The 2021 Australian Census provides a picture of a rapidly growing and culturally diverse population struggling with health and housing issues. But the data shows opportunity too. We share the key insights.

The results from the 2021 Australian Census are in. Using information from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and research experts McCrindle, we share key insights from the 5-yearly national population and housing survey, and explore what they might mean for the nonprofit sector.

Australia’s population – the numbers

25,422,788: Australia’s population recorded on 10 August 2021 (census night). A, not insignificant, 8.6% increase (2 million people) on the figure recorded in the 2016 census. Look back further to 1981 and our population has grown by 75%, or 14.5 million.

Source: McCrindle.

By state and territory: 

ACT: 454,499

NSW: 8,072,163

NT: 232,605

QLD: 5,156,138

SA: 1,781,516

TAS: 557,571

VIC: 6,503,491

WA: 2,660,026

66.9% of people counted were in Greater Capital Cities and 33.1% were in the rest of Australia.

Population projections: 

By 2030: 29 million

By 2066: 37-49 million

More people equals more pressure on services, housing and the environment. But more opportunity as well – we have a growing skilled population (more on that below).

Age and sex

The median age of all Australians remained at 38 years in 2021. Males make up 49.3% of the population with a median age of 37 years and females make up 50.7% with a median age of 39 years.

Australia is undergoing a significant generational shift. Baby Boomer and Millennial cohorts each have over 5.4 million people, with only 5,662 more Baby Boomers than Millennials.

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics

  • Millennials are of working age and are upskilling, representing 40% of people attending vocational education, including TAFE. They are the most formally educated generation ever.
  • Baby Boomers are providing care for other peoples’ children, often their grandchildren. Around one in eight (12.8%) reported caring for other peoples’ children and, of these, two thirds are female (67.5%). They are also the generation most likely to volunteer and provide unpaid assistance to others. Unfortunately, there has been a 19% decrease from 2016 in the number of Australians performing voluntary work, with the total number now at just under 3 million. This is largely a result of the pandemic.
  • Generation Z represent 18% of the Australian and 3o% of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.

These numbers represent both opportunity and need: opportunity to engage young donors and attract skilled young people into the nonprofit workforce; opportunity to connect with an older generation who are highly engaged in caring for others and volunteering; and a very real need for ongoing nonprofit services that support children, young families and the elderly.

Families and households

The 2021 Census counted more than 10.8 million private dwellings across Australia. The average number of people per household decreased from 2.6 in 2016 to 2.5 in 2021.

Numbers showed:

  • 5.5 million (5,552,973) couple families, of which 53% have children living with them
  • 2.5 million families with children under the age of 15 years
  • More than a million one-parent families (1,068,268). As a proportion of families this is increasing slowly from under 14.5% in 1996 to nearly 15.9% in 2021

Families account for 70.5% of households.

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics

An almost equal split exists between ‘owned outright’ (31%), ‘owned with mortgage’ (35%) and ‘rented’ households (30.6%) – other tenure types account for the remaining 3.4%. The proportion of homes owned outright in Australia has fallen from 41% in 1991.

1.04 million dwellings are unoccupied – an alarming number when considering the rapidly growing population, skyrocketing rents and house prices, and pressure on homelessness and housing services in the nonprofit sector.

Income and work

The national median personal income is $805 per week. This is a $143 increase on 2016. This includes the adult population from 15 years to over 85 years, including those who are unemployed or retired.

The ACT has the highest median personal income at $1,203 per week (Canberran fundraisers, take note). Tasmania has the lowest median personal income at $701.

There are over 9.6 million people earning below the national median personal income or earning no income, representing a huge number of people requiring financial assistance and related support services.


For the first time, the Census collected information on ten common long-term health conditions in Australia. Over eight million people reported they had been diagnosed with a long-term health condition. That’s more than one third of the population, with mental health issues surpassing every other chronic illness. 1.5 million people suffer from two long-term health conditions, and 0.8 million suffer from three.

34% of women suffer from a long-term health condition, compared to 30% of men. And these health conditions increase with age, with 63% of sufferers in the 65+ age bracket and 22% aged 15- 34.

Mental health conditions are most prevalent in the 15-34 year old age group (740,000 people) and 35-64 age group (1 million) highlighting the pressures of education, (un)employment, raising children, housing, caring for the elderly and, highly likely, the social isolation exacerbated by COVID-19.

The growing pressure on healthcare services and the need for mental health research and support – for both nonprofit service-users and the staff and volunteers supporting them – could not be more apparent.


  • 1,464,415 people identified as requiring assistance with core activities
  • Females are slightly more likely to indicate they require assistance at 6.1% compared to males at 5.5%
  • 8.2% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people identified requiring assistance with core activities
  • 76.6% of people identifying as requiring assistance live with family and 19.4% live alone

Religious affiliation

  • The percentage of Australian’s reporting no religious affiliation continues to grow. It’s now at 38.9% of the population compared to 30.1% in the 2016 census
  • Christianity remains the most common religion with 43.9% of the population identifying as Christian, a decrease from 52.1% in 2016
  • The top five religions outside of Christianity are Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Judaism
  • The religion question is voluntary in the Census, yet there was an increase in the proportion of people answering the question, from 91% in 2016 to 93% in 2021

Sexuality and gender

For the first time, the 2021 census allowed all respondents to select from three response options for the sex question: male, female and non-binary sex. There have been concerns ahead of the release of this data in September 2022 that the way the question was structured has excluded transgender and intersex people.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

The Census found that 812,728 people identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. This is an increase of over 25% since 2016, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people now representing 3.2% of the Australian population.

  • Of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people counted: 91.4% identified as Aboriginal, 4.2% identified as Torres Strait Islander and 4.4% identified as both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
  • Two thirds (515,347) of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population live in New South Wales and Queensland
  • There were 167 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages used at home in 2021 by 76,978 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The most widely reported language groups used were Arnhem Land and Daly River Region Languages (14.5%) and Torres Strait Island Languages (12%)

This emphasises the need for funding that supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-focused services and for programs that are inclusive of those service-users in their design.

Culturally and linguistically diverse communities

The proportion of Australian residents that are born overseas (first generation) or have a parent born overseas (second generation) has moved above 50% (51.5%), meaning that our country is abundant in cultural diversity.

The top five countries of birth are Australia (67%), England (2%), India (3%), China (2%) and New Zealand (2%). The Indian population has been the largest growing community since the last census and the Nepalese community is the fastest growing.

The top five most commonly reported ancestries followed previous trends and included English at 33%, Australian at 29.9%, Irish at 9.5%, Scottish at 8.6% and Chinese at 5.5%.

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics

The use of languages at home reflects our changing communities:

  • 22.3% of Australians use a non-English language when at home
  • Mandarin continues to be the most common language other than English with 685,274 people speaking it at home
  • This is followed by Arabic (367,159 people), Vietnamese (320,758 people), and Cantonese (295,281 people)
  • Punjabi had the largest increase, with 239,033 people using it at home
  • Nepali featured in the top five languages used at home in both ACT (1.3%) and Tasmania (1.3%)

If Australia was a street of 100 households…

Here’s some enlightening infographics.

Infographic courtesy of McCrindle.


To find out more about the 2021 Census, including the ability to search by focus area, click here and here

Visit the McCrindle website to explore their growing body of census insights alongside a wide range of reports and summaries that provide valuable information about Australia today. 

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