Census 2021 — Australia as 100 people

The census is Australia’s biggest survey. Every five years it attempts to question every household across the country to create a big data snapshot of the nation. There’s a lot it can tell us about Australia’s 25,422,788 people.

And there’s a lot it can tell us about how we’re changing.

100 white dots in the shape of Australia

On this little map of Australia there are 100 dots, each representing 1 per cent of the population.

100 white dots in the shapes of Australia's states

It looks pretty different when we redistribute the dots into the states where everyone lives.

The Northern Territory’s looking a little lonely there with a single dot.

100 white dots in the shapes of Australia's states

But when looking at each jurisdiction’s share of the Indigenous population, it’s the fourth-largest. And Victoria jumps from the second-biggest to the fourth-smallest.

100 white dots in two groups - capital cities and outside capitals

These days, most of us — 1 in 3 — are living in the capital cities in our states.

That’s only a small rise from 20 years ago, but still, there is a trend towards the major cities.

So that’s where we live, but what about how we live?

100 white dots in four groups - separate houses, apartments, attached houses and other

Well, nearly three-quarters of us live in a separate house. That hasn’t changed much since the turn of the century.

100 white dots in five groups

But what has changed is how we own our houses. In 2001, 40 per cent owned their house outright without a mortgage.

Meanwhile, a quarter were being purchased either using a mortgage or rent-to-buy scheme.

100 white dots in five groups - owned outright is highlighted

Now, outright home ownership has fallen to 31 per cent. That’s the same proportion who say they rent. The largest category is now those who own with a mortgage, at 35 per cent.

100 white dots in five groups - paying 30 per cent or above is highlighted

And, of those with a mortgage, one in seven fall into a common definition of mortgage stress, meaning their repayments account for 30 per cent or more of their household income. As interest rates rise, there will be more in this cohort.

100 white dots in two roughly even groups - male and female

The census tells us that we’re unsurprisingly split almost evenly down the middle between males and females.

(The survey contained an option to report sex as non-binary, but the ABS has chosen not to release the data at this time).

But even though females make up half the population, that doesn’t necessarily translate to our most important institutions.

100 white dots in two groups - male parliamentarians has considerably more dots than female

After the 2001 election, this is what our nation’s parliament looked like in numbers of men and women.

And this was the result of our most recent election. By the time parliament next sits, 44 per cent of our federal parliamentarians will be women. It’s not quite parity, but it’s an improvement.

There are other areas where women still lack parity with men. Take income for example: the median personal income in the census is $805 per week. So let’s look at everyone who earns above $800 weekly (that’s the closest bracket in the census).

100 white dots in two groups

Now if we divide up those who earn more than $800, only 44 per cent are women.

And it gets worse as income rises.

100 white dots in two groups - significantly more dots in the male group

Of those earning above $3,500 a week, only 27 per cent are women.

100 white dots in two groups

Maybe that’s because they’re less likely to say they do no unpaid domestic work …

… and more likely to be looking after children.

100 white dots in two groups - significantly more dots in the single parent females than single parent males group

They’re also more likely to be single parents.

As time passes and older generations pass on, the number of Australians that lived through WWII and earlier diminishes.

100 white dots in five groups - silent generation highlighted

In 2001, 22 per cent were from the so-called silent generation, born in 1945 or before. Baby boomers were by far the largest group.

100 white dots in five groups - silent generation highlighted

Twenty years later, the silent generation has shrunk to only 8 per cent.

And millennials and baby boomers are basically the equal-largest generations.

But as we lose older Australians, we also gain new ones — some through birth, and others through immigration.

More than one million immigrants arrived between the beginning of 2017 and August 2021. But immigration was slowed recently by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.

100 white dots in five groups - 2020 and 2021 highlighted

More than four in five new immigrants came before the pandemic, with only around 16 per cent arriving in 2020 and 2021.

Groups of white dots show which country most immigrants came from.

Those immigrants came from India more than any other country, with the second largest intake coming from China.

And the past half decade of immigration has had an impact on the number of people with direct ties to other countries.

100 white dots in three groups - at least one parent born overseas, both parents born in Australia and not stated

Now almost half of us say we’ve got at least one parent who was born overseas.

At the turn of the century, that number was only 40 per cent.

Religious diversity in Australia has changed as well.

100 white dots in four groups , with the group labelled Christianity highlighted

Two decades ago, more than two-thirds of Australia identified with a Christian religion. Only 15 per cent of people were identified in the ‘no religion’ category.

In 2021, the proportion of people who say they have no religion has more than doubled. It now approaches the number of those who identify with all of the Christian denominations put together.

Finally, for the very first time, the census has revealed data about who has a long-term health condition.

100 white dots in five groups - two and three conditions highlighted

Just over a quarter of Australians say they have at least one of a list of nominated long-term health issues such as arthritis, asthma, kidney problems or a mental health condition.

Around 6 per cent said they had two conditions, while 3 per cent noted three.

But of course, that gets higher as we age. Only 21 per cent of under-65s say they have one or more long-term health conditions.

That compares to 58 per cent of over-65s, including 12 per cent who nominated three or more conditions.

100 white dots in three groups

And our veterans fare worse on average than the general population. Around 54 per cent of current and former members of the Australian Defence Force said they had any kind of long-term health condition, including one not nominated specifically by the census question.

This compares to only 38 per cent of the general population.

Australia is diverse and complex. Through data, the census can expose what unites us …

… what makes us different …

… and who is falling through the cracks.

As more data is released over the coming months, it will have plenty more to say.


  • Percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number. Where a rounding error exists, the demographic with the lowest or highest remaining decimal is rounded down or up to ensure totals equal 100

  • Capital cities are comprised of the greater areas of the capital of each state and territory as defined by the ABS

  • In 2001, dwellings being rented included those occupied rent-free, while in 2021 rent-free dwellings were excluded from this category

  • Federal parliament figures by sex were calculated using 2022 election results and are from July 1, when the new Senate term begins

  • The ABS defines generations as follows (relative to 2021): silent — 75 years and older; baby boomers — 55-74 years; generation X — 40-54 years; generation y (millennials) — 25-39 years; generation Z — 10-24 years; generation alpha — 0-9 years

  • In 2001, “no religion” included “no religion nfd”, “Agnosticism”, “Atheism”, “Humanism” and “Rationalism”. In 2021 “no religion” included “no religion, so described”, “Secular Beliefs, nfd”, “Agnosticism”, “Atheism”, “Humanism”, “Rationalism”, “Secular Beliefs, nec”, “Other Spiritual Beliefs”, “Secular Beliefs” and “No Religious Affiliation, nfd”.

  • Long-term health conditions nominated by the ABS include: arthritis, asthma, cancer (including remission), dementia (including Alzheimer’s), diabetes (excluding gestational diabetes), heart disease (including heart attack or angina), kidney disease, lung condition (including COPD or emphysema), and mental health condition (including depression or anxiety)

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