Snapshot shows changing nation
Experts have highlighted a number of interesting points in the new Census data.
The 2016 Census information has been published, putting Australia’s total resident population at 24.4 million people on December 31, 2016.
One of the most-reported figures from the poll is the change in Australia’s religious demographics.
The 2016 Census shows Australia is less a Christian country (down from around 61 per cent in 2011 to 52 per cent today), and is becoming a more secular country, with around 22 per cent of the population claiming to have no religion in the last census up to nearly 30 per cent in this round.
It is the first time in Australia’s history that the ‘no religion’ category is the single largest group.
The data also reveals that Australia is the most multi-cultural country in the world.
“Migrants today are increasingly young and educated, tend to settle in urban areas and, although the UK and New Zealand remain key source countries, today’s migrants are more likely than in the past to hail from Asian countries, particularly India and China,” says Senior Research Fellow in the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University, Dr Shanthi Robertson.
“What the data only hints at, though, is that Australia’s cultural landscape is increasingly one of cultural complexity as well as cultural diversity.
“With source countries for new migrants diversifying and numbers of second generation and third generation Australian increasing, cultural diversity in Australia is increasingly transformed by generational change, high levels of intermarriage, cultural adaptation, multilingualism, ‘hybrid’ identities and the increasing transnational mobility for work, study and visits of both the overseas-born and the Australian-born.
“Ethno-cultural boundaries and group identities that may have seemed clear in the early stages of multiculturalism, are likely to become less clearly defined, as ethnic communities experience more internal diversity and more first and second-generation Australian have multiple cultural identities and affiliations that can both overlap and change over time.
“Australians with Indian ancestry, for example, can have a wide range of linguistic and religious affiliations, while Australian residents with Chinese ancestry may have transnational connections across a global Chinese diaspora, not just mainland China. Migrants who arrive from the UK and New Zealand, which also have histories of multiculturalism, can also have diverse heritages. These trends will in the future involve a rethinking of diversity and how it’s measured in Australia,” she said.
The data also shows a shifting definition of what constitutes a ‘family’.
“What constitutes a ‘family’ needs to catch up to lived experience,” says Dr Kate Huppatz, a Lecturer in the School of Social Sciences and Psychology at Western Sydney University.
“While the nuclear family is still considered to be the norm, one family and couple family households are on the decline and lone person, single-parent, and multiple family households are on the increase, as are same-sex couples and couples without children.
“Migration, an ageing population, divorce, increased gay and lesbian rights and our tendency to delay marriage and family would all play a part in these trends.
“There is also an important gender dimension to these family statistics – women make up the majority of lone person households and single-parents. Women therefore face specific economic and social challenges which require sensitive solutions from communities and government policy.”
But the houses that our increasingly-diverse families live in are not catching up.
The 2016 Census data shows that a declining proportion of Australian households are owned by their residents. The drop in home ownership comes alongside an increase in renter households.
Additionally, Australian renters are paying higher rents, with median household rent increasing at a greater rate than median personal income.
This has greatest impact on single person households and single-parent and couple households where there is only one income.
The median single income household would need to spend more than 50 per cent of their household income to pay the median rent, which is unaffordable by most measures, and indicative of the housing stress facing renters.
“Australian households are changing,” says Senior Lecturer in the School of Social Sciences and Psychology at Western Sydney University, Dr Rae Dufty-Jones.
“The traditional nuclear family is declining as a proportion of all household types, and there are increasing proportions of single parent households and couple households without children.
“Despite these trends the make-up of the Australian housing stock has not shifted dramatically. This is because most housing is historical stock – it was built to suit the traditional nuclear family rather than the more diverse household types we see today.
“There is a need for more diverse or flexibly designed housing to accommodate the changing nature of Australian households.
“This could include housing that is designed to allow multi-family households to share a house well. For example, that provides spaces that are large enough for households to come together, but also give families privacy.
“There is also a need for housing that is adaptable over time – for example, houses with doors that lock to turn a larger house into a few smaller dwellings would allow households to alter their housing to suit their changing needs as people move in and out of the household.”
Dr Luis Angosto Ferrandez - a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at Sydney University – says the Census can actually be a big driver of change.
“Rather than merely adapting to the social world, censuses play a central role in configuring it. Censuses legitimise certain social identities, but they can also contribute to generating those identities. In this regard, some analysts consider that censuses nominate groups into institutionally recognised existence,” he said.
“Politics, and not only demographics, is at the core of national censuses. The release of the 2016 Australian Census Data is a great opportunity to increase public awareness around key aspects of contemporary life in Australia and discuss plans for the future of the country.
“Another important aspect in contemporary censuses is that of self-identification. This is a relatively recent mechanism in the history of censuses, replacing external identification – that is, when a census enumerator decided what was the social identity of the interviewee according to pre-existing categories.
“Self-identification overcomes undignifying census practices and is expected to provide more realistic portraits of the cultural diversity in a country.”