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Population and migration: Understanding the numbers

Commission research paper

This paper was released on 9 December 2010.

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  • Key points
  • Media release
  • Contents
  • Since the 1980s, net overseas migration has overtaken natural increase as the major contributor to Australia's population growth.
  • Although the total fertility rate in Australia has risen recently, it is still only half what it was in the early 1960s.
  • Over the past century, life expectancy has increased significantly. This has mitigated the decline in natural increase and been the main contributor to the ageing of Australia's population.
  • Migration flows are shaped by the economic and social motivations of migrants and by government policy in Australia.
    • Only the permanent migrant intake is controlled directly by the government, but migration is also influenced indirectly through other policy settings and conditions.
  • Net overseas migration has grown strongly during the past ten years, with most of the growth being in the 'temporary' categories.
    • Temporary migration contributes to Australia's population growth in the long term as well as short term. In the last five years, many overseas students and skilled temporary migrant workers obtained permanent residency onshore.
  • The Humanitarian Program is a small component of the total migrant intake. Refugee visas granted to unauthorised arrivals do not increase its size.
  • Australia's population is highly urbanised. In recent years, population growth in capital cities has exceeded growth in most other parts of the country.
  • Future population levels are sensitive to even minor variations in the components of population change and cannot be predicted with accuracy.
  • The economic effects of immigration and population growth are diverse, depending on source, composition and context.

Demystifying Population Statistics

The Productivity Commission has released a Research Paper - Population and Migration: Understanding the Numbers - to help demystify population statistics and clarify areas of confusion evident in the recent debate about immigration.

Commission chairman, Gary Banks, observed: 'In the recent debate about Australia's population growth many numbers have been cited, drawing on various demographic concepts, but these often seem contradictory or based on only part of the story.'

The paper highlights that net migration to Australia has grown strongly in recent years and is now the major contributor to Australia's population growth. The fastest growing component has been temporary migration, which has also made a material contribution to Australia's long-term population growth.

The Commission notes that future population levels are sensitive to even minor variations in fertility, mortality and migration flow and cannot be predicted with accuracy. While demographic projections based on different scenarios are helpful for analysis, they should not be regarded as forecasts of what will eventuate.

The Commission's report outlines some of the possible economic and social effects of immigration and population growth. These effects are diverse, depending on the source and composition of growth,and the context in which it occurs.

  • Preliminaries
    Cover, Copyright, Foreword, Contents and Abbreviations
  • Key points
  • Chapter 1 Introduction
  • Chapter 2 Population growth and its components
  • Chapter 3 Fertility and mortality
    3.1 Recent trends in fertility
    3.2 Recent trends in mortality and life expectancy
    3.3 Age-sex structure — implications for natural increase
  • Chapter 4 Overseas migration: drivers and trends
    4.1 What determines migration levels?
    4.2 An overview of major recent migration trends
    4.3 Characteristics of Australian emigrants
  • Chapter 5 Overseas migration: temporary and humanitarian components
    5.1 Temporary migration
    5.2 The Humanitarian Program
  • Chapter 6 Geography of population growth
    6.1 Population growth at a regional level
    6.2 Population growth in the cities
  • Chapter 7 Future population growth
    7.1 Our future population — the role of 'projections'
    7.2 Future population growth and ageing
  • Chapter 8 Potential impacts of migration and population growth
  • References

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