Taking a closer look at South Australia’s Indigenous age profile

Mark Trevithick

Mark is an economist who joined .id in 2018. Having previously worked at the South Australian Centre for Economic Studies, he is experienced with applied microeconomic research. His work at .id focusses on preparing small area population forecasts for local councils across Australia. Mark has undertaken consulting projects for a number of private and public organisations including South Australian councils, State Government departments, Regional Development Australia and Natural Resource Management Boards. A major focus of his research has been regional development and local governance giving him a detailed understanding of the role, function and changing needs of councils.

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7 Responses

  1. Joe Lane says:

    Hi Mark,

    In relation to the ‘Closing the Gap’ targets (or should-be targets), perhaps it’s relevant to mention that at the last Census, there were around 2,500 Indigenous university graduates in SA. Since SA regularly hosts students from other states and the NT, it’s possible that 3,500 Indigenous people have graduated in SA, increasing at about 150 per year. Fuller figures, going back in some cases to 1989, are available on my web-site, on the Higher Education Page.
    Looking at the SA Census, what is concerning is the slow decline in the Indigenous fertility rate. Birth numbers seemed to plateau from around 2005 to 2012, then decline markedly. This may mirror the decline in birth numbers across the late seventies (and thus ‘available’ mothers a generation later) Actually the figures for Indigenous Australia as a whole follow similar patterns. It’s very difficult to assess, since half of the Census population rise since 2011 (maybe more than half ?) may well be re-identification rather than net growth, and (taking that re-ID factor into account) the fertility rate may be declining faster than a single Census’ figures indicate.
    I lived for some years at a community up on the Murray: back then, in the seventies, it had a population of around 120-140. At the 2-16 Census, the official population was 38, but on a visit there in 2012, I found only one family, amidst about twenty substantial but abandoned houses. Only one house with dogs, anyway. Since then, it has struck me that the place wasn’t so much abandoned as withered away through very low birth rates and high young-adult accident rates. I don’t know if this is an exception, or a forerunner to what may be happening to small, basically unviable, ‘southern’ communities.

  2. Joe Lane says:

    Net Indigenous population growth in SA: according to the 2016 Census, 3787 Indigenous babies were born in SA since 2011.
    Taking into account the slightly dodgy mortality figures (981 per 100,000), around 1,700 Indigenous passed away in the same period, so net population growth (excluding movement between States and the NT) was about 2,100. But the SA Indigenous population count grew in that period by 3,753. The discrepancy (apart from inter-State movements) of about 1650 (or about 5 % of the total population, or 1 % p.a.) can probably be explained by re-identification. But those mortality figures have to be ‘tweaked’ by only a couple of hundred, to bring that net increase down to 1,900 – and therefore increase the re-identification factor to roughly the same figure, 1,850 or so. So half of the population growth may be attributed to re-identification.

    Probably this is the case across Australia, since SA’s population characteristics are a sort of mini-Australia: that half of any ‘population growth’ may be attributed to re-identification. And this has probably been happening ever since the first Census which provided for a box for Indigenous people to tick, back in 1971. If this is so, and working backwards, the Indigenous population in 1971 wasn’t 107,000 – a sixth of the population at the 2016 Census – but more like 300,000 – almost half of the 2016 total, over those 45 years. This may explain why age-cohorts ‘grow’ between Censuses.

    Try it: put all the Census figures on a spread-sheet and work backwards, adjusting for realistic mortality rates for each age-cohort. Of course, this is all pretty rough, but if one uses low mortality figures over that period, the adjusted population totalled around 300,000 in 1971; and if higher (and more realistic) mortality figures are used, the population in 1971 may have been as high as 350,000. So ‘real’ net population growth in 45 years may have been as low as 1.4 % p.a. This may be corroborated by the low birth-rates, which may not be growing in real terms at all.

  3. Joe Lane says:

    I should have pointed out that there are currently around fifty four thousand Indigenous university graduates across the country, two-thirds women, overwhelmingly urban, and perhaps 90 % from mainstream degree-level courses – that’s around 48,000 in the 2016 Census, plus about 3,000 in 2016 and again in 2017. It’s puzzling why parity in graduate numbers between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians isn’t one of the ‘Closing the Gap’ targets: perhaps the concept of ‘Indigenous university graduate’ is too new for policy-makers.

    Here’s another stat: Indigenous women are commencing university study at a slightly higher rate (for their respective populations) than NON-Indigenous Australian men.

    And another one: Indigenous graduates are 95 % likely to marry non-Indigenous graduate partners, and both working. They are very likely to ensure that their children go on to university study.

    And another one: in 2016, Indigenous university commencements rose by 12 % – for most of the past ten years, the annual increase has been around 8 % – yes, commencement numbers in award-level courses has risen from 3,139 in2006 to 6,715 in 2016, or 114 %. These are Ed. Dept figures, which may under-count Indigenous university numbers by as much as 30%, relative to Census figures.

    So why isn’t university participation one of the ‘Closing the Gap’ targets ?

  4. Joe Lane says:

    Hi Mark, I should have pointed out that, with an annual growth rate in university commencements and graduations over the past decade of about 8 % (a rate which may be maintained for some time yet), it’s possible that in barely another decade, there could be well over one hundred thousand Indigenous university graduates, and 140-150,000 by 2030 or so. That would be one in every four adults, one in every three women and one in every five or six men – even better in urban areas. Certainly, many get sucked into the Industry and thereby, unwittingly, strengthen the Apartheid power-structure of the elites. But i live in hope that more and more Indigenous people can escape the clutches of the Industry, especially in the cities.

  5. Joe Lane says:

    Hi Mark, i suppose you will eventually see these comments 🙂 There is another, more fundamental, aspect to improvements Indigenous university participation; it doesn’t occur for no reason on the on hand, and will have positive and immense effects on Indigenous social structure and social change, on the other. Consider; over the past nine years (2008-2016), commencement numbers almost doubled. How and why ? Does increase in participation reflect, perhaps crudely, the changes in the level of aspirations within the (mainly urban, working) Indigenous community, and more significantly the standard of living ? Could it be said that what we are witnessing is a ‘doubling’ in the standard of living of the entire Indigenous community every nine or ten years ? Of course, re-identification has a lot to do with the increase in Census numbers, but is it like that those improvements will be maintained at the same rate ? Why not ? University participation has causes, in the ambitions of both parents and students themselves, in their expanding perception of its value. And university participation has social consequences, in that the stock of graduates, now well over fifty thousand, is likely to double every nine or ten years, or by five or six times each generation. Given that there are currently around four hundred thousand Indigenous adults across Australia, one in every eighty or so being a university graduate, is it possible that (taking Census re-identification into account) that another generation may see that ratio drop to one in every three adults ? And given that few graduates come from and return permanently to rural and remote ‘communities’, is it possible that, in the next generation, close to half of all Indigenous adults in the cities could be university graduates, mostly in mainstream courses and with half of those going on to post-graduate study ? Will the material effects of all that on the Indigenous population be massive, transforming ? And why isn’t university participation be counted as one of the measures towards ‘Closing the Gap’ ?

  6. Joe Lane says:

    Fat fingers ! That should read: “Given that there are currently around four hundred thousand Indigenous adults across Australia, one in every EIGHT or so being a university graduate, is it possible that (taking Census re-identification into account) that another generation may see that ratio drop to one in every three adults ?”

    • Mark says:

      Hi Joe,
      Thanks for your comments and interest in the topic. The blog post was intended to examine South Australia’s Indigenous age profile and illustrate information and data utilised at .id. If you would like to enquire about further work .id can do regarding the issues you have raised, please contact .id on info@id.com.au

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