Cultural Artefact: Population


Population patterns and trends in Tasmania exhibit many distinctive features when compared with the national and regional situations.

Tasmanian birth rates have historically been higher than nationally, and are disproportionately accounted for by younger parents. As elsewhere, Tasmanian birth rates are declining, with the total fertility rate currently around 1.9 births per woman, down from 4.0 at the peak of the baby boom in 1961. However, Tasmania's birth rate remains, as it did in the 1960s, the second highest across Australia's states and territories.

Since the mid-twentieth century, Tasmanian life expectancy at birth has typically been lower than nationally. In 2001, Tasmanian life expectancy at birth for males and females was, respectively, 1.0 and 1.2 years lower than nationally, and these differentials have remained somewhat constant over the past forty years. This contrasts with the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when Tamanians enjoyed life expectancies at birth some two to three years greater than nationally.

The third component of population change, migration, has also always differed somewhat to national and other regional trends. Tasmania experienced a net migration loss in 65 of the last 100 years, including 30 of the last 40 years. Most of the losses reflect interstate migration, while Tasmania has typically enjoyed small but consistent net gains of international migrants. Even so, Tasmania typically receives proportionately fewer international migrants than the other states and territories, resulting in a current overseas-born population of approximately 10.5 percent, compared with 23 percent nationally.

Together these dynamics have caused Tasmania's age structure to shift from being the country's most youthful at the middle of the twentieth century, to currently its second-oldest. Tasmania is also experiencing the most rapid population ageing of any state or territory, due in part to a decade (1991-2001) of excessively high net migration loss at the young adult ages (observable as a 'bite' at those ages in Figure 1 below), and in part to smaller but equally significant gains of older migrants. These age-specific migration patterns, while currently contributing to overall population growth for the state (presently around 477,000), are simultaneously causing Tasmania's population to age 'prematurely'.

Another significant feature of Tasmania's demographic profile relates to the institution of marriage. Tasmania has tended to have lower crude marriage rates and higher divorce rates than nationally, particularly since the 1980s. However, an anomaly exists when it comes to the duration of marriage (as measured by the median number of years between marriage and separation, and marriage and divorce). In the mid-1970s, when Tasmania's divorce rate increased relative to national levels, Tasmanians experienced slightly briefer median durations of marriage than did other Australians. Since the 1980s, Tasmanians have enjoyed longer durations of marriage. The median age at marriage - including remarriage - in Tasmania has, as elsewhere, also shifted upwards over the past several decades, but somewhat more so.

These patterns and trends have their sequel in the relative marital status of the Tasmanian population. Reflecting its higher than national divorce rate, the Tasmanian population is slightly less likely to be currently married, and more likely to be currently separated or divorced than nationally. However, perhaps reflecting its longer marriage durations, it is also slightly more likely than the national population to have been ever-married, or widowed. It is also more likely to be 'socially married'. Approximately 56 percent of the Tasmanian adult population (15+ years) is either formally married (48 percent) or currently living in a de facto marriage (8.0 percent), compared with 54 percent nationally.

The proportion of Tasmania's population that is Indigenous also differs somewhat from the national situation, with 3.5 percent of Tasmanians claiming Indigenous ancestry at the 2001 census compared with 2.2 percent nationally. Within Tasmania, as elsewhere in Australia, the vastly differing age structures of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations are notable (Figure 2). In 2001 the median age of Tasmania's Indigenous population was just 16 years, compared with 36 years for the non-Indigenous population. Youth and young adults thus disproportionately characterise the Indigenous population, while as Figure 1 (above) indicates, the non-Indigenous population is significantly more concentrated in the upper middle ages.

Natalie Jackson

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