Historical proportion of Australian population born overseas

This fantastic chart is via Matt Butlin, of the Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission, from this statistical narrative of Australia’s economic development (H/T Matt Cowgill):
Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 5.13.54 pm

The clear downward trend of the proportion of overseas born stops with the advent of Australia’s post-war immigration program (kicked off by the world’s first Minister for Immigration incidentally). Recent history shows the slow rise of overseas born people with a noticeable ‘kick’ in the last 5-8 years.

This is a good reminder about history. Yet, as always, there is important context which doesn’t quite squeeze into a graph. The authors only cover settlers and not indigenous in these population figures. Further, the size of Australia’s population has increased dramatically. So the 20 per cent born overseas in 1900 was equal to 740,000 people while the 20 per cent in 1980 was equal to 2,900,000. In addition, fertility rates have plummeted meaning population growth is now driven predominantly by immigrants whereas in the past, this was less so (the authors note these changes in preceding charts).

Therefore I tend to disagree with the authors when they say this is ‘nothing new’. Numbers in an economic sense change, growing here or there both relatively and absolutely. But while the other charts in the series chart hard economic statistics – income, wealth and terms of trade etc – this graph shows people, instead of proxies about people. ‘Nothing new’ connotes familiarity yet I’d argue Australia’s population today is unlike anything previously .

However this is a *very* small quibble about what is essentially a footnote. Thanks to the authors for providing such a rich set of charts which allow some perspective in relation to modern economic policy discussions.


5 thoughts on “Historical proportion of Australian population born overseas

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