How, why and where we’re growing

The population of Australia hit 25 million about 11pm on Tuesday – 33 years ahead of predictions.

The population clock on the Australian Bureau of Statistics website was counting down – or rather up. It used the estimated population at 31 December last year as the basis and assumed growth since then of:

  • one birth every 1 minute and 42 seconds
  • one death every 3 minutes and 16 seconds
  • one person arriving to live in Australia every 1 minute and 1 second
  • one Australian resident leaving to live overseas every 1 minute and 51 seconds, leading to
  • an overall total population increase of one person every 1 minute and 23 seconds.

Australia is expected to hit 36 million by 2050 and, according to the latest ABS population projection data, 70.1 million people by 2101.

In case you were wondering, we are 54th in the world, according to worldometers.info, with the top five being China (1,415,045,928), India (1,354,051,854), the US (326,766,748), Indonesia and Brazil. Our population accounts for 0.33 per cent of the global total.

We have a more older population than ever before. In 1901, the median age was 22.5 years. That rose to 27.5 by 1970 and to 37.3 last year.

Most Australians (67 per cent) live, as we know, in capital cities.

The ABS says the majority are in New South Wales (65 per cent in Sydney), Victoria (77 per cent in Melbourne), South Australia (77 per cent in Adelaide), Western Australia (79 per cent in Perth) and the Northern Territory (60 per cent in Darwin).

The trend is different only in Tasmania (44 per cent in Hobart) and Queensland (49 per cent in Brisbane).

A United Nations report puts the global population increase in 2017 at 1.1 per cent, compared with Australia’s 1.6 per cent increase. Australian allies such as Canada (1.2 per cent growth), the US (0.7), the UK (0.6), South Korea (0.4) and Japan (–0.2) all experienced lower population growth last year, according to the World Bank data.

Victoria (2.3 per cent), the ACT (2.2) and Queensland (1.7) experienced the biggest growth rates during 2017.

The 2016 Census of Population and Housing showed that about 3.6 million of the then 24.3 million Australians were aged 65 or older.

Those aged 65 and older accounted for 11.3 per cent of the population in 1991, 13.7 per cent in 2011 and 15 per cent in 2016.

By 2056, government forecasts estimate there will be 8.7 million Australians aged 65 or older (22 per cent of the population) and by 2096, there will be 12.8 million (25 per cent).

Of the 3.6 million older Australians, those aged 65 to 74 consistently accounted for the majority of older people (56 per cent). However, the census found increasing numbers in the 75–84 years group (30 per cent) and 85 and over (13 per cent). In 2016, 486,800 people were aged 85 and over.

With longevity comes higher healthcare costs. A Monash University–CSIRO report in 2016 estimates that as a result of an ageing population, health expenditure per person will rise from $7439 in 2015 to $9594 in 2035 – an increase in total expenditure from $166 billion to $320 billion or an average annual growth of 3.33 per cent.

So is our population growth a good or bad thing? Depends on who you ask.

Sustainable Australia founder William Bourke warned that if our growth rate continues, houses with backyards and cars will become increasingly impossible to own and the healthcare system may implode with “massive queues” for hospital beds. He wants migration rates lowered.

Australian National University demographer Dr Liz Allen presents a different view. She argues that our current growth and migration intake is perfect for economic growth.

“Evidence shows that the optimal level for Australia, given the population characteristics is between 160,000 and 210,000,” she told news.com.au.

“If we were to look at the net effects of the contribution to the economy, Australia benefits and gains more from migrants than migrants draw from Australia.”

“If we were to cut out immigration tonight and shut the door to Australia, we would still have a growing population,” she said. “We’d still have a need for more schools and hospitals in Sydney. The idea that we can stay put in some kind of historical holding point harks back to the 1950s.”

Does our population growth worry you? Can we grow in a sustainable fashion?

Related articles:
The homelessness factor
Addressing challenges of ageing
Health system neglects elderly

Written by Janelle Ward

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