Ten things we learned from the 2021 census results: Christianity in decline and Australia hits 25 million

·6-min read
<span>Photograph: Dean Lewins/AAP</span>
Photograph: Dean Lewins/AAP

Cast your mind back to last August and you probably remember filling out the census, alongside millions of other Australians.

The first and biggest release from the 2021 census has come out. It’s the first time since 2016 that Australians will have up-to-date data on the population, and it was completed when much of the country was in lockdown, confined to home.

Here, you can see the census data for key statistics by region. Use the dropdown menu to change the variables shown, or read on for the ten major takeaways from the ABS data.

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Related: Census 2021: Australia’s millennial generation is overtaking baby boomers, new ABS data shows

Australia has doubled in size in the past 50 years

Australia’s population has exceeded 25 million for the first time. There were 25,422,788 people in Australia, excluding overseas visitors, on census night.

That’s an increase of 8.6% since 2016, and in the past 50 years, Australia’s census count has more than doubled.

Our national population has also grown, by about two million people since 2016.

At the same time, overseas visitors decreased by more than 80%, in large part due to Covid restrictions and limits on overseas travel.

The number of older Indigenous Australians is growing

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population has increased by more than 25% since 2016. The census found 812,728 people identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, accounting for 3.2% of the population.

There’s also a growing number of older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with more than 47,000 aged 65 and over compared to 31,000 in 2016 and 21,000 in 2011.

Almost half the population has a parent born overseas

Australia continues to be a multicultural nation. Almost half of Australians have a parent born overseas, and more than one in four were born internationally.

More than 1 million migrants have arrived in Australia since 2017. India has overtaken China and New Zealand to become the third-largest country of birth behind Australia and England. The second-largest increase in country of birth was Nepal, with an additional 70,000 people.

Of the new arrivals, 83.7% touched down before Covid-19 travel restrictions.

The number of people who used a language other than English at home has also increased, by nearly 800,000 compared to 2016. Mandarin is the most common alternative language in the home.

The Boomers era is coming to a close

The number of millennials (people aged 25-39 years old) has almost caught up to the baby boomers (55-74 year olds) as the largest generational group in Australia.

In the 1996 census, almost two in five people were boomers. In 2021, each group has more than 5.4 million people, with just 5,662 more boomers than millennials. That gap is likely to narrow, with the millennial population increasing from 20.4% in 2011 to 21.5% in 2021 while boomers decreased by almost 4%.

More than 2 million people have long-term mental health conditions

This was the first time the census collected information on long-term health conditions. The most common responses were mental health, arthritis and asthma, which each had more than 2 million people reporting those conditions.

Overall, more than eight million Australians live with a long-term health condition, and 1.5 million have at least two.

The proportion of those with a long-term health condition increased with age, and females were more likely to report a long-term health condition than males (34% compared to 30%).

Christianity is on the decline

While Christianity is still the most common religion in Australia, religious diversity is increasing: 43.9% of respondents identified as Christian in the 2021 census compared to more than half in 2016 and 61% in 2011.

At the same time, more people are identifying as atheist or agnostic. Almost 40% of the population responded “no religion” on the 2021 census, an increase of 10% in the past five years.

Interestingly, while almost 60% of baby boomers reported a religious affiliation, 46.5% of millennials reported having no religion.

Almost 60,000 Australians live in caravans

The majority of Australians still live in houses, but alternative living arrangements are on the rise: 58,155 filled out the census from a caravan, while 29,369 people were in a cabin or a houseboat and more than half a million were in a high rise apartment.

Of nearly 11 million private dwellings counted in the census, separate houses accounted for 70%, apartments 16%, and townhouses made up 13%.

Two-thirds of households own their home outright or with a mortgage, similar to the rate in 1996. But the proportion of households that own outright has dropped to 31%.

Single parents have surpassed 1 million

For the first time, more than 1 million families are made up of single parents, and 75% of them are women. As a proportion of families, this has increased from just shy of 15% in 1996 to almost 16% in 2021.

Fewer couples are having children, too.

The proportion of couples living together without children has steadily grown in the past two decades. Of 5.5 million couple families, 47% didn’t have children living with them compared to 41% in 1996.

There have been 25,000 same-sex marriages since 2017

The 2021 census was the first time Australia has had an accurate snapshot of the number of same-sex marriages since the 2017 postal survey on marriage equality.

A total of 25,000 same-sex couples have tied the knot, while no figures were released for the number of same-sex divorces.

Overall, 46.5% of Australians over the age of 15 were in a registered marriage come census time, while more than 1.8 million people are divorced and 600,000 are separated.

Almost everyone was at home on census night

Unsurprisingly, with Covid restrictions in place across much of the nation, 96% of people were at home on census night, an increase of 2 million people compared with 2016.

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It means more families and households were at home when the data was collected, with the household response rate increasing by a percentage point compared to 2016.

At the same time, overseas travel decreased by more than 80% compared to 2016. There were just 61,860 international visitors in 2021.

It’s a reflection of the unprecedented time in Australia’s history the population was living through, likely to inform research for years to come. Deeper insights on the impacts of Covid-19 will be available in the second release of census data in October.

• This article was amended on 28 June 2022. The proportion of respondents who identified as Christian in the 2021 census was 43.9%, not 39% as an earlier version said. And references to the 2017 same-sex marriage postal survey that incorrectly referred to it as a referendum have been removed.

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