher education enrolments in Australia almost doubled, from about 842 thousand to 1.62 million. In 2019, a third (33%) of students were from overseas, declining to 30% in 2020. As discussed elsewhere in this Briefing book (see ‘Tertiary Education and COVID-19 recovery’), COVID-19 resulted in declining higher education enrolments by overseas students in 2020 and 2021. Between 2019 and 2021 overseas students declined 17.4%, from about 440,674 to 363,859. Over this same period, 40.1% fewer overseas students started a higher education course (a decline from 177,136 to 106,113). The first quarter of 2022 shows modest signs of recovery, although total enrolment numbers are still declining.

Trade and non-trade apprentices and trainees in-training



Note: Trade placements includes occupations in metal manufacturing; motor vehicle repairs and maintenance; construction; printing; food; hairdressing; wood product manufacturing and textile; and clothing and footwear. Non-trade placements include community and personal service workers (including health and welfare support workers, carers and aids, hospitality workers and protective service workers); clerical and administration workers; sales workers; machinery operator and drivers.

Source: National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), Historical time series of apprenticeships and traineeships in Australia (Adelaide: NCVER, 2022) 

The National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) June quarter 2021 report shows total apprentices in-training reached 341,385, up 28% compared with June 2020. This increase is largely attributable to the impact of apprentice wage subsidies of 50%, which were introduced in response to COVID-19. These subsidies are due to be scaled back at the end of June 2022.

The number of apprentices and trainees fell substantially after changes in employer incentives were introduced in July 2012. The fall in the number of non-trade trainees employed in occupations in hospitality, retail and administration was more substantial (down from 299,300 in 2012 to 85,800 in 2020, which equates to a fall of 71.3%). By comparison, the number of trade apprentices in-training fell by 33,500 or 15.6% during the same interval.

Non-trade trainees have increased substantially in the 12 months to 2021, up by 40,600, or 47.3%, to 126,400. 

Share of Australian private sector employment (in selected industries) by size of business


Source: ABS, Australian Industry, 2020–21 (Canberra: ABS, 2022) 

The figure above shows the share of total private sector employment (in selected industries) by business size (small, medium, and large) as measured by number of employees. Employment covers all business entities operating in the Australian economy during 2020–21, including those private businesses operating in the General government sector (Public administration and safety, for example private security firms and private correctional services institutions), Education and training (such as private schools, universities, and training providers), and Health care and social assistance (including private medical practices and hospitals). A range of business entities are excluded from the figures, including those operating in Finance, Insurance and superannuation funds, Defence, and Private households employing staff.

In the past decade there has been a shift in the composition of private sector employment. Small businesses (includes non-employing businesses and those employing up to 19 people) accounted for 41.3% of total private sector employment in June 2021 compared with 47.0% in June 2010.

Large businesses (employing 200 people or more) accounted for 33.9% of total private sector employment in June 2021, compared with a 29.7% in June 2010. Medium-sized businesses (employing 20 to 199 people) accounted for 23.9% of total private sector employment compared with 23.2% in June 2010.

Unemployment rate, seasonally adjusted,1978 to 2021


Source: ABS, Labour Force, April 2022 (Canberra: ABS, 2022) 

The Australian unemployment rate stood at just under 4.0% in March 2022 (seasonally adjusted), which is the lowest the rate recorded since just before the global financial crisis in mid-2008. The chart shows the impact of cyclical change on the unemployment rate over time with peaks recorded in the recessions of the early 1980s and early 1990s.

The recession experience of the early 1990s saw significant increases in unemployment and long-term unemployment which took considerable government resources in the form of labour market programs to address with varying degrees of success.

After the experience of the early 1990s governments have been much more willing to increase spending and introduce emergency payments quickly to stimulate economic activity and prevent large increases in unemployment when there are signs of significant economic downturns. For example, the Australian Government developed a $10.4 billion fiscal package to combat the impacts of the global financial crisis. And Australia was one of a number of OECD countries that introduced job retention schemes to contain the employment and social fallout associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Labour productivity (GDP per hour worked)



Source: ABS, Australian System of National Accounts, 2020-21 (Canberra: ABS, 2022) 

Labour productivity is one measure of productivity and is measured as gross domestic product (GDP) per hour worked. Labour productivity reflects the contribution of labour to changes in production, as well as the influences of capital and other factors affecting production.

According to Australia’s 2021 Intergenerational report  labour productivity contributed more than 80% of the growth in living standards over the last 30 years, measured by real gross national income (GNI) per person.

In June 2021, labour productivity was growing at an annual rate of 1.2%. Several reasons have been suggested for the slowdown in productivity growth over the past decade, including a decline in the rate of business dynamism as measured by declining firm entry and exit rates. Slowed rates of adoption of new technologies have contributed to suboptimal allocation of resources to less productive firms rather than more productive firms.

Other reasons for the productivity slowdown include a structural shift of the economy to service industries, such as Education and training, and Health care and social assistance, where productivity is more difficult to measure. Measurement difficulties have also been experienced in trying to gauge the economic impacts of digital platforms introduced to facilitate e-commerce.

The introduction of the JobKeeper Allowance during the COVID-19 pandemic may have also had a dampening effect on productivity, as it facilitated the survival of less productive firms which may have ceased trading under normal business conditions.

Further reading

Key Economic and Social Indicators


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