Wellbeing and Demographic Snapshots of Australia 2009

In the last week, two reports have provided some fascinating demographic information about Australia. An ABC news post drew attention to the most recent Australian Unity Wellbeing Index report developed in the Australian Centre on Quality of Life (ACQOL) by Bob Cummins. The Index has the aim of promoting greater public and political awareness of the social factors underpinning wellbeing, as well as enhancing scientific understanding of subjective wellbeing.
Results (Report 19.1) indicate that:

  • The five Statistical Sub-Divisions (SSDs) with the highest levels of wellbeing are all characterised by being fairly remote regions of Australia.  These are: Glenelg (VIC), Upper South East (SA), Kangaroo Island/Yorke (SA), Litchfield Shire (NT), Barkly/Lower Top End (NT)
  • The five SSDs with the lowest levels of wellbeing are all charactrised as inner-city.  These are: Fairfield-Liverpool (NSW), South Canberra (ACT), Inner Sydney (NSW), Greater Dandenong City  (VIC), Campbelltown (NSW).
  • Various demographic variables alone and in combination can explain 25-30% of the variation in wellbeing between SSDs.  The strongest of these are wealth (positive), population density (negative), the percentage of homes where only English is spoken (positive) and the percentage of people not born in Australia (negative).
  • The strongest demographic factor in terms of explaining variation between SSDs appears to be the percentage of people not born in Australia.  However, the influence is minor where the proportion of New Australians remains below 40% of the total SSD population.  The vast majority of SSDs contain less than 40% New Australians.  However, the few SSDs that exceed this proportion have low average wellbeing.
  • The domains of wellbeing that appear most sensitive to these influences are relationships and community connection.
  • Wellbeing generally falls in cities with more than 40,000 inhabitants.

The foundation paper for the Index was published in 2003 (Google Scholar link to a PDF copy of the paper.)
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has released a Picture of the Nation. A post announcing its publication reports that the Picture “analyses information collected in the 2006 Census of Population and Housing. It incorporates information from previous censuses—in some instances going back as far as 1911. It presents stories about contemporary society and trends that affect the lives of Australian people. Drawing on the rich variety of topics covered by the census and looking across different geographic areas and population groups, this report showcases the many strengths of census data”.
Some key points abstracted by the ABS:

  • Australians are living longer with the proportion of older Australians (aged 65 and over) increasing from 4% in 1901 to 13% in 2006.
  • The proportion of children (aged under 15) declined from 35% in 1901 to 20% in 2006.
  • Generation X and Y are the most highly qualified generation, with one in four having a Bachelor Degree or above in 2006.
  • Between 2001 and 2006, Australia’s population increased by over one million people, with about half from overseas migration and half from natural increase.
  • Young Australians continue to leave rural areas. Over a quarter of people leaving country inland areas in 2006 were aged 15-24. The loss of young people makes it difficult to sustain population levels in these areas.


  • Almost half (44%) of all Australians were either born overseas or has at least one parent born overseas.
  • About one-third of Australia’s Indigenous population are living in Major Cities.
  • In 2006, Australia’s Greek and Croatian born population had the highest citizenship rates with 97% and 96% respectively. Japan born residents had the lowest citizenship rate with 15%.
  • Over 200 languages were spoken in Australian homes in 2006. The most common non-English languages were Italian (1.8%), Greek (1.4%), Cantonese (1.3%), Arabic (1.3%) and Mandarin (1.2%).


  • The proportion of young couple families without children has remained constant over the last 20 years (14%). However fewer of these couples are getting married – 44% in 2006 compared with 75% in 1986.
  • In 2006 two-thirds of all people living in group households were aged between 15 and 34 years.
  • In 2006, one in 10 people in Australia were living alone, but half the population lived in a two parent family with children.
  • In 2006, 24,000 children lived with their grandparents, with no parent in the family.


  • In 2006, more women had volunteered than men and people born in Australia were more likely to volunteer than those born overseas (22% compared with 15%).
  • In 2006, 1.3 million people provided unpaid care for another child, who was not their own. Two thirds of these were women.
  • 4.4% of Australians needed daily assistance with core activities such as self-care, moving around or communicating, because of a long term health condition, a disability or old age.


  • One in four Australians attended an educational institution in 2006.
  • There were 1.7 million primary school students and 1.3 million secondary school students in 2006: a 2% decline in the number of primary students and a 5% increase in the number of secondary students since 1996.
  • The number of Indigenous students attending primary school increased by 17% to 72,000 between 1996 and 2006. Over the same period, the number of Indigenous secondary students increased by 46% to 40,000.
  • The most common fields of study for people’s highest non-school qualification were Engineering and related technologies (21%) and Management and commerce (20%) of all people with non-school qualifications.


  • Labour force participation for women increased from 48% to 58% between 1986 and 2006. Over the same period the participation rate for men fell from 75% to 72%.
  • In 2006, more people worked very long hours than in 1986: 19% reported that they worked 49 hours or more per week, compared with 15% of all employed people in 1986.
  • 8 out of 10 people travelled to work by motor car on Census day 2006.


  • The family home is the main asset for many Australians: 70% of households owned their own home with or without a mortgage: a similar rate to the past 40 years.
  • In 2006, more than two thirds (67%) of people who were employed full-time in higher skill level occupations (which included managers and professionals) had higher incomes.


  • Between 1986 and 2006, the number of private dwellings in Australia increased by 45% (or 2.6 million dwellings), while the number of people living in private dwellings increased by substantially less at 28%.
  • The median weekly rent for public housing was $90.

Both publications appeared (or were discussed) close to Australia Day. This year’s Australian of the Year, Mick Dodson, has stimulated a very open debate about when Australia Day should be celebrated and what the Day should be called.
Footnote: On 5 March 2009 Radio National held a fascinating discussion about Australian population growth. This is a link to a podcast of the discussions between Philip Adams, Mark O’Connor and Barney Foran. This is the trail for the program:

This month the Federal Government will be issuing its draft legislation on an emissions trading scheme. At the same time, our population is growing faster than Indonesia’s, faster than the Asia-Pacific region’s and three times as fast as the average OECD countries. But, is it possible to cut our greenhouse gas emissions without taking into account our future population?



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