The 'average' Australian: a snapshot over the last 100 years

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The 'average' Australian: a snapshot over the last 100 years

This year Australia's population passed 23 million. With the Australian Bureau of Statistics releasing new data on the 'average' Australian, we look at changes in the Australian population over the last 100 years.

Coinciding with this year's population milestone the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has attempted to paint a picture of the 'average Australian' using Censuses and other data over time. We look at the changing 'face' of Australia from 1911 to 2011.

'White collar' positions have increased in the labour market since the 1960s.

The data

The Census of Population and Housing, distributed by the ABS every five years, is a descriptive count of everyone who is in Australia on one night, and how they livei.

Since 1911, the population of Australia has increased more than five-fold. In April 2013, Australia's population was estimated to pass 23 millionii. This compared to the population count in 1911 of 4,455,005; although it should also be noted that the 1911 report did not accurately include the Aboriginal populationiii.

With the information provided on the night, the ABS has constructed an image of the 'average' Australianiv. It determines this by examining the most common values in the datasets of the Census.


In 1911, the average Australian was a 24 year-old male farmer born in Australiav. Despite females outnumbering males in population counts since 1979, in 1911 there were around 108 men for every 100 womenv. The average Australian was married to a younger woman, who stayed at home and raised their children. Both husband and wife were born in Australia: in 1911, 83 per cent of people in Australia had been born herev. This family identified as Christian, probably Anglican considering that 96 per cent of the population in 1911 considered themselves Christian with close to 40 per cent of those claiming to be Anglicanv. At this time, men were predominantly farmers or farm labourers whereas women were either domestic helpers or women's clothes makersv.

The proportion of people born in Australia over the last century. Adapted from Australian Bureau of Statistics, source: v


Fifty years later in 1961, the population was 10,508,186vi, although again the data did still not accurately include the Aboriginal population. In 1961 the average Australian was a 29 year-old male clerk. While the number of people born outside of Australia after WWII grew due to increased immigrationv, our average Australian was born in Australiav to parents who were also Australian-bornvii. The average male Australian married his wife when she was 21viii, and together they had 3 or 4 children very early on in their marriageviii. The family identified as Anglican along with 35 per cent of the populationv. At this time, Judaism was the largest non-Christian religion, outnumbering the other non-Christian groups combined by more than six to onev.

In the 1960s, men and women were expected to fill certain roles in the workforce or the home: men were expected to be the household's breadwinner while women were expected to raise children and do unpaid domestic workviii. Despite these traditional roles and expectations, however, the 1960s saw women becoming increasingly present in the workforce. When employed our average Australian wife worked as a typist, while many of her friends were shop assistantsv.

Typically, employment for men in the 1960s was based around manual or 'blue collar' work, with the most common occupations being tradesmen, labourers, farmers and fisherman. This time also saw a shift from primary industries (e.g. agriculture, fishing, and mining) towards manufacturing, wholesale, and retail. Growth in these sectors was, at least in part, driven by the consumer revolution of the 50s and 60s where demand for whitegoods, cars, and televisions was insatiableviii.

The 'average' Australian today: a 37 year-old woman with her two kids and husband.


In the present day, the average Australian is a 37 year old female sales assistantv. She is a married woman, although some of her friends have chosen not to get married until later in life, or have children but are not marriedv. The number of people choosing to marry is decreasing - in 2011 over three quarters (79 per cent) of 40 year old women had been married, compared to in 1991, when the figure was over 90 per centv. And although the number of same sex couples has been on the rise in recent years, they still represent less than 1 per cent of all couplesv.

Our average Australian lives with her husband and two children (a girl and a boy), one aged 9 and the other aged 6, in a mortgaged three-bedroom house in a suburb of one of Australia's capital citiesiv. Her husband is 175.6cm (5'8") tall, weighs 85.9kg and she is 161.8cm (5'3") tall and weighs 71.1kgv. This couple both fall into the 'overweight' category according to the Body Mass Index (BMI)v.

Both husband and wife were born in Australia and their parents were also born herev. Today, close to three quarters (74 per cent) of the population were born in Australiav, and more than half (54 per cent) of the population had both their parents born in Australiav. However, in the five mainland state capitals, 34 per cent of people were born overseasv. British-born people continue to be the largest group of those born overseas, making up 5 per cent of Australia's population and representing about one in five (21 per cent) of all overseas born living in Australia. In recent years, the numbers of those born in India and China now living in Australia has increased significantlyv.

The average age of both males and females in Australia has been on the rise since 1911. Adapted from Australian Bureau of Statistics, source: v

These migration trends influence the languages spoken at home across Australia. Mandarin is now the second most common language after English spoken at home. It is spoken by 1.6 per cent of the population, followed closely by Italian (1.5 per cent), Arabic (1.4 per cent), Cantonese (1.3 per cent), Greek (1.2 per cent), and Vietnamese (1.1 per cent)v. In 1986 the most common languages other than English spoken at home were Italian and Greek. Our husband and wife both speak English at home.

Mr and Mrs Average identify as Christian (most likely Catholic)v. The proportion of people identifying as Christian has decreased by over a third in the last century, falling from 96 per cent in 1911 to 61 per cent in 2011v. The number of people identifying as having no religion (humanist, atheist, agnostic) was 22 per cent; this number has been rising since 1971 (7 per cent) along with the number of people belonging to non-Christian religions (7 per cent in 2011)v. In 2011, the top 5 non-Christian groups were Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Sikhismv.

The couple both work as sales assistantsv. The family owns two or more cars and the husband and wife drive these cars to work each dayv. The woman's previous job was as a general clerk, whereas her female friends work as primary school teachers or office managers; her male friends work as truck drivers, electricians and retail managersv. The shift from 'blue collar' to 'white collar' occupations in the last half century reflect broad patterns of industrial change in Australia. A rise in jobs in the service industries has led to decreased opportunities for work in production industriesviii.

It must be noted that while many who share a few of these characteristics, not a single person out of the near 22 million people of Australia on Census Night, 9 August 2011, met all these criteriav.

i Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012, What is the Census?,

ii Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013, Australia to reach 23 million on 23 April 2013,

iii Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1911, Census of the Commonwealth of Australia Part XIV – Summary,$File/1911%20Census%20-%20Volume%20III%20-%20Part%20XIV%20Summary.pdf

iv Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013, 4102.0 - Australian Social Trends - Average Australian a 37 year old woman,

v Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013, 4102.0 - Australian Social Trends - The ‘average’ Australian,

vi Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1961, Census of the Commonwealth of Australia – Volume VIII,$File/1961%20Census%20-%20Volume%20VIII%20-%20Part%20I%20AUSTRALIA%20Characteristics%20of%20Population.pdf

vii Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010, 1301.0 - Year Book Australia – Country of Birth,

viii Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011, 6105.0 - Australian Labour Market Statistics – Fifty years of labour force: now and then,