Population race: Is Australia winning?

Twenty-five million! It is hard to wrap my head around whether this is a level I should freak out about. Is Australia rushing ahead too fast, or is this just normal? I decided to do a few comparisons to find out.

Here’s a graph that shows the great population race between all the countries that had a similar population in 1990, when I was in primary school.

Back when many of us were in school, our population was 17 million. Those old school projects seem like history lessons now!

Back when many of us were in school, our population was 17 million. Those old school projects seem like history lessons now!Source:Supplied

If global population is a race, we’re certainly not winning. Three of those countries have grown far faster than us, and two have grown more slowly.

Of course, growing fast causes problems. Consider Uganda, which used to be in our weight division, but has really bulked up. A little country smack bang in the middle of Africa, it should seem foreign to us, but they have the exact same complaints we do — traffic.

Australia isn’t the only country with 25 million people facing a traffic problem. Picture: Kampalacelt / Facebook

Australia isn’t the only country with 25 million people facing a traffic problem. Picture: Kampalacelt / FacebookSource:Supplied

But the population race didn’t start in 1990. The World Bank has population data for the whole world going back to 1960 so that is a good point to start a comparison. Back then Australia had a population of just 10.2 million, and some countries that were our equals back then are now twice our size.

Back when they World Bank started tracking how many of us there were, Australia had 10 million people.

Back when they World Bank started tracking how many of us there were, Australia had 10 million people.Source:Supplied

This comparison makes our growth look pretty modest! What you notice is the fast-growing countries are developing African countries, and the slow-growing ones are rich European countries. (FYI the Czech Republic recently changed its name to Czechia. No, nobody thinks that’s a good idea.)

If we were racing against Belgium, then it looks like Belgium didn’t even realise the starter’s gun went off. The reason for the big difference between the likes of Tanzania and Belgium is babies.

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In Tanzania women have on average five babies, and in Belgium just 1.7 babies. Poor countries have high birth rates, and rich countries are reproducing way more slowly than necessary to maintain their populations. (Australian women have 1.8 babies on average. But we take in at least one migrant for every baby.)

IS AUSTRALIA A BIG COUNTRY?

We’ve got a lot bigger. Are we big yet? Here’s one simple way of answering the question.

How big are countries pie.

It’s pretty clear most countries are smaller than us.

It’s pretty clear most countries are smaller than us.Source:Supplied

Most countries are smaller than Australia. So, yeah, we are relatively big.

But paradoxically, most people you meet will come from countries bigger than Australia.

But most of the world’s population comes from a small number of huge countries.

But most of the world’s population comes from a small number of huge countries.Source:Supplied

You’re far more likely to meet someone from China than someone from Tuvalu. (Mathematically, this is the same sort of paradox that makes it seem like everyone else on Facebook has more friends than you, even if your number of friends is above average.)

Here’s all the countries of the world and where we fit in.

From this graph, it’s clear to see there are many, many countries with a similar population to Australia. And dozens of tiny nations too.

From this graph, it’s clear to see there are many, many countries with a similar population to Australia. And dozens of tiny nations too.Source:Supplied

If this graph makes you realise anything it is that there are a lot of little countries out there. I guess they don’t get to go in many World Cups or win many Olympic medals. I bet if they say where they’re from, lots of people haven’t heard of it. That doesn’t sound too fun. There is something to be said for scale.

Here’s all the countries of the world ranked by how much they’ve grown since 1960. The Middle Eastern countries have literally come out of nowhere with unimaginable growth rates, while four Eastern European countries — (Bulgaria, Latvia, Hungary and Croatia) have gone backwards. The rest are in the middle, with Europe growing slower than Australia and African countries growing faster.

Australia is now 2.4 times the size it was in 1960 (10.28 million).

Australia is now 2.4 times the size it was in 1960 (10.28 million).Source:Supplied

ARE WE IMPORTANT?

Australia remains a tiny part of world population. But interestingly, that share has been growing recently.

That pie chart really puts it into perspective just how few of us there are.

That pie chart really puts it into perspective just how few of us there are.Source:Supplied

The reason for our sudden lift in share is that we are growing fast, and the world overall has slowed down.

But we’re still growing faster than the world as a whole.

But we’re still growing faster than the world as a whole.Source:Supplied

If we keep this up, we will win the great population race. We will gain clout and importance globally, although we will need to spend a lot on infrastructure at home. The important question to ask is whether we should be in the race at all.

Jason Murphy is an economist. He writes the blog Thomas the Think Engine.

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