Immigration has aged Australia!

By Leith van Onselen

One of the most common arguments used to support mass immigration is the claim that it keeps the population young and productive, and without constant immigration, the population would grow old and the economy would stagnate.

For example, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has stated previously that “anyone who thinks it’s smart to cut immigration is sentencing Australia to poverty”, whereas KPMG’s Bernard Salt – a self-proclaimed “unabashed supporter of a bigger Australia” – has produced reams of articles pushing mass immigration and warning that to not follow this path would lead to an ageing population, a bigger drain on the federal budget, economic stagnation, and falling living standards.

I have noted previously how Australia’s Productivity Commission (PC) has comprehensively debunked the view that immigration can ‘solve’ population aging, noting the following over more than a decade:

  • PC (2005): Despite popular thinking to the contrary, immigration policy is also not a feasible countermeasure [to an ageing population]. It affects population numbers more than the age structure”.
  • PC (2010): “Realistic changes in migration levels also make little difference to the age structure of the population in the future, with any effect being temporary“…
  • PC (2011): “…substantial increases in the level of net overseas migration would have only modest effects on population ageing and the impacts would be temporary, since immigrants themselves age… It follows that, rather than seeking to mitigate the ageing of the population, policy should seek to influence the potential economic and other impacts”…
  • PC (2016): “[Immigration] delays rather than eliminates population ageing. In the long term, underlying trends in life expectancy mean that permanent immigrants (as they age) will themselves add to the proportion of the population aged 65 and over”.

Last week the ABS published its first release from the 2016 Census, which produced the following quote that caught my eye:

…the 2016 Census has revealed the ‘typical’ Australian is a 38 year old female who was born in Australia…

In 2016, the ‘typical’ migrant in Australia was born in England and is 44 years old…

So after being told for years that Australia needs immigration to ‘keep Australia young’, the Census revealed that immigrants were on average 8 years older than the general population.

In fact, the ABS’ annual migrant report (released earlier this month) showed that overseas born Australians were a whopping 10 years older than Australian born residents in 2016:

Sure, the turbo-charged mass immigration program that has been run since 2003 (see next chart) – which directly added 2.8 million people to Australia’s population over 14 years (and has caused so much trouble for housing and infrastructure in the big cities) – has dropped the median migrant age by two years, from a peak of 46.4 years old in 2004 to 44.4 as at 2016.

But the fact remains that Australia is now paying the demographic price of previous decades of immigration, which has aged the population, just as we will pay the demographic price in 30 year’s time from the current wave of mass immigration.

The fact of the matter is that running a mass immigration program to mitigate population ageing is nothing more than a ponzi scheme: it provides temporary relief from ageing and merely pushes the ‘problem’ into the future. It also requires ever more immigration, with the added negative impacts on economic and social infrastructure, congestion, housing affordability, and the environment.

We also shouldn’t forget the recent paper from economists from MIT, entitled Secular Stagnation? The Effect of Aging on Economic Growth in the Age of Automation, which showed that there is absolutely no relationship between population aging and economic decline. To the contrary, population aging seems to have been associated with improvements in GDP per capita, thanks to increased automation:

Several recent theories emphasize the negative effects of an aging population on economic growth, either because of the lower labor force participation and productivity of older workers or because aging will create an excess of savings over desired investment, leading to secular
stagnation. We show that there is no such negative relationship in the data. If anything, countries experiencing more rapid aging have grown more in recent decades. We suggest that this counter-intuitive finding might reflect the more rapid adoption of automation technologies in countries undergoing more pronounced demographic changes, and provide evidence and theoretical underpinnings for this argument.

…we show that since the early 1990s or 2000s, the periods commonly viewed as the beginning of the adverse effects of aging in much of the advanced world, there is no negative association between aging and lower GDP per capita…

Figure 2 provides a glimpse of the relevant pattern by depicting the raw correlation between the change in GDP per capita between 1990 and 2015 and the change in the ratio of the population above 50 to the population between the ages of 20 and 49… we show that even when we control for initial GDP per capita, initial demographic composition and differential trends by region, there is no evidence of a negative relationship between aging and GDP per capita; on the contrary, the relationship is significantly positive in many specifications:

ScreenHunter_18202 Mar. 26 13.24

Clearly, anyone using the excuse of economic calamity, due to an aging population, to justify high immigration is simply wrong – the empirical evidence does not support it. Importing loads of people is more likely to import higher unemployment in the future as automation eat jobs.

Curiously, Bernard Salt – one of Australia’s biggest population boosters –  has himself warned that technological change will mean there are likely to be too few jobs to go around in the future. And yet he continues to argue for ongoing mass immigration and a ‘Big Australia’ on flawed ‘labour shortage’ grounds. Go figure!

It’s time to bury the ‘immigration stops aging’ myth once and for all. Moreover, given the significant qualitative costs of population growth – for example, worsening congestion, reduced housing affordability, the degradation of the environment, the depreciation of natural resources, and the overall decline in individuals’ quality of life – there is significant cause to dial Australia’s immigration program right back.

unconventionale[email protected]

Unconventional Economist


  1. This is the family reunion nonsense. Pay $40k to bring your ageing parents over and after a qualifying period they receive pension and healthcare for life. The international student scam a pretty good gig which is why it is so popular:
    1) Foreign student
    2) residency
    3) launder mum and dads money and buy a property
    4) pay $40k per parent and they receive welfare and healthcare for life

    Benefit to existing residents = higher house prices and higher taxes

    • Plus lower wages (wage growth) for existing residents. Additionally the $40K does not cover the real cost of welfare and healthcare. If it did, it would cost a lot more than $40k.

