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Cultural Diversity in Western Australia
A Demographic Profile

Cultural Diversity in Western Australia—A Demographic Profile

This profile tells the story of Western Australia’s cultural and linguistic diversity. Using 2011 Census data, it looks at the countries of birth, ancestries, languages spoken at home, proficiency in spoken English and religious affiliations of Western Australians.

The 2011 Australian Census affirmed that Australia is a diverse nation and that Western Australia (WA) is one of the most diverse of all the states and territories. WA’s population is also the fastest growing of all Australian states and territories. This growth contributes to our diversity, and is expressed through the increasing number and range of languages, religions, cultures and countries of origin with which Western Australians identify.

At the 2011 Census, the total population of Australia was 21.5 million people, an increase of 8% since 2006. More than a quarter (26%) of Australians were born overseas and almost one in five (18%) spoke a language other than English at home.

In comparison, the Western Australian population was 2.2 million people, an increase of 14% since 2006.
WA had the highest proportion of its population (31%) born overseas of all Australian states and territories. Perth had the highest proportion of overseas-born (35%) of all Australian capital cities.

According to the 2011 Census, there were 69,664 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in WA. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people represent 3.1% of the WA population.

WA is a state of migrants. Almost one-third (31%) of Western Australians were born overseas (compared with 27% in 2006) and more than half (56%) were Australian citizens. More than half (52%) had at least one parent born overseas (48% in 2006) and three-quarters (75%) identified that they had a non-Australian ancestry (51% in 2006). In addition to English, 15% of the population spoke a language other than English at home (11% in 2006).

WA is home to people from more than 190 countries, speaking approximately 270 languages and dialects (including around 50 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages). Western Australians follow more than 130 religious faiths. People from the United Kingdom, Europe, South-East Asia and the Middle East, and more recently from South Asia and Africa, have made Western Australia their home, creating a harmonious environment that respects diversity.

Migration and diversity have given WA a competitive edge in a globalised world. Migrants create ties connecting their new home with their old. They create unique opportunities that have contributed to the development of our economy and social harmony. All Western Australians benefit from our State’s diversity.

Where do overseas-born Western Australians come from?

The proportion of Western Australians born overseas increased between 2006 (29%) and 2011 (31%). The United Kingdom, New Zealand and South Africa remained the top three countries of overseas birth. Table 1 shows significant increases in the number of people born in New Zealand, South Africa, India, the Philippines and China, although as a proportion of the total WA population, the increases were small. The proportion of Italy-born people decreased and Vietnam, the Netherlands and Germany moved out of the top 10 countries of overseas birth.

From 2006 to 2011 the number of people and proportion of the population born in non-main English speaking countries (NMESC) increased. The proportion of Western Australians born in main English-speaking countries (MESC)[1] (16%) and NMESC countries (15%) were similar.

Ancestry is an indicator of cultural diversity and background that is not necessarily connected to country of birth. It indicates the group(s) people closely identify with, regardless of their country of birth.

More than half (52%) of Western Australians reported that one or both of their parents were born overseas. Although nearly two-thirds (63%) of Western Australians were Australia-born, three-quarters (75%) reported having an ancestry other than Australian, through their overseas-born parents and/or grandparents.

The top four ancestries for Western Australians, other than Australian, were English, Irish, Scottish and Italian (Table 2). Since 2006, the number and proportion of Western Australians reporting:

  • English, Irish, Scottish, Chinese, Indian and New Zealander ancestry has increased
  • Australian ancestry has decreased proportionately but not in numbers
  • German and Dutch ancestry was proportionally unchanged although the number increased.

