Australia Then and Now: 30 Years of Change

Saturday, January 25, 2014
Australia Then and Now McCrindle

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Australia is a nation in transition. In the span of a generation, Australia’s population has increased by more than half. Demographically we are ageing, with an average age 7 years older than it was 3 decades ago, but with a life expectancy 7 years greater than it was in 1984.

Our growing population is being achieved not only through this increased longevity, but also through record births- more than 300,000 per year. This is more than 25% higher than the peak of the original post-war baby boom. Yet as significant as this natural increase is, the largest source of our population grow immigration, with significant shifts in the Top 5 countries of birth. In 1984, the Top 5 countries of arrival were all European (and New Zealand) while today both China and India are in the Top 5 with Vietnam and the Philippines not far behind.

While the population has increased by 51% since 1984, the workforce has increased by 81%. Three decades ago the average full time worker took home just under $19,000 per year in a time when the average house price was less than $150,000. Today annual earnings exceed $73,000 with the average house price in most capital cities exceeding $520,000. From an employment perspective, the Australian workforce has transitioned from industrial in 1984 to professional today. The largest industries by workforce were all industrial in 1984 while today professional, scientific, technical, IT and the financial sectors make up the biggest employers along with mining and utilities.

In 1984 almost 2 in 3 Australians were married while today less than half are. And the “never married” proportion has increased from 1 in 4 to 1 in 3. From a religious perspective, Christianity is still the religion of more than 3 in 5 Australians, down from 3 in 4 in 1984. Meanwhile the “no religion” proportion has doubled and the “religion other than Christianity” numbers have increased from 265,600 to 1.68 million today.

In addition to these demographic changes, the shifts in our national identity are significant. Certainly the old affections run deep however there is a recognition of Australia as a cultural hub, a technology exporter, a fashion destination, a small business nation and a nation hosting iconic events.

It seems that Australians are comfortable in their own skin- embracing of this sunburnt country with all its iconic landmarks, yet proud of the cultural achievements and our diverse cities. There’s an understated confidence that welcomes the world to this unique landscape, yet has the posture to proudly list off our cultural achievements.

There is a depth to our reflections on 21st Century Australia. The iconic language and Australiana is retained and reinterpreted with a new sophistication, and without the cringe. Our cultural identity is also being interpreted beyond the beach or sport. Multiculturalism has come of age in Australia. You can tell because there is little self consciousness and even less tokenism expressed. Rather the cultural mix is in our national DNA, it’s part of our lifestyle- it’s who we are. The fact that more than 1 in 4 of us weren’t born here seems unremarkable- as though it has always been thus. Many comments celebrated the richness of our lifestyle that comes through the input of so many cultures.

Amidst massive national and global change, the Aussie spirit is alive and growing in the 21st Century. What it means to be Australian has morphed to meet the challenges and diversity of our changing times. Australians hold strongly to an identity and “Aussie values” yet these are more sophisticated and mature, and represent our place in a world of global interactions.

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