Migration shapes Australia’s population

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on migration and other factors has led to a 1 million contraction in forecasts for Australia’s population over the next decade.

The Centre for Population‘s forecasts reveals the pandemic has had a substantial impact on the country’s population, mostly caused by a limit to overseas migration from border closures.

However, Flinders University demographer Associate Professor Gour Dasvarma says migration will continue to be the dominant factor of population growth in Australia in the foreseeable future.

Flinders University demographers Dr Udoy Saikia and Associate Professor Dasvarma, right.

Migration has been playing a dominant role in Australian population growth, he says, with net overseas migration (NOM) making up more than 50% of Australia’s population growth since December 2005.

“So far this pandemic effect appears to be a temporary blip. Our population growth will not go backwards but grow at a slower rate, with net migration slowly picking up in the next decade,” he says.

The return of overseas migration since the reopening of borders is already helping to offset the pandemic-led dip in forecasts, after a net outflow of migrants for the first time since World War II.

“Following the 2020-21 drop of 36%, caused mostly by the closure of international borders during the early stages of the pandemic, net international migration has resumed its dominant positive contribution to Australia’s population growth. with 54% in June 2022,” says Associate Professor Dasvarma.

“Interstate migration and NOM also have been playing dominant roles in the growth of the state and territory populations, with NOM also playing a role in augmenting Australia’s working age population and its labour force.”

He says there appears to be a general perception that Australia’s population will become “smaller and older” with the population getting older (with 10% or more aged 65 years and above since the early 1980s).

“The truth is that although the ageing process might have been slightly accelerated due to falling fertility, increasing life expectancy and particularly reduced migration in the wake of COVID-19, the population has been growing as the 2022 figures show.

“It will be smaller only when compared to population projections.”

Photo: Getty Images

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the nation’s population of 25,978,935 on 30 June 2022 was 290,000 more people than a year before – 42% due to natural increase (excess of births over deaths) and 58% due to net overseas migration.

“So even if net overseas migration were to become zero, the population would still grow by natural increase.”

The Centre for Population’s 2022 Population Statement forecasts a slight recovery from the pandemic by June 30, 2033 to 29.9 million from 25.7 million – rising to 39.2 million by 2060-61.

The median age is expected to increase from 38.3 years in 2020-21 to 40.1 years by 2032-33, with the effects of an ageing population most evident in South Australia and Tasmania.

Australia’s fertility rate will continue to ease in the next decade, from 1.66 babies per woman to 1.62 babies by 2030-31 – increasing the need for young skilled migrants to meet workforce and taxation and social welfare demands.

“Many international studies have shown that it is very difficult encourage couples to have more children, especially with rising costs of childcare and overall costs of living,” says Associate Professor Dasvarma.

“The alternative at least for the short and medium term seems to be to increase net overseas migration.

In this context, enhancing seasonal workers programs with incentives for residency could be a good solution,” adds Associate Professor Dasvarma.

Despite global pandemic fatalities, UN Global Population projections point to a rise of world populations from 8 billion to 10 billion by the end of the century.

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