Top 10 countries of birth of overseas-born, Western Australia, 2006

Table 1a: Top 10 countries of birth of overseas-born[2], Western Australia, 2006
Country of birthNumberPer cent (of WA population)
United Kingdom20766410.6
New Zealand473332.4
South Africa220581.1
Italy209281.1
Malaysia197201.0
India151530.8
Singapore117910.6
Vietnam104950.5
Netherlands101230.5
Germany98790.5

Top 10 countries of birth of overseas-born, Western Australia, 2011

Table 1b: Top 10 countries of birth of overseas-born, Western Australia, 2011
Country of birthNumberPer cent (of WA population)
United Kingdom23041710.2
New Zealand707373.2
South Africa353261.6
India299151.3
Malaysia249701.1
Italy194770.9
Phillippines172370.8
China166900.7
Ireland142930.6
Singapore139730.6

Western Australian population by ancestry, 2006

Table 2a: Western Australian population by ancestry, 2006
AncestryNumberPer cent (of WA population)
English73101337
Australian70416536
Irish1552207.9
Scottish1536287.8
Italian1020225.2
Chinese559092.8
German537572.7
Dutch401732.0
Indian221881.1
New Zealander213861.1

Western Australian population by ancestry, 2011

Table 2b: Western Australian population by ancestry, 2011
AncestryNumberPer cent (of WA population)
English84823038
Australian72436032
Irish1870388.3
Scottish1864758.3
Italian1118945.0
Chinese759353.4
German630202.8
Dutch453172.0
Indian403051.8
New Zealander276191.2
  1. [1] Australia, Canada, England, Ireland, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, the United States and Wales.
  2. [2] Excludes born in Australia, overseas visitors and country of birth not stated responses. Data relates to people usually resident in Western Australia who were born overseas. Visitors from overseas and those who did not state their country of birth were excluded in all tables.

How diverse are religious beliefs?

The 2011 Census shows that religious diversity in Western Australia had increased as more people identified with a religion other than Christianity. Changes and trends evident between 2001 and 2011 (Table 3) were:

  • a decrease in identification with Christianity (from 63% to 58%
  • an increase in identification with beliefs other than Christianity, such as:
    • Buddhism
    • Islam
    • Hinduism
    • Sikhism
    • Secularism

Main religious groups in Western Australia, 2001–2011

Table 3: Main religious groups in Western Australia, 2001–2011[3]
Main religious groupNumber 2001Per cent (of WA population) 2001Number 2011Per cent (of WA population) 2011
Christianity115627263.2130037558.1
Buddhism299631.6473952.1
Islam194601.1391181.7
Hinduism36400.2210250.9
Judaism50570.358530.3
Sikhism10900.149110.2
Other religious affiliation396522.2200400.9
No religion36108819.757194925.5
Religious affiliation not stated19644210.72170819.7
Total population18282931002239170100
  1. [3] The table provides a 10-year comparison in order to highlight the significance of change in affiliation.

What languages are spoken at home?

The 2011 Census showed an increase in the State’s linguistic diversity and English proficiency among speakersof languages other than English (LOTE).

According to the 2011 Census, more Western Australians (15%) spoke a language other than English at home than in 2006 (11%). Approximately 13.5% of the WA Aboriginal population spoke an Australian Indigenous language at home. More than three-quarters (79%) of overseas-born Western Australians spoke English only at home. Of those who reported that they spoke a LOTE at home (244,748 people), the majority (84%) spoke English very well or well.

The 2011 Census also showed that more overseas-born Western Australians (30%) spoke a LOTE at home, compared with the Australia-born (5%). The number and proportion of people speaking a non-European language increased, compared with a decline in European languages being spoken. German, Spanish and French were each spoken by more than 7000 people (0.3% each). The most common language groups other than English spoken in Western Australia are shown in Table 4.

The majority of Western Australians (98%) reported being proficient in English with only a very small proportion (1.7%) reporting that they spoke English not well or not at all. Similar proportions of people born in non-main English speaking countries (11%) and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (13%) spoke English not well or not at all.

Top 10 languages spoken in Western Australia, 2006

Table 4a: Top 10 languages spoken in Western Australia, 2006
Language or Language Group[4]NumberPer cent (of WA population)
English160304381
Chinese languages356911.8
Italian328931.7
Vietnamese132420.7
Arabic76980.4
German72130.4
Indonesian66080.3
Polish61020.3
Indian and South Asian58770.3
Philippine languages43440.4

Top 10 languages spoken in Western Australia, 2011

Table 4b: Top 10 languages spoken in Western Australia, 2011
Country of birthNumberPer cent (of WA population)
English177595179
Chinese languages505802.3
Italian314491.4
Indian and South Asian239021.1
Vietnamese155740.7
Philippine languages139630.6
Arabic119550.5
Indonesian90850.4
German87160.4
Spanish 82260.3
  1. [4] ABS Australian Standard Classification of Languages, 2011 (Cat. No. 1267.0).

