Smaller, older, sicker: Australia’s latest population forecast shows pandemic’s impact

Population not expected to reach 30 million until 2033 after Covid shutdown slowed migration

Australia’s population is on track to be smaller than forecast and older on average due to the impacts of the pandemic and the global Covid shutdown, new data from the Centre for Population shows.

The country is now predicted to reach a population of 30 million in 2032-33, later than previously expected due to reduced immigration levels caused by the pandemic pause.

The last intergenerational report, released by Josh Frydenberg in 2021, predicted Australia would hit the 30 million milestone in 2030-31. The latest Centre for Population report, which will be released in full on Friday, has revised that.

Australia’s population is predicted to be 4% or 1.2 million people smaller than previously forecast in 2032-33 because of slowed migration.

The ageing population means Australia is reliant on migration to grow, as migrants tend to be younger and higher skilled, which boosts the nation’s productivity. Australia’s fertility rate is also too low to replace the number of people who die each year.

The slowing rate of growth comes after Australia hit the 24 million mark in 2019-20, 20 years earlier than had been predicted in the 2002 intergenerational report, because of a change to migration policy settings under the Howard government.

The population reached 26 million in June 2022 after growing by just 1.1% in a year, significantly slower than the 1.6% pre-pandemic average.

Even with migration levels restored to pre-pandemic levels, Australia’s population will not grow as fast as it did before the Covid shutdown. It is expected to take until 2060-61 for Australia’s population to reach 39 million – a milestone again predicated on migration. When that happens, the median age of Australia’s population is expected to increase from the 2020-21 average of 38.2 to 42.8.

With baby boomers, now aged between 55 and 74, rapidly transitioning out of the workforce, and the latest census data finding 50.4% of the 5.4 million boomers (21.5% of the current population) are already reporting a long-term health condition, the government’s focus is shifting to the impact on health and associated support services.

The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, said “well-considered and well-managed” migration would play a “critical” role in the nation’s future economic development.

“This matters at multiple levels – the global scramble for talent, the filling of genuine skills shortages, and making sure migrant workers aren’t exploited,” he said.

“As the economy recovers from the worst of the pandemic, crippling skills and labour shortages are holding our businesses and our economy back.”

Australia has some way to go to restore its reputation as an attractive place for migrants to consider. The pandemic policies, which impacted international students and left people on temporary visas without any economic support, meant about 500,000 migrants left Australia.

While numbers are slowly rebounding, one of the key takeaways from the government’s jobs and skills summit was the need to provide migrants with a reason to consider Australia – which included more paths to permanent residency.

A review of Australia’s migration system is due to report back in the first quarter of this year.


Amy Remeikis

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Melbourne shrank while Queensland grew: what the pandemic did to Australia’s population
The Victorian capital is still on track to outpace Sydney as the biggest city in Australia but Covid lockdowns slowed that growth

Amy Remeikis

04, Jan, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
Covid temporarily reduced Australia’s average life expectancy and lifted death rates to historic highs
Centre for Population report shows 129,000 people died between January and August 2022, 17% higher than average for the period

Amy Remeikis

05, Jan, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
Labor under renewed pressure to axe stage-three tax cuts as Australia’s budget woes mount
The party voted in support of tax cuts while in opposition and went to the election promising no changes to the policy

Amy Remeikis

02, Jan, 2023 @5:18 AM

Article image
As Australia's population hits 25m, regions cry out for skilled migrants
Eighty-seven per cent of skilled migrants who arrived last year settled in Sydney and Melbourne

Ben Doherty

07, Aug, 2018 @1:59 AM

Article image
Three key predictions for Australia’s future: highlights from the intergenerational report
Country will have to contend with climate change, an ageing population and a smaller population in 2060-61

Katharine Murphy Political editor

28, Jun, 2021 @8:57 AM

Article image
PM and states at odds as report calls for cooperation on population growth
Infrastructure Australia’s call for partnership seems likely to fall on deaf ears at governments’ meeting

Katharine Murphy and Gareth Hutchens

10, Dec, 2018 @9:35 PM

Article image
Australia's population forecast to hit 30 million by 2029
Australian Bureau of Statistics projections say population could reach 49 million by 2066

Luke Henriques-Gomes

22, Nov, 2018 @1:31 AM

Article image
Sahar won a scholarship to study law at uni – but then the Australian government stepped in
When the refugee reached 18 and left high school, her right to earn a degree was suddenly withdrawn

Ben Doherty, photographs Jessica Hromas

10, Feb, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
Mask mandates ruled out as nation records 90 Covid deaths – as it happened
This blog is now closed

Mostafa Rachwani and Natasha May

20, Jul, 2022 @8:48 AM

Article image
Labor to relax work tests for pensioners following jobs and skills summit – as it happened
This blog is now closed

Cait Kelly and Natasha May

02, Sep, 2022 @9:13 AM