Profile of Australia's population
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2023) Profile of Australia's population, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 11 December 2023.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2023). Profile of Australia's population. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/profile-of-australias-population
Profile of Australia's population. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 06 June 2023, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/profile-of-australias-population
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Profile of Australia's population [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2023 [cited 2023 Dec. 11]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/profile-of-australias-population
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2023, Profile of Australia's population, viewed 11 December 2023, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/profile-of-australias-population
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Australia’s population story has historically been one of strong growth. Australia’s population was 26 million at 30 June 2022, having grown around 1.3% a year on average over the past 3 decades, from 17.5 million at 30 June 1992. Australia’s population is concentrated in the major cities, which are home to 72% of the total population. Only, 26% live in inner and outer regional Australia, with the remainder (2%) living in Remote and very remote areas (see Demographic snapshot 2021–22 below for more information).
Over this 30-year period:
- Net overseas migration was the main driver of population growth, increasing from a net inflow of 69,000 people in 1991–92 to 241,000 people in 2018–19, directly contributing just over half of total population growth over the whole period. The introduction of international border restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic led to the first net outflow of migrants from Australia since World War II (-85,000 people in 2020–21), before recovering to a net inflow of 184,000 people in 2021–22 as restrictions eased. The 2021 Census of Population and Housing (2021 Census) found that 29% of people in Australia were born overseas and almost half (48%) have a parent born overseas (Figure 1).
- Natural increase (number of births minus number of deaths) contributed to almost half of population growth, decreasing from 139,000 people in 1991–92 to 124,000 people in 2021–22:
- Fertility rates have declined, from 1.86 babies per woman in 1991–92 to 1.69 in 2021–22.
- Life expectancies at birth have continued to increase, from 74.5 years for males and 80.4 years for females in 1992, to 81.3 years for males and 85.4 years for females in 2019–20.
- The number of deaths has grown faster than the number of births over this period, reflecting the declining fertility rate and ageing of the population.
- Australia’s population has grown older, with the median age increasing from 32.7 years at 30 June 1992 to 38.5 years at 30 June 2022. The percentage of the population aged 65 and over has increased from 11% to 17% over the same period.
Australia’s capital cities tend to be younger and age more slowly than regional areas. This is mainly because capital cities have historically attracted a larger share of net overseas migrants, who tend to be younger than the overall population. In addition, younger people tend to move into capital cities from regional areas to pursue educational and job opportunities. While retirement-age people are less likely to move, when they do, they often move out of capital cities to regional areas. These factors more than offset higher fertility rates and lower life expectancies in regional areas.
The impact of COVID-19 on population growth
Australia’s population growth was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken to limit the spread of the disease. Following the easing of international border restrictions and the return of overseas migration in late 2021, Australia’s population growth recovered to 1.2% in 2021–22, from a historical low of 0.1% in 2020–21.
Longer-term trends present prior to the pandemic, such as the ongoing decline in the fertility rate, the decline in the rate of internal migration, and the slower rate of mortality improvement observed in recent years, continue to affect the size and distribution of the population.
A chart showing a demographic snapshot of Australia’s population for 2021–22. The percentage of overseas-born residents was 29% compared to Australia-born at 71%. People aged 30-39 now represent the largest age group in Australia. Australia’s overall population has been growing older over time, with the share of people aged 65 and over increasing from 11% in 1991–92 to 17% in 2021–22. The majority of Australians reside in Major cities of Australia with the next most populous region being Inner regional Australia, Outer regional Australia, Remote and Very remote.
Note: Remoteness Areas divide Australia into 5 classes of remoteness on the basis of a measure of relative access to services. Remoteness Areas are intended for the purpose of releasing and analysing statistical data to inform research and policy development in Australia.
Source: ABS 2023a, 2023c, 2022a.
2021 Census of Population and Housing
On 28 June 2022, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released data from the 2021 Census.
After each Census, the ABS uses the new information to update the estimated resident population for Australia and its states and territories (referred to as ‘rebasing’). The revised estimates released by the ABS in 2022 are preliminary rebased population estimates. Final population estimates will be available in June 2023 (see Methodology used in rebased population estimates, June 2021 for more detail).
While there was a slight downward revision to estimates of the national population, there were significant revisions at the state and territory level. The populations of New South Wales and Victoria were revised down, Queensland was largely unchanged, while other states and territories saw upward revisions, particularly the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania, which were revised up by around 5%.
Results presented on the rest of this page were prepared by the Centre for Population based on the preliminary revised population estimates from the 2021 Census.
