Growth of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, 1991-2001 and beyond

Author/editor: Gray, A
Year published: 1997
Issue no.: 150


The immediate aim of this paper is to describe the growth path of the Indigenous population during the period 1991-2001 and beyond. While it is possible to do this, it must be emphasised at the outset that the sizes of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations remain unknown. Estimates in this paper are relative to the population size estimated by the 1996 Census.

Components of Indigenous population growth

The process of Indigenous population change during the period 1991-96 was reconstructed, then projected for the period 1996-2001.

  • There were an estimated 41,300 births to Indigenous mothers between 1991 and 1996, and a further 16,100 births to non-Indigenous mothers and Indigenous fathers.
  • After allowing for deaths of 13,600 Indigenous people, natural increase during the five years was 43,800, from 313,500 to 357,200, at an annual rate of 2.6 per cent.
  • During the period 1996-2001, it is expected that natural increase of the Indigenous population will have amounted to a further 43,600 people, at an annual rate of 2.3 per cent, producing an Indigenous population in 2001 of 400,900.
  • The projected increase assumes a fall in fertility of Aboriginal mothers to 2.5 children per woman, increasing births to non-Aboriginal mothers in continuation of the established trend, but no change in mortality levels. The projections are not highly sensitive to these assumptions.

Implications of population change

Population change occurs in a simple and predictable manner, and over a short interval such as the period from 1996-2001, the changes are mostly caused by survival of existing members of the population to age groups five years senior.

  • The Indigenous population continues to have the pyramidal shape typical of a population with a much higher level, because of the contribution from births to non-Aboriginal mothers.
  • Previous projections of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population size have envisaged much greater changes to population structure, but such projections did not recognise the impact of intermarriage on maintaining a strong level of growth and a wide base to the population pyramid.
  • During the period 1991ö2001 there will have been only slight changes to the broad structure of the Indigenous population; for example, the masculinity ratio (number of males per hundred females) will have remained at 97.3, while the median age of the population is estimated to increase from 19.7 to 19.8.
  • The main change will be increasing concentration of the Indigenous population in the southeastern States and Queensland, and projected loss of population share in South Australia (from 5.9 per cent in 1991 to 5.7 per cent in 2001), Western Australia (from 14.8 per cent to 14.2 per cent) and the Northern Territory (from 13.3 per cent to 12.6 per cent).
  • The main implication of these results is that change to the existing emphasis of self-help, social support and intervention programs would not be warranted purely on the basis of demographic change, but the scale of programs needs to be set at a constantly higher level to meet the challenge of rapid expansion of population numbers.

Beyond 2001

Experience with projections of the Indigenous population should produce caution about assessing even medium-term prospects. With strong warnings about the consequences that could accompany rapid social and cultural change, it is feasible and it may be helpful to extend the projection to 2011.

  • The preferred assumptions for the projection are that fertility of Aboriginal mothers will continue to fall, to a total fertility rate of 2.25 in 2001-6 and 2.00 in 2006-11, increasing intermarriage will continue to boost growth, and age-specific mortality levels will be reduced substantially, by 25 per cent in each five-year period beyond 2001.
  • Under these assumptions, the Indigenous population would grow by 46,700 to 447,500 between 2001 and 2006 then by a further 49,700 to 497,200 by 2011.
  • The underlying growth rates would be 2.2 per cent for 2001-6, and 2.1 per cent for 2006-11.

In conclusion, this population projection envisages little change in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population structure and continuing strong growth of the Indigenous population in the immediate future and beyond. While the projection is predictive for the 1996-2001 period, longer-term projection really requires more complete information about the processes and characteristics of intermarriage with non-Indigenous Australians.

ISBN: 0 7315 2585 X

ISSN:1036 1774

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