Migration streams to Western Australia

Between 2006 and 2011, 71% of migrants to WA entered through the skilled migration program. The State received a larger proportion of skilled migrants compared with the national average (59%). Western Australia has become the preferred destination for skilled migrants, currently receiving almost one-quarter (22%) of Australia’s skilled visa holders (2011–2012).

For the same period, WA received smaller proportions of family (23%) and humanitarian (6%) entrants compared with the national figures figures (30% and 8%, respectively), and approximately 10% of Australia’s total intake for these visa classes.

Employment

Between 2006 and 2011, the proportion of employed overseas-born Western Australians aged over 15 years increased from 46% to 52% but this remained lower compared with the Australia-born (66%). The unemployment rate also increased for the overseas (1.8% to 2.7%) and Australia-born (2.5% to 3.2%).

The proportion of the overseas-born not in the labour force decreased for the same period from 37% to 33%, but remained higher compared with the Australia-born (29%).

More Australia-born people were employed full time and part time (42% and 20%) than overseas-born Western Australians (40% and 18%). However, the rates for the overseas-born increased from 2006 to 2011 (from 38% and 17%, respectively), while rates for the Australia-born remained unchanged (42% and 20%).

Where do overseas-born Western Australians live?

In 2011, Western Australia was one of the most culturally diverse of all Australian states and territories, and Perth one of the most diverse capital cities. Rural and regional areas, however, were significantly less diverse than metropolitan Perth.

Like other Australian states and territories, Western Australia’s population is concentrated in the metropolitan area. The concentration of the overseas-born in Perth is much greater compared with other Australian capital cities.

Larger regional local government areas, such as Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Albany and Bunbury, are home to large proportions of the non-metropolitan population, including significant numbers of people born overseas (6898, 6552 and 6473 people, respectively).

In 2011, Western Australia’s overseas-born population:

  • lived primarily in the Greater Perth area (87% compared with 85% in 2006)
  • accounted for slightly more than one-third of Perth’s population (35%)
  • decreased in rural and regional areas (to 13% from 15% in 2006).

Diversity snapshot for metropolitan and non-metropolitan Western Australia, 2011

Table 5: Diversity snapshot for metropolitan and non-metropolitan Western Australia, 2011
Metro WA[7]Per cent Rest of WA[8]Per cent
Number Overseas-born[6]59792234.68789117.5
Number One or more parents born overseas98612557.017004933.8
Number LOTE at home28820016.7361147.2
Number LOTE and low English proficiency330701.923600.5
Total population[5]172886577.250259422.4
  1. [5] The total population does not include the 7715 people who responded as having no usual address or being offshore.
  2. [6] Includes supplementary codes but does not include not stated responses).
  3. [7] Includes Mandurah.
  4. [8] ABS regions of Bunbury, WA Outback and WA Wheatbelt.

Age and gender

In 2011, Western Australia’s overseas-born population was older compared with the Australia-born. The 2011 Census showed that:

  • the majority (82%) of the overseas-born population was aged over 25 years:
    • 33% were aged 25–44
    • 32% were aged 55 years and over
  • the age profile for NMES-born was similar to the total overseas-born, but with a slightly larger proportion of people aged 15–44 years (48% compared with 43%)
  • compared with the overseas-born, the Australia-born population had:
    • a significantly larger proportion of people aged 0–24 years (41% compared with 18%)
    • more than half (59%) aged over 25 years.

Some NMES-born populations are ageing more rapidly compared with the MES and Australia-born. For example:

  • the majority of the Italy-born were aged over 55 years (82%) and more than half were aged over 65 years (58%)
  • the majority of the Greece-born were aged over 55 years (82%) and over 65 years (62%)
  • the proportion of people aged over 55 was much lower for those born in the United Kingdom (45%), New Zealand (19%) and Australia (20%)
  • the proportion of people aged over 65 was significantly lower for those born in the United Kingdom (24%), New Zealand (6%) and Australia (10%).

The overseas-born in Western Australia and Australia had a similar age profile, however:

  • Western Australia had proportionally more 0–14 year olds (19%)
  • Australia had proportionally more people aged over 65 years (17%).

