Australian children and their families

How many children live in Australia?

As at 30 June 2018, an estimated 4.7 million children aged 0–14 lived in Australia. Boys made up a slightly higher proportion of the population than girls (51% compared with 49%) (ABS 2018a).

The number of children in Australia has increased over the past 5 decades and is projected to increase to 6.4 million by 2048 (ABS 2018e). However, due to sustained low fertility rates and increasing life expectancy, the number of children as a proportion of the entire population steadily fell from 29% in 1968 to 19% in 2018. It is projected to fall to 18% by 2048 (Figure 1) (ABS 2014; ABS 2018e).

Figure 1: Number of children and children as a proportion of the total Australian population, 1968–2048

This line graph shows population data from 1968 to 2019, and projected population data from 2019 to 20146. In 1968 there was 3,486,418 children in Australia, which made up 29%25 of the population. Whilst the number of children has increased since 1968, to 4,799,066 in 2016, the proportion of children as the total population has decreased (19%25 in 2019). The projected populations follow this trend, with 6,445,866 children expected to be alive in 2048, making up 18%25 of the population.

Note: Population projections (2019 onwards) are based on ABS Projection Series B. See ABS 2018e for the assumptions on which Projection Series B is based.

Sources: ABS 2014; ABS 2018a; ABS 2018e.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

In 2018, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children made up 5.9% (an estimated 278,000) of the total child population in Australia. The gender distribution of Indigenous children was the same as for all Australian children (51% boys and 49% girls) (ABS 2018c).

Although Indigenous children comprise a relatively small proportion of the Australian child population, they represent more than one-third of the Indigenous population (34%) (ABS 2018c) (Figure 2).

The Indigenous population has a much younger age structure than the non-Indigenous population (Figure 2). This reflects the higher fertility rate among Indigenous women compared with non-Indigenous women in Australia (2.3 births compared with 1.8 in 2017), as well as the shorter life expectancy among Indigenous Australians (ABS 2018b).

Figure 2: Age and sex distribution of Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations, 2018

This butterfly graph shows the age and sex distribution of Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations in 2018. Indigenous children (age 0–14) represent 34%25 of the Indigenous population. Whilst age groups 0–4, 5–9 and 10–14 had the largest proportion of the Indigenous population for both females and males, age group 30–34 has the largest proportion of the non-Indigenous population, for both females and males.

Source: ABS 2018c.

Overseas-born children

In Australia, just under 1 in 11 (8.9% or around 411,000) children aged 0–14 were born overseas. This is considerably lower than the total overseas-born Australian population, with nearly one-third (29%) of the population in June 2017 born overseas (ABS 2018e).

About one-third (34%) of overseas-born children were from other mainly English-speaking countries, with the largest populations from:

  • United Kingdom (13%)
  • New Zealand (12%)
  • United States of America (4%) (Figure 3).

Of the remaining two-thirds (66%) born in mainly non-English-speaking countries, the largest groups were from:

  • India (11%)
  • China (6%)
  • the Philippines (5%).

More than one-fifth of children (23% or around 995,700) aged 0-14 had both parents born overseas, while another 16% (around 701,500) had 1 parent born overseas (8.6% or around 373,200 with overseas-born fathers and 7.5% or around 328,300 with overseas-born mothers) (ABS 2016b).

Figure 3: Leading countries of birth for children aged 0–14 born overseas, June 2017

The largest proportion of Australian children born overseas were born in the United Kingdom (13%25), followed by New Zealand (12%25) and India (11%25).

Note: Data for China exclude Special Administrative Regions and Taiwan Province.

Source: ABS 2018d.

Refugee children

In 2017–18, around 4,100 children aged 0–14 arrived in Australia under the Humanitarian Program for refugees and others in refugee-like situations. Most of these children were:

  • Syrian (15%)
  • Iraqi (14%)
  • Hazara (Afghan) (13%)
  • Congolese (8%).

These 4 ethnic groups made up almost half (49%) of all refugee children arriving in 2017–18 (Figure 4).

The number of children aged 0–14 arriving in Australia under the Humanitarian Program in 2017–18 was slightly lower than the number in 2008–09 (around 4,600). Numbers varied moderately between 2008–19 and 2015–16, ranging from around 3,700 to 5,000, before peaking at around 7,900 children in 2016–17 (DSS 2019).

Figure 4: Leading ethnicities for refugee children aged 0–14 arriving in Australia, 2017–18

This bar chart shows the 10 leading ethnicities for refugee children aged 0–14 arriving in Australia, as of 2017–2018. The leading ethnicity for refugee children arriving in Australia was Syrian (14.5%25), followed by Iraqi (13.8%25) and Hazara (Afghan) (13.1%25).

Abbreviations: NFD (Not further defined)

Source: AIHW analysis of DSS customised report.

Children with disability

In 2015, around 7.4% of children aged 0–14 had some level of disability.

For information on these children, see disability.

Children in non-parental care

While the vast majority of children in Australia live with 1 or both of their biological parents, some parents are unable to care adequately for their children and these children are placed in non-parental care.

For information on these children, see non-parental care.

