From bolognese to momos: Our changing migration nation

The generations that brought bolognese and yeeros to Australia from southern Europe after World War II are being overtaken by younger migrants from across southern Asia who have popularised momos and chai.

Census data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows migration from Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Greece peaked in the post-war decades, while migration from countries including Nepal, India and the Philippines has taken off only in the past 20 or 30 years.

The number of people born in India living in Australia has overtaken Chinese and New Zealand-born people, according to the latest census.Credit:James Alcock

At the time of the 2021 census, 163,300 people living in Australia were born in Italy. The vast majority (109,400) emigrated in the 1950s or 1960s. The number fell to 11,000 in the 1970s, and dropped below 5000 in the 1980s and 1990s, but picked up to 17,900 in the 2010s.

Greek immigration peaked at 44,600 in the 1960s and declined to 1600 in the 2000s before reaching 5900 in the 2010s.

Those immigrants are also ageing.

More than two-thirds of the people born in Italy (68 per cent) are over the age of 65, and their population has fallen by more than a third since the 1991 census, when they numbered 253,400. It’s a similar story for Greek Australians. At census time last year, 92,300 people reported they were born in Greece, and 73 per cent of those were aged over 65. That population has fallen from 135,900 in 1991.

While the COVID-19 pandemic affected the flow of migrants into Australia, more than 1 million people have arrived in the country since 2017 and 850,000 of those came before the end of 2019. Many were from India and Nepal.

Teresa Dickinson, deputy Australian statistician and the senior responsible officer for the census, said the national survey showed emerging communities within the country.

“We’ve seen the largest increase in country of birth outside of Australia being India, with 220,000 additional people counted, making India now the second-highest overseas-born population after England … leapfrogging China and New Zealand,” she said on Tuesday.

It takes the total number of people born in India and living in Australia to 673,350.

The population born in Nepal had more than doubled since the last census, Dickinson said, rising to 122,500 in 2021.

“This change can be seen with Nepali being one of the top-five languages now in Canberra and Tasmania,” Dickinson said.

The increase in migration from southern Asia is also reflected in the changing religious beliefs of Australia: Hinduism, the dominant religion in Nepal and India, has grown by 55.3 per cent to be followed by 2.7 per cent of the population.

Unlike the large numbers of continental Europeans, including people from Croatia and Germany, that drove the post-war migration boom in Australia, there were no Nepali migrants recorded by the ABS in the 1950s, and fewer than 50 in the 1970s. But in the first decade of this century, nearly 24,200 people born in Nepal were in Australia, while 93,600 moved here in the 2010s.

Similarly, there were few migrants from India in the 1950s, but that number has grown from 10,600 in the 1970s, to 37,200 in the 1990s, 210,300 in the 2000s and nearly 370,600 in the 2010s.

The recent surge in migration from those countries is reflected in the ages of those populations. The majority of them are young: 62 per cent of those born in India were aged between 25 and 44 in 2021, while more than two in three of the people born in Nepal were aged between 25 and 44 at the time of the census and one in four were aged 15 to 24.

Thirty-six per cent of the Indian-born population lives in greater Melbourne. Melbourne also has a higher proportion of people born in Greece (49 per cent) and Italy (36 per cent).

The number of migrants from the Philippines has also soared, from 69,250 in the 2000s to 122,800 last decade. The vast majority (more than 91,300) live in Sydney, while 43 per cent of the 549,600 people born in China also live in the Greater Sydney region.

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