Two things demographers know that you should know too

Kim Johnstone
March 4, 2019

Dealing with statistics, forecasts and technical language can sometimes seem overwhelming. We may not use population data in our work as a result, or rely on information we feel we don’t have the expertise to make sense of it.  

I’m here to assure you that with a few key insights in your toolkit, you’ll be able to take advantage of the data available to make a positive impact for the places and people you are working with. I’m often asked what’s important to look at in demography and there’s two things that stand out. 

Only three things can cause populations to change  

Populations only change because of three drivers of change: births, deaths and migration. Populations grow if there are more births, or less deaths, or more people move into an area, or less people move out. Or populations can decline when the opposite happens.  

Changes to these drivers also affect the composition of a population. Retirement migration to the coast can lead to population ageing, as can out migration of young people for work or education. We might see things like new housing developments lead to population growth because it’s allowed for more migration and brought people to an area who then go on to have more births.

The three drivers of population. Births, deaths and migration.

Age and sex matters 

When looking at population we’re used to looking at how big it is, or the rate of change. But if this is the only thing we look at we’re probably missing what’s important. Everything we do is affected by age and our gender. Populations are no different. If you want to understand how a population is changing and what it needs, size only tells you so much. It’s the change in age groups that shows where that change is coming from and indicates what kind of infrastructure they will need.   

Two graphs explaining the population of Liverpool, NSW.

By looking at both age and sex, we can make sure we are fully informed about different segments of our population. This can inform policy, highlight areas where more work is needed, as well as prompt us to ask why we’re seeing those differences.   

A graph depicting the median annual income of employed persons with tertiary education.

Keep these two things in mind when talking about population or thinking about how population changes might affect the work you do for a more informed discussion about demography.  

This article includes information presented at the Masterclass “Analysing data to tell your story”. Astrolabe Group works with organisations to provide demographic insights that support strategic planning and change management. To find out more contact Kim at [email protected]  

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