Where do children live?

States and territories

The population distribution of children across the states and territories is similar to that for all Australians. In 2018, nearly:

  • one-third (32%) of Australian children lived in New South Wales
  • one-quarter (25%) in Victoria
  • one-fifth (21%) in Queensland (Figure 5) (ABS 2018a).

In 2018, the largest proportion of children in a state or territory was in the Northern Territory, where children made up more than one-fifth of the population (22%). In other states and territories, children made up between 18% (South Australia and Tasmania) and 20% (Queensland) of the respective population (ABS 2018a).

The higher proportion of children in the Northern Territory is largely due to the high number of Indigenous Australians, and the younger age structure of this population group. In 2016, Indigenous children made up 9% of the Territory’s total population, and 41% of the territory’s population of children aged 0–14. In most other states, Indigenous children made up between 2% (Victoria) and 10% (Tasmania) of the child population (Figure 5) (ABS 2018c).

Figure 5: Distribution of Indigenous children aged 0-14 across the states and territories and remoteness areas, June 2016

These side by side column charts show the distribution of Indigenous children, by number and percentage, across states and territories (column chart on the left) and remoteness (column chart on the right). New South Wales had the highest number of Indigenous children (92,615) and the Northern Territory had the highest proportion of Indigenous children (41%25). For remoteness areas, the number and proportion of Indigenous children had an inverse relationship. Major cities had the highest number of Indigenous children but the lowest proportion (101,393 or 3%25) whereas remote and very remote areas had the lowest number of Indigenous children but the highest proportion (46,512 or 43%25).

Note: Number refers to the number of Indigenous children aged 0-14 within each state, territory or remoteness area. Per cent refers to the proportion of all children aged 0–14 within each state, territory or remoteness area.

Source: AIHW analysis of ABS 2018c.

The population distribution of refugee children was similar to that of Australian children overall. Of refugee children arriving in 2017–18:

  • 31% were living in New South Wales
  • 31% in Victoria
  • 19% in Queensland
  • 8% in South Australia
  • 6% in Western Australia (DSS unpublished data).

Remoteness

In 2016, more than two-thirds (70% or 3.2 million) of Australian children aged 0–14 lived in Major cities, while:

  • about one-fifth (18% or 841,700) lived in Inner regional areas
  • 9% (404,000) lived in Outer regional areas
  • 2% (109,400) lived in Remote and very remote areas (ABS 2017).

The majority of Indigenous children lived in Major cities, Inner regional and Outer regional areas in 2016 (83%, or around 227,800 children). Indigenous children:

  • were more than 7 times as likely to live in Remote and very remote areas (17%) as all Australian children (2.4%)
  • accounted for 43% of all children in Remote and very remote areas, despite accounting for 6% of all children in Australia in 2016 (ABS 2018c).

Socioeconomic status

In 2017, similar numbers of children aged 0–14 lived in high, medium and low socioeconomic areas:

  • 21% (or around 953,700) children lived in the lowest socioeconomic areas
  • 20% (around 921,900) lived in the highest socioeconomic areas.

How many Australian families have children aged 0-14?

This section presents data according to a national definition of a family (Box 1) used for official statistical purposes. This definition may not always align with how a child defines their family, and it may not align with the concept of a family for Indigenous Australians (AIHW & AIFS 2016).

From 2006 to 2016, the types of families that children were living in have changed very little. In 2006 and 2011, 81% of children aged 0–14 years lived in couple families; this rose to 82% in 2016 (ABS 2006; ABS 2011; ABS 2016a). In 2016, the rest (around 18%) lived in 1-parent families (18%). Of these children, the majority (86%) lived with their mother (ABS 2016b).

The majority of children living in couple families in 2016 lived with their natural or adopted parents (90%):

  • 6% lived in blended families—a family with at least 1 child of both partners (natural or adopted) and at least 1 step child
  • 3% lived in step families—a family with at least 1 step child and no natural or adopted children.

Children living in1-parent families, blended or step families may live according to shared-care arrangements agreed between their original parents; however no nationally consistent data are available on these arrangements. Less than 1% of children in couple families lived in other arrangements, such as grandparent families and families with foster children only.

For more information on children living in grandparent families, see Children in non-parental care.

A higher proportion of infants and young children (aged 0–4) lived in couple families in 2016 (86%), compared with 81% of those aged 5–9 and 78% of those aged 10–14. Conversely, in 1-parent families a considerably higher proportion of children were aged 10–14 than 0–4 (22% compared with 14%) (ABS 2016b).

A small number of children live in adoptive families. In 2017–18, there were 263 adoptions of children aged 0–14 in Australia (this includes known, local and intercountry adoptions) (AIHW 2018).

Box 1: Definition of family

The ABS defines a family as 2 or more persons, 1 of whom is at least 15 years of age, who are related by blood, marriage (registered or de facto), adoption, step or fostering, and who usually live in the same household (ABS 2016c).

Recognising the changing nature and understanding of family formation—including who makes up a family and the relationships existing within that family—the ABS is exploring definitions of family across its full suite of surveys and data sources.