      • Yes, I forgot wages.

        The more I think about this article the more infuriated I am. This is a complete invalidation of the reasons entire younger generations of Australians have been screwed over. The kind of shit that literally causes revolutions and lynch mobs.

  2. Of course it has.
    3.8 million third world migrant PR/citizen grants in a decade of which 85% or 3.25 million were unskilled and in an age band and skill of being a total life cycle negative taxation contributer (ABS / productivity commission report 2016).

    But it gets worse…

    Then add another 2.4 million third world migrant guestworkers (2 million TR, 0.4 million Tourist working illegally) and 90,000 of that completely useless unskilled intake are being given PR grants also.

    About a 90% unskilled net tax burden migrant intake.

    Of course, you don’t need the numbers..

    Go into a medical centre in Chatswood or Rhodes or North Parramatta or Liverpool if your game and marvel at the third world diversity of our onshore foreign aid contrbution to third world old sick diseased as they queue out the door, or wander around the streets with their freshly minted Medicare & Pensioner or Beneficary cards & entitlements.
    No English. Never paid a dollar in tax.

    Sneaked in by their anchor or sponsor on some visa pretext and now relieving China or Korea or India or the Middle East of that social & health care burden.

    It’s not a racist issue. It never has been.
    It’s a basic skills and economic contribution issue.

    What’s coming in as the ‘anchor’ – often on a pretext or frauded visa is often already old & unskilled & useless.

    And usually amoral and here only to working illegally / with fake ID in some underground or illicit activity as a TR or tourist.

    Then conditioned thru the easily frauded Australian visa process in fake partners, family reunion, frauded health checks, very little bio security checks, no real employment or skill checks, fake references & documentation, this is an industry.
    This is a $105 billion industry in TR and tourist third world migrant guestworkers.
    And then the PR:partner or Citizenship grant.
    And then the $200 billion extra cost to Australia in our Centrelink or Medicare burden.
    Housing, education, public tranport, social services – consumed, little or no contribution.

    A migrant intake that is already a money pit and lack of contribution and assimilation disaster.

    These are migrants unlike any others we had before.
    They are not the Italians or Greeks or Vietnamese making a new home and fresh start here.
    They are old.
    They are unskilled & useless.
    They are anmoral.
    They will not assimilate.
    They have no respect for Australia.
    They have no loyalty – many on dual passports.
    They are here to take not give.
    They are not the best or brightest.
    The evidence they are lower class corrupt petty criminals that stole from their own country to launder or safe haven that theft here.
    Or they are sent here as urban or rural slum clearance to send back remittances and then bring in their aged care burden to be our problem. Welfare @ health care cost xfer.

    An influx of unskilled amoral useless needy & corrupt pushed onto us by their third world country only to keen to dump that burden on Australia as our stupid decision to let them in.

    That’s what’s coming in.
    A disaster that will continue inter-generationally as a burden for decades to come.

    -> We need a Royal Commission into the entire economic and social impact of the visa and migration fraud.

      • Same in inner west Sydney also. Lots of older Chinese couples (very little English) just casually walking along the bay area where I live. Probably looking at which house to buy next 😀

    • spot on Mike. It’s the disgusting result of decades of complacency, corruption, stupidity and greed at all levels of our ‘government’ supported by voters who can’t or wont see the wood for the trees

  3. Mr SquiggleMEMBER

    FactCheck ! 38 is median age across all of Australia (ie migrants and non-migrants). ,

    Fact Check! 44 is median age for migrants. Check!

    32/33 is the median age for non-migrants. Check ? Wait? What? O-no….,

    Oh dear, another key fact left out by the ABS and every other major media outlet that reported this update.

    Leith thanks for pointing out the average migrant is 12 years older than the rest of us.

    How the hell can you slow down aging when you grow the population with a segment that is ten+ years older than everyone else?

    • The median age graph is misleading. It would count the kids of migrants who are born in Australia as in the Australian born category, but the kids wouldnt be born here if the parents are not here. The kids ages should be considered in the migrant category and then we can see the actual average age of migrants and their whole family.

  4. reusachtigeMEMBER

    This is just #alternativefacts! Everyone knows that immigration is great for the country. It’s about the vibe!

  5. Well, duh – the average age of Australian born people when they first enter Australia is 0. The average age of immigrants when they first enter Australia is somewhere between 20 and 30.
    If anything, it’s surprising the gap isn’t wider.

    • Ronin8317MEMBER

      That is exactly the point : saying we need immigrants to make Australian ‘younger’ doesn’t work. It can only be fine via increasing the birth rate.

    • +1
      A newborn is going to shift the average far more than a 25 year old adult.

      Meanwhile, Japan, who is doing everything wrong according to these population boosters, now has an unemployment rate under 3% whilst ours is double that.

      • And, of course, Japan is hardly a poster child for keeping median age down.

        (tied with Germany for oldest country on Earth, at 46.1 years)

      • I see these high median ages as a good thing, it means world population growth is slowing due to declining birth-rates everywhere, and population will eventually stabilise giving us a chance at living sustainably.

        It’s mainstream economics that is insane wanting ever growing populations to maintain “good” demographics.

      • I’d agree that high median ages are a ‘good problem to have’, rather than an unalloyed good thing.
        But I guess I was saying that Japan don’t really prove that low immigration is an effective way of reducing your population’s age.

  6. ROBOTS MITIGATING ECON EFFECTS OF AGEING: – For that argument to have real traction you need to discount the importance of household income and elevate overall economic impacts. It’s only all good if there is appropriate wealth redistribution.