Australian Census: What it says about us

Who are Australians today?

Even though the 2016 census experienced its fair share of troubles in gathering data – even being called ‘census fail’ at one point – the results are in, and they can tell us everything we want to know about the Australia we live in. 

From religion to family makeup, there’s a wealth of data to mine through, but here are the highlight takeaways from the 2016 census:

We’re an ageing population

From a median age of 23 in 1911, the average Australian in 2016 is now 38. And over-65 year-olds are now one in six, from one in twenty five in 1911. The increase could be attributed to the ageing of the baby-boomer generation, as well as advances in health and medicine – contributing to a population that now has people over 85 comprising 2.1% of our overall population.

We’re less religious

While the population of Australia was largely Christian in the early twentieth century, more Australians are now declaring their affiliations to be with other religions, or none at all. From 1991 to 2016, Hinduism has experienced a 533% growth from 0.3% of the population to 1.9%, while Buddhism has gone from 0.8% to 2.4%, experiencing a 200% increase. The number of people becoming disenchanted with the idea of religion itself is steadily increasing, from about 1% in 1966 to a solid 30% today. In fact, ‘no religion’ had a bigger census declaring than Catholicism.

Sydney's China Town entrance arch

Sydney’s bustling China Town, 2017. Image: TonyNg /

We’re more diverse than other countries

When thinking of countries where overseas-born people would conventionally flock to, minds leap immediately to the US, or maybe the UK. In fact, Australia has a higher percentage of overseas-born individuals in our population than either of those two. 26% of Australia’s population was born overseas, while only 14% of the US and 13% of the UK populations were overseas born.  And it doesn’t stop there, with 49% of the population being born overseas, or with at least one parent born overseas.

There’s also been a slight decrease in people speaking English at home, from 76.8% in 2011 to 72.7% in 2016, with Mandarin being the most commonly spoken language, followed by Arabic.

Our homes have changed

The days of the bush are slowly dwindling – two-thirds of the Australian population now reside in capital cities. And the eternal question of homeownership prevails, with 31% of Australian homes being owned outright, 34% with a mortgage, and 31% being rented. A fairly even split between groups of Australians, although there is a small increase in people renting.

Brisbane: Crowds making love heart sign at Marriage Equality Rally. Image: paintings /

Our families have changed, too

The age of the nuclear family is almost over, with 45% of families being couples with children, 38% couples without children, and 16% being single parent families. What’s more, 24% of Australians live in single-person households. And there’s been a steady growth in same sex families, with a 42% increase from 33, 000 in 2011 to 47, 000 in 2016.

As Bob Dylan said back in 1964, “the times they are a changin'” Although the population is ageing, it’s also becoming more multicultural, and the floods of migrants into Australia in recent years might reverse the progress of the median age. As people begin to become more educated – more than half of the population has completed year 12 and above, and that proportion is likely to get higher – we might see a further growth in people choosing different religions, or forsaking religion entirely. There are a million possibilities for what the future will hold.