ABS Social Trends: Where do migrants live?

As we have seen recently, few things excite newspapers as migrants buying up houses. Thankfully, for some factual information, we have the Australian Bureau of Statistics who yet again provide the standard text on social trends, this time, profiling where migrants live in Australia. All graphs below are taken from this link.

Most people are aware about one in four Australians were born overseas. In the past, immigrants were mostly European. However the 21st century will truly be the Asian century in relation to Australian immigration. I don’t think we’ve quite realised how significant this change will be in the future. Here is the median length of time spent in Australia by country of birth in 2011:

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 6.19.41 pmAustralians born in Europe are older while Australians born in Asia are much younger. While large numbers of international students will skew this data somewhat, a substantial minority of these students stay in Australia. Seven of the top ten origin countries for permanent visa application last year were Asian, with international students being a common pathway to Australian residency. The vast majority of these young people are likely going to be living in Australia for the rest of their lives, meaning second and third generation Chinese and Indian communities in 2050 will look much like the Italian and Greek communities of today.

But this stuff isn’t really that interesting. It’s all pretty meta and abstract because of the time periods involved. The good stuff about ABS data is when something jumps out which is original, clarifying but also relatable. The following tables are a nod in that direction. Here are the largest migrant suburbs in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney by the top four migrant backgrounds:

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 6.37.24 pm Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 6.37.10 pm Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 6.36.52 pm


The differences between Melbourne and Sydney are interesting (Sydney has more dense concentrations) however what this shows is even the most dominant ethnic backgrounds only make up four of less per cent of the total population centres, with the exception of the British in Perth (!). Further, even in the most dense suburbs, no single ethnic groups tops 50 per cent by country of birth (if we look at second generation, this would likely change). Melbourne in particular has not a single group above 25 per cent for the four largest ethnic groups in the entire city. This is incredible and I’d be surprised if similar trends existed anywhere in other migrant nations.

Of course, this is all migrants; citizens, permanent residents, students, employees and backpackers and everyone else. We shouldn’t be too quick to draw strong conclusions but I believe these Census results are pretty incredible when we consider what other liberal democracies are currently going through in relation to social cohesion and reactionary right-wing nationalism.

Finally, I just wanted to note this graph about migrants living in urban areas:

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 6.31.10 pm

Sometimes, actually quite often, you seen off-handed remarks about how migrants could re-populate and invigorate regional Australia. The government even has bipartisan programs to support this goal. I used to work on one of them which never saw the light of day. But really, what we know is that migrants love cities.

64 per cent of Australians live in a major urban area (>100,000) but when compared against major migrant cohorts, this number is at the tail end. In particular, emerging and growing migrant groups especially dislike regional areas (or just really love cities).

We can’t force people where to live. In my opinion, we shouldn’t even try that hard. A few incentives here and there are fine and probably won’t hurt anyone, but this is a social and economic trend the government can do little to control or “fix”. The next time someone says ‘migrants’ should boost regional Australia, just remember they don’t want to and it won’t work. Maybe even point this out to them.

I’d encourage you to read the whole document – Where Do Migrants Live? – by the ABS

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