Population growing, language shrinking: census

Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community is growing at a faster rate than the general population, but a lesser proportion are speaking Indigenous languages at home.

These were just two of the facts to emerge from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2016 Census population and housing data released this week.

Also revealed was the encouraging sign that the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 20-24 who had completed Year 12 has risen by more than a third – from 37 percent to 47 percent – since 2011.

The data shows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accounted for 2.8 percent of the population in the 2016 census — up from 2.5 percent in the 2011 census year and 2.3 percent in 2006.

But while Indigenous communities have grown, the use of traditional languages has shrunk.

The percentage of people using the mostly widely spoken of the 150 Indigenous languages had declined in all categories.

Arnhem Land and Daly River Region languages were down to 16.1 percent from 18.2 percent at the 2006 census, Torres Strait Islander language use was down to 11 percent from 11.7 percent, Western Desert languages had the biggest percentage fall from 14 percent to 11.1 percent, and Yolngu Matha use had fallen to 11.6 percent from 11.2 percent.

The census data showed the highest proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people lived in the Northern Territory where they accounted for 25.5 percent of the population.

Indigenous Australia is also younger than the overall population. The median age of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait man or woman is 23 years compared to 38 years for non-Indigenous Australians.

There have also been gains in income levels since the 2011 Census. The median weekly income for an Indigenous household is $1203 compared to the previous $991.

FAST FACTS:

  • Only 4.8 percent of the Indigenous population has reached the age of 65 or over compared to 15.9 percent of wider Australia.
  • The typical Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander person is a 23-year-old woman.
  • The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population has grown to 649,171 from 548,368.
  • One in 10 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people report speaking a traditional language at home.
  • A third of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live in capital cities compared to 68 percent for non-Indigenous people.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were half as likely as non-Indigenous people to have a weekly household income of $1000 or more.

Wendy Caccetta

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