Monday, February 4, 2019

Australia's African population - who are they?

It seems you can barely turn on the TV or read a newspaper these days without some mention of the African crime wave, particularly in Melbourne.  For such a small population, they certainly seem to grab their fair share of headlines.  But describing people as "African" is not helpful.  The diversity of the continent means that "African" can describe a multitude of different people.  Furthermore, an ethnic community can be measured in different ways.  So who are the Africans in Australia?  What are their characteristics?  Read on to find out more.

Africa - a diverse continent

One of the challenges of measuring the African population is definition.  Just what is meant by "African"?  There are 54 countries in Africa, all with diverse histories, socio-economic conditions and ethnic composition.  Their 2017 populations range from 190.6 million in Nigeria, to just 93,920 in the Seychelles.  It's almost superfluous to even try to describe an entire population of the continent in one word.  As a South African woman I once travelled with said to me about Morocco "I can't believe I'm on the same continent, and this place is so different to home".

Measuring ethnicity

Using Australian Census data, the ethnic composition of a population is typically measured by birthplace, language and ancestry.  The size of the African population will be different depending on the measure used.  However it is important to consider these aspects as they provide a broader picture of an ethnic community.

Because of the specific nature of the data in this blog, most of the data has been obtained from the ABS Tablebuilder product.  This allows users to construct Census tables to suit their needs rather than relying on standard product releases.

How many Africans live in Australia?

The 2016 Census showed that there were 388,180 African born persons (ie born on the continent of Africa) in Australia, which is less than 2% of the population.  Just over 40% were born in South Africa (162,450 persons), by far the most common country of birth.  This was followed by Egypt (39,772), Zimbabwe (34,795), Sudan (including South Sudan) (24,724), Mauritius (24,324) and Kenya (17,655).  Some of these are well established communities in Australia, while others are more recent.  For instance, more than half of the Mauritian born community arrived before 1996, whereas close to 90% of the Sudanese born community arrived after this time.

How old is the African community?

The age structure of overseas born communities tends to reflect the main waves of immigration.  Many overseas migrants are young adults, so when a new community emerges, they will have a young age structure.  Over time they age in place, moving through the age spectrum until their mortality catches up with them and they decline in number.  This is where language and ancestry can provide a better perspective on the size of an ethnic community.

The following example illustrates this perfectly.  The chart below shows the age structure of the Sudanese community, measured by both birthplace and ancestry.  There are 24,724 people born in Sudan and South Sudan (0.1% of the population), but the size of those with Sudanese ancestry is much larger (29,553) but still only 0.1% of the population.

Census data shows that most Sudanese born people arrived in Australia in the late 1990s and early 2000s and the age structure of those born in Sudan shows this clearly.  The majority (69%) are aged 15-44 years, which compares with 41% for the total population.  Less than 5% of Sudanese born are aged 65 years or over, compared to almost 16% of the total population.  

When the ancestry of the Sudanese community is considered the age structure is even younger.  Just over half are aged 19 years or under, compared with 25% of the total population.

The young age profile of the Sudanese community may partly explain why they are over represented in crime statistics.  However there is a big difference in the age structure when measured by birthplace or ancestry, and I understand that ancestry data is not collected in crime statistics.  As such, it's not really possible to make a direct comparison based on ancestry (which incorporates the children of Sudanese born people) although it would be useful from a social research perspective.

Where do Africans live?

Overseas born communities, particularly those from non-English speaking countries, tend to live in Australia's major cities.  Despite their diversity, the African born are no exception.  In 2016, 82% of the African born population live in state capital cities, compared to 67% of the total population.  Some African communities show distinct spatial concentrations, such as the disproportionate share of South Africans and Zimbabweans living in Greater Perth.  The number of South African born persons in Greater Perth is almost the same as in Greater Sydney, even though Greater Sydney is more than twice the size.  

Within cities, the African born are quite dispersed - again hardly surprising given their diversity.  However there are distinct spatial patterns when individual countries are considered.  For example, almost one-third of Sudanese born persons (Sudan and South Sudan) live in just six LGAs in Australia (Blacktown, Brisbane, Wyndham, Brimbank, Casey and Melton).  Blacktown has the highest number of Sudanese born in any LGA across Australia (2,103) but this equates to just 0.6% of the population.

The situation is similar when ancestry is considered.  The same six LGAs account for one-third of persons with Sudanese ancestry.  Once again, Blacktown heads the list with 2,184 persons, or 0.6% of the population.  

Nowhere in Australia is there an LGA with more than 1% of the population born in Sudan.  The highest is the outer western Melbourne LGA of Wyndham (0.6%).  It's only when you consider Sudanese ancestry (and the larger population) are there any LGAs where they comprise more than 1% of the population - Melton in Melbourne's outer west (1.1% of the population with Sudanese ancestry).


Ethnic communities can be measured in a number of ways - birthplace, language and ancestry are the best measures in the Australian Census.  Using these for appropriate purposes gives a broader picture of a community.  There are more than 388,000 African born persons in Australia, but closer examination reveals great diversity.  40% were born in South Africa, by far the most common country of birth.  Using the Sudanese community as an example, measures of birthplace and ancestry show a different age structure, but overall the community is young and spatially concentrated in very few LGAs across Australia.

No comments:

Post a Comment