Australia’s population growth from 30 June 1992 to 30 June 2022 averaged 1.3% per year. Natural increase has been relatively steady, while there have been fluctuations in net overseas migration (Figure 2). Natural increase was the main driver of population growth during the early 1990s. However, from 2005–06 net overseas migration contributed more to annual population growth until the introduction of international border restrictions in response to the pandemic. As border restrictions eased, net overseas migration returned as the main driver of population growth in 2021–22. When averaged over the whole period, natural increase and net overseas migration each contributed around half of population growth.
More than two‑thirds (67%) of Australia’s population lived in the 8 capital cities at 30 June 2022, increasing from 65% at 30 June 1992. Over this period, most capital cities grew faster than their respective regional areas until 2020–21 when regional areas grew at a faster rate than capital cities for the first time since 1993–94. In 2021–22, population growth in capital cities returned, growing as fast as regional areas.
Population growth in Australia has varied widely across cities and regions and has been shaped by flows of internal and overseas migration and varied contributions from natural increase.
Figure 2: Components of population change, Australia, 1991–92 to 2021–22
A chart showing the contributions of net overseas migration, and natural increase to Australia’s historical population growth. Australia’s population growth from 30 June 1992 to 30 June 2022 averaged 1.3% a year. While the contribution from natural increase has been steady, there have been fluctuations in net overseas migration. From 2005–06 to 2020-21, net overseas migration contributed more to population growth than natural increase. Although there was a net outflow of migrants in 2020–21, natural increase meant that population growth, although low, was not negative. In 2021–22, the easing of international border restrictions meant overseas migration and population growth began to recover.
Source: ABS 2023a.
Net overseas migration
Net overseas migration was the main driver of Australia’s population growth in the years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The introduction of international border restrictions in early-2020 lowered net overseas migration to -85,000 persons in 2020–21, which was the first recorded net outflow since World War II. Following the easing of international border restrictions from late 2021, net overseas migration grew to 184,000 persons in 2021–22 to become the main driver of population growth over the year again.
Since the late 2000s, natural increase has added around 150,000 people a year to the Australian population. While the level of natural increase has been relatively steady over this period, it has become smaller as a proportion of the population. Over the past 30 years, the total fertility rate has fallen from 1.86 babies per woman in 1991–92 to 1.69 in 2021–22, remaining below the replacement level of 2.1 since the mid-1970s. At the same time, life expectancies at birth have increased and are among the highest in the world. Despite these improvements in life expectancies, the number of deaths has grown faster than the number of births in recent years, reflecting Australia’s ageing population.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Australia’s fertility appears to have been relatively short-lived, with a small drop and subsequent rebound in births in 2021. This suggests that people adapted to the uncertainty of the pandemic and quickly caught-up on delayed childbearing plans (Gray et al., 2022a). Over the year to June 2022, there were 306,000 births, an increase of 0.5 per cent from the previous year, and exceeding the number of births in the equivalent period in 2018–19 (305,000 births).
Compared with many other advanced economies, Australia experienced low mortality during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as infection rates increased significantly from the beginning of 2022, deaths from both COVID-19 and other causes increased. ABS provisional mortality data shows that in 2022, the total number of deaths (191,000) was 10.9% higher than in 2021 and 15.5% higher than the historical average. The number of monthly deaths in Australia peaked in July 2022 at 18,000 deaths and then slowly declined before rising again slightly in December 2022 (ABS 2023b).
Net interstate migration
Australia has high rates of internal migration compared to other countries, although this has been declining over time (ABS 2018).
The COVID-19 pandemic reduced net internal migration across Australia as state and territory governments temporarily restricted movements in some cities, regions and across state borders. There was an 8.7% drop in the number of interstate moves from 2018–19 (404,000) to 2019–20 (369,000). There was a further fall to 348,000 in the year to March 2021. It is difficult to obtain an accurate picture of movements from the June 2021 quarter to the December 2021 quarter, with the COVID‑19 vaccination program affecting Medicare address data used to calculate interstate moves (for more information see National, state and territory population methodology; Interstate migration section). More recent data indicate that interstate moves still remain slightly below pre-pandemic levels.
Australia’s population in a global context
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia’s population growth rate was higher than that of most other developed countries, largely as a result of net overseas migration. In 2021 Australia’s population growth rate fell to 0.1%, which was below the OECD average (Figure 3). China experienced population growth on par with Australia’s, while India (0.8%) and Indonesia (0.7%) experienced higher growth in 2021.
