How old are Australian migrants?

The Baby Boomers. A sub-section of those on Twitter will tell you they are the single cause of all Australia’s problems. If this is the case, (some) Australian migrants have a lot to answer for.

At the back of this excellent publication – Australia’s Migration Trends 2012-13 – there is a table (A.20) laying out the median age of first generation Australian migrants. This interested me greatly as it showed Australian migrants are generally pretty old. Connecting the dots, this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise given the post-war migrant boom years. Here is the median age for the population as a whole:

2001 2006 2011
Australian born 31.4 32.9 33.5
Overseas born 46 46.2 45.1
Total 35.7 36.7 37.2

I take away three things from this overview. The first is that migrants are old. The second is that Australian-born people are getting older. The third is that migrants are getting slightly younger.

Using the excellent “Migration 3412.0” ABS data series, I explored this a bit more. Top 10 oldest origin countries for first-generation Australian migrants:

2011 Population 2006 Population 2001 Population
Italy 68.5 201,680 65.4 218,040 61.9 229,850
Greece 67.7 121,180 63.2 128,980 59.3 128,700
Hungary 65.9 22,420 64.8 24,040 62.4 25,640
Austria 64.5 19,800 60.6 20,950 57.6 21,330
Malta 64.2 47,960 59.7 51,160 55.5 51,810
Netherlands 64 87,660 60.3 91,850 57 91,900
Germany 62.4 125,750 58.8 124,710 55.1 118,340
Croatia 60.6 67,580 56.4 71,810 53.8 58,690
Cyprus 60.6 21,150 56.2 22,350 52.1 22,720
Czech Republic 58.9 13,450 57.4 13,920 54.9 13,070

These figures are pretty incredible. Take Italy. There are over 100,000 Italian-born Australians who are aged over 68.5. That’s an entire electorate of rather old Italians. But it’s also a population that is falling pretty quickly, nearly 8 per cent from 2006 to 2011.

Some groups are aging more quickly than others. Italians “aged” 3.1 years at the median between 2006 and 2011 while the Maltese aged 4.5 years. That is extraordinary for a five year period and reflects the complete lack of new Maltese arrivals (in migration literature this is quite uncommon given networks and established communities typically spawn more new arrivals).

We probably need to think a bit more closely about this. I’ve always thought that when Australia actually gets old, instead of just worrying about it, we’ll end up with a broad set of institutions regarding an aging society to ease such a demographic shift. For example, a dedicated Department of Aging that isn’t overtly concerned with healthcare but with how one enjoys the process of aging. But perhaps Australia is already old, you just have to look at more discrete groupings of people. A short-term, immediate example is the likely growing need for improved communication in elderly care facilities for migrants.

While these European migrants are relatively old compared to both Australians and migrants in general, there is another side to this data.

2011 Population 2006 Population 2001 Population
Vietnam 43 207,620 40.7 178,010 37.5 163,490
New Zealand 39.6 543,950 38.9 437,890 37 389,600
Philippines 39.3 193,030 39.9 141,890 38.3 114,260
Malaysia 38.4 134,140 38.7 105,710 39.4 86,400
Iraq 36.5 54,980 35.1 39,500 33.5 28,480
China 34.2 387,420 38.7 251,960 41.3 153,360
Indonesia 33.5 73,060 31.3 60,530 31 53,090
Korea, South 32 85,930 30.6 55,950 30.9 38,980
India 31.4 337,120 35.5 169,720 40.6 98,070

This is a bit of a mishmash of countries of origin but they are all markedly younger than the large European populations. Vietnamese-born are getting slightly older off a young base but they are also a growing population. In a decade, we have seen an additional 150,000 Kiwis come live in Australia and their age profile reflects the trend of Australian-born. Iraqi’s reflect the fact humanitarian migrants tend to be younger than other permanent residents.

The two that really stand out – China and India – are being driven by the growth of international students in Australia. Growing populations that are getting much younger. We haven’t fully worked out what all this means for a range of policy issues, from urban planning and housing to migration rules and what it means to be a temporary migrant in Australia.

The contrast between older, whiter European migrants and more recent, younger Asian migrants is stark. There are probably a whole bunch of things which will flow from this. I tend to think the biggest is how these younger migrants have only just begun to carve out their place in Australian society and will continue to shape how we view ourselves and the countries from which they come from for a long time to come. Social connections, labour market norms and cultural experience are still in an early phase if we consider how we think about European migration in the 1950s and 1960s compared to today. You might know someone who is slightly worried about how many Asian children are at their kids school but the kid probably doesn’t notice a thing. This type of generational change only adjusts over time (a bit tautological I know) but it flows through every facet of our social lives.

For more specific country information, here is a google spreadsheet with the largest 72 countries of origin for first-generation Australian migrants and their median age and population in 2001, 2006 and 2011.

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