Timna Jacks and Marta Pascual Juanola, Sydney Morning Herald, June 28, 2022
She’s a woman in her 30s who lives with a partner and has a child. She was born in Australia, went to a government school and finished year 12. She lives in a capital city and her family brings in about $3000 a week.
That is the picture painted of the average Australian in the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2021 census data, released on Tuesday.
While the number of people who share all those traits may be small, this is the imperfect picture drawn from the first tranche of data collected on August 10 last year, when many of us were in lockdown to halt the spread of COVID-19.
The first batch of 2021 census data has been released. Here’s what is says about the nation.
More Australian families and households were together on census night last year compared with census night in 2016, with 96 per cent of people counted at home rather than travelling.
The bureau’s Australian statistician David Gruen said the census was conducted at “an unprecedented time in Australia’s history and provides a unique snapshot of the population during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is different from previous censuses”.
Overall, Australia’s population is bigger, more diverse and less religious, the data shows.
The country’s population increased by 2.2 million, or 8.6 per cent, to 25.5 million between the 2016 and 2021 censuses. Australia has more than doubled in population in the past half-century and the ACT is the fastest-growing state or territory.
The bureau’s deputy statistician, Teresa Dickinson, said: “The average Australian is a female aged 30 to 39 years living in a couple family with children in the greater capital city area with an average family income of $3000 [a week] or more.”
This does not mean that women in their 30s who are in a couple with children are the largest demographic. Rather, it represents a combination of the most popular answers across various categories, such as sex, parental status and education.
For instance, more than half of the population identifies as female, while more than 1.85 million people are aged 30 to 34 – the five-year age bracket recording the highest number of census responses.
The highest number of people completing the national survey indicated they went to a government school and completed their year 12 or equivalent studies.
Almost half the population have a parent born overseas and more than a quarter of Australian residents were born outside the country, the data reveals.
The number of Australians born in India has increased dramatically since 2016, and the country has now gone past China and New Zealand in the country-of-birth statistic to sit behind only Australia and England. The second-largest increase in country of birth was Nepal, with an additional 70,000 people.
The data on more than 250 ancestries and 350 languages shows the number of people who use a language other than English at home has risen to more than 5.5 million since 2016. Of those, 850,000 reported that they did not speak English well or at all.
Mandarin continues to be the second most common language, after English, with nearly 700,000 people speaking it at home. This is followed by Arabic. Punjabi had the largest increase.
While Australia has welcomed more than 1 million new migrants since 2017, the census confirms that the bulk arrived before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gruen noted that there were just 61,860 international visitors counted on census night, a significant drop from the 300,000 in the country on the night of the 2016 count.
“Areas like the Gold Coast saw the impact of international travel restrictions with a significant drop in people at hotels and motels,” Gruen told reporters.
Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander status
The release of the national dataset marks 50 years since the 1971 census, which was the first to include the results of Indigenous Australians.
The 2021 count showed a 25 per cent increase in people identifying as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander and 50 per cent growth in those over 65.
Traditional languages continue to be an important part of these households, with 167 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages spoken at home in 2021 by more than 78,000 people.
But Professor Sandra Harding, the chair of the 2021 Census Statistical Independent Assurance Panel, said there was undercounting of Indigenous Australians in 2021, a problem that existed at the previous two censuses.
“Despite increased efforts and investment by the ABS, an estimated 17 per cent net undercount of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples has persisted in 2021,” she said.
The proportion of married households fell from 37.9 to 37.2 per cent, but there were an additional 25,000 same-sex marriages after marriage equality was introduced in legislation in 2017. No figures were released for same-sex divorces or separations.
For the first time, more than 1 million families in Australia are headed by a single parent – and in most cases this parent is female.
Dickenson said Australia was “undergoing a generational shift” as the Millennial generation caught up to Baby Boomers in becoming the largest generation group in Australia.
The census gathered data on sex, giving options of male, female and non-binary, and sexual orientation, but did not ask about gender orientation, Gruen said.
“The census did not collect information on gender identity, and therefore it can’t give you an estimate of the trans population,” he said.
“There will be an opportunity to revisit that for the 2026 census, and the ABS will be engaging in a public consultation process starting later this year to ask the community if there are other questions that that people think that we should be asking.”
This was also the first time the census collected information on people diagnosed with long-term health conditions. Mental health (2,231,543), arthritis (2,150,396) and asthma (2,068,020) were the most reported long-term health conditions.
Australia has become less religious over the past decade, with the proportion of self-identified Christians dropping below 50 per cent for the first time and a large rise in the number of people describing themselves as “non-religious”.
Just 44 per cent of Australians now identify as Christian, down from 52 per cent five years earlier and 61 per cent in 2011.
In 1911 when the first census was conducted, 96 per cent of Australians listed a form of Christianity as their religion.