The sex ratio (men per 100 women) was similar for the State’s Australia-born (99.5) and overseas-born (101.5) populations. However, there were:

  • more women than men aged over 65 in both groups
  • more boys than girls aged 0–14 years in both groups
  • more men than women born in Turkey (134), Iraq (121.2), Malta (119.6) and India (119.5)
  • more women than men born in Thailand (39), Japan (43.5), Philippines (73.9) and Indonesia (74.1).

Proportion of Australia and overseas-born in Western Australia by age and sex, 2011

Table 6: Proportion of Australia and overseas-born in Western Australia by age and sex, 2011[9]
Australia-born0–1415–2425–4445–5455–6465 and overTotal
Male26.515.827.311.89.78.8100
Female25.115.227.111.89.910.9100
Person25.815.527.211.89.89.9100
Overseas-born0–1415–2425–4445–5455–6465 and overTotal
Male7.910.632.717.814.616.3100
Female7.59.732.518.314.617.4100
Person7.710.232.618.014.616.9100
  1. [9] Note: the age groups in this table are the same as those used in the 2011 Census Expanded Community Profile for Western Australia. Figures do not include ‘not stated’, ‘inadequately described’, or ‘people at sea’ responses.

Western Australia in 2011: Our cultural, linguistic and religious diversity

The majority of people were born in Australia

  • Almost two-thirds of Western Australians were Australia-born (63%).
  • There were 69,664 people (3%) who identified as being Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.

WA was home to the highest proportion of overseas-born residents in Australia

  • Almost one-third of Western Australians were born overseas (31%).
  • More than half of the WA population had one or both parents born overseas (52%).

Equal numbers of people come from English and non-English speaking countries

  • Just over half (53%) of the overseas-born were from main English speaking countries (MESC), mainly the United Kingdom, New Zealand and South Africa.
  • Just under half (47%) were born in non-main English speaking countries (NMESC).
  • The NMESC-born population has increased by 39% since 2006.
  • The MESC-born population has decreased by 21% since 2006.
  • The top five overseas birthplaces were the United Kingdom, New Zealand, South Africa, India and Malaysia.
  • The top five ancestries other than Australian were English, Irish, Scottish, Italian and Chinese.

There is great diversity in age and gender

  • The overseas-born were older compared with the Australia-born.
  • A majority of the overseas population were aged 25–44 years (33%) or over 55 years (32%).
  • European birthplace groups are older compared with other overseas-born groups.
  • Almost 60% of the Italy- and Greece-born are aged 65 years and over, compared with 10% for the Australia-born.
  • Birthplace groups with the highest sex ratios (number of men per 100 women) were Turkey, Iraq, Malta and India.

Western Australians speak English as well as many other languages

  • The proportion of Western Australians speaking a LOTE at home increased to 15%.
  • The proportion of people reporting low levels of English proficiency decreased to 1.7%.
  • Almost one-third of overseas-born Western Australians spoke a LOTE (30%).
  • The majority of overseas-born LOTE speakers (84%) reported speaking English well or very well.

WA is a religiously diverse State

  • Christianity remained the most common religion (58%), but affiliation has declined over time.
  • Affiliation with secularism (25%) and non-Christian religions such as Buddhism (2.1%), Islam (1.7%) and
  • Hinduism and Sikhism were WA’s fastest growing religions from 2001 to 2011.

Most people live in Perth

  • The greatest concentration of cultural and linguistic diversity was in Perth.
  • Perth had the highest proportion of people born overseas of all Australian capital cities.
  • Only 13% of overseas-born Western Australians lived in >non-metropolitan areas.

WA is the State of choice for skilled migrants

  • Between 2006 and 2011, the majority of migrants to WA were skilled migration visa holders (71%).
  • WA received almost one-quarter of Australia’s skilled migrants.
  • WA received smaller proportions of family visa holders (23%) and humanitarian entrants (6%) compared with national figures.

More Western Australians are in the workforce

  • There has been an increase in the rate of full-time employment for the overseas-born (30% to 34%) since 2006.
  • The part-time employment rate increased for the overseas-born (13% to 15%) while the rate for the Australia-born remained unchanged (20%).