Figure 3: Population growth by country, 1991 to 2021
A chart showing annual population growth of Australia, Canada, China, India, Indonesia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. Australia’s population growth rate is higher than that of most developed countries. In 2021, it was 0.1%, below the OECD average of 0.2%.
Note: Data for Australia is in financial year format (year ending 30 June), other series are presented in calendar year.
Source: ABS 2023a; World Bank 2022.
As overseas migration returns, population growth is expected to recover and return to the pre-pandemic trend of slowing positive growth. Figure 4 illustrates the population growth projections in the 2023–24 Budget.
Figure 4: Projected population growth and components, Australia, 2017–18 to 2033–34
A chart showing projections of Australia’s population growth, detailing the yearly contribution of net overseas migration and natural increase. As international travel restrictions ease, Australia’s population growth is forecast to increase from 1.2% in 2021–22 to a peak of 2% by 2022–23, before gradually declining to 1.2% by the end of the medium-term in 2032–33. Net overseas migration is forecast to remain the strongest contributor to population growth for the entirety of the projections period.
Source: ABS 2023a; Treasury 2023.
Australia’s future population growth is projected to increase from 1.2% in 2021–22 to 2% in 2022–23, before gradually declining to 1.2% by 2033–34. By this time, Australia’s population is projected to be 30.8 million.
Net overseas migration
Net overseas migration is the component of population change that has been most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, owing to international travel restrictions put in place to limit the spread of the virus. With the easing of these restrictions from late-2021, net overseas migration has quickly recovered with the return of temporary visa holders in Australia. Net overseas migration is forecast to be 400,000 in 2022–23 and 315,000 in 2023–24 before returning towards historical trends.
Consistent with the observed long-run trend, natural increase is projected to continue to decline over the next 10 years reaching 125,000 in 2033–34. This decline is due to the increase in the number of annual deaths growing faster than the increase in the number of births, reflecting an ageing population.
The total fertility rate is projected to continue its long-running decline from 1.66 babies per woman in 2022–23 to 1.62 babies per woman by 2030–31. This decline reflects the trend of women having children later in life and having fewer children when they do. While total births are projected to increase from 309,000 in 2022–23 to 343,000 by 2033–34, births as a proportion of the population will fall.
The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to slightly increase mortality rates in Australia for those aged 60 and above in 2022–23, before returning to pre-pandemic trends. Total deaths are projected to increase from 186,000 in 2022–23 to 218,000 by 2033–34, in line with the increasing size and ageing of the Australian population.
Net interstate migration
The level of interstate migration is expected to recover, increasing by 9.7% in 2023–24 to reach rates seen immediately prior to the pandemic. The distribution of interstate migration between states and territories is also expected to return to pre-pandemic patterns by 2023–24.
States and territories
Population growth is forecast to continue to recover in most states and territories in 2022–23, due to the return of overseas migration. Victoria is forecast to be the fastest growing state in 2022–23 and 2023–24. Tasmania is forecast to experience the lowest population growth in 2022–23.
From 2024–25 onwards, the Australian Capital Territory is expected to overtake Victoria as the fastest growing jurisdiction, driven by net overseas migration and a high contribution from natural increase, which reflects its younger age structure.
For the latest population projections see:
- Centre for Population – 2022 Population Statement
- Centre for Population - Centre for Population Projections
For longer term population projections see:
- Australian Treasury – 2021 Intergenerational Report
This page was written by the Australian Government Centre for Population.
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) (2018) Population Shift: Understanding Internal Migration in Australia, ABS, Australian Government, accessed 24 February 2023.
ABS (2022a) Australia's Population by Country of Birth, 2021, ABS, Australian Government, accessed 26 April 2023.
ABS (2022b) Census of Population and Housing, 2021, ABS, Australian Government, accessed 1 March 2023.
ABS (2023a) National, state and territory population, September 2022, ABS, Australian Government, accessed 18 April 2023.
ABS (2023b) Provisional Mortality Statistics, January 2023, ABS, Australian Government, accessed 4 May 2023.
ABS (2023c) Regional population, 2021-22 financial year, ABS, Australian Government, accessed 20 April 2023.
Centre for Population (2023) 2022 Population Statement, Centre for Population, Australian Government, accessed 24 January 2023.
Gray E, Evans A, and Reimondos A (2022a) Having babies in times of uncertainty: first results of the impact of COVID‑19 on the number of babies born in Australia, Australian Population Studies 6 (1), pp. 15-30, accessed 1 September 2022.
World Bank (2022) World Bank open data, World Bank, accessed 1 March 2023.