Before the COVID pandemic Victoria was the fastest growing state in the nation. The population grew at an average of more than 2.0 per cent per annum for most of the previous decade. Victoria’s population decreased during the pandemic period. This was the first decrease in many years. The interactive chart below (Chart 1) illustrates this turnaround. It displays financial year data up to 2020/21. You can view the total population, the annual change, or the rate of change over two decades.
Victoria’s population peaked at almost 6.694 million people in June 2020. The year 2019/20 contained only one ‘pandemic’ quarter. Growth was below 100,000 for the year though, compared with an average growth of 140,00 for the five previous years. During the year 2020/21 Victoria’s population decreased by 44,700 people to finish at 6.649 million in June 2021.
Chart 1: Total population and population change, Victoria
Quarterly change data show more detail. The population has decreased for five consecutive quarters (see Chart 2 below). The last time Victoria’s population decreased was in the June quarter of 1993. This was during the 1990s recession. Victoria lost migrants to overseas and interstate.
In the June quarter of 2020 Victoria’s net overseas and interstate migration was negative. In September 2020 the losses were larger than the gain through natural increase. The population decreased. The next section outlines the changes to migration flows which led to these net losses.
Chart 2: Quarterly components of population change, Victoria
Migration flows during COVID
Changes to movement and migration patterns have been notable during COVID. Before the pandemic migration was the strongest driver of growth. Lockdowns prevented many Victorians moving beyond their local area for everyday purposes. Yet many were able to make larger long-term moves. Since the beginning of the pandemic more people have left Victoria than have arrived. Chart 3 below shows changes in Victoria’s quarterly overseas and interstate migration patterns.
Chart 3: Migration flows and net results, Victoria
Overseas migration patterns changed in three phases
- Immediate travel shutdown: From early 2020 restrictions dramatically reduced international arrivals and departures. Overseas migration arrivals reduced from 36,900 in the June quarter of 2019 to 3,100 in the June quarter of 2020. Overseas migration departures reduced over the same period, from 24,000 to 5,600. As a result, there was a Net Overseas Migration loss of 2,500 people in the June quarter of 2020.
- Largest out-flows: In the second half of 2020 overseas arrivals remained very low. Departures began to increase. Very few people were able to travel to Australia. At the same time temporary migrants were able to leave Australia. Net Overseas Migration losses were 20,800 in the September quarter and 19,100 in the December quarter.
- Towards net zero – then another wave: In early 2021 the level of departures began to decrease. Arrivals began to increase. The loss in March 2021 almost halved to 10,600. By June 2021 the net loss was 5,600 people, the smallest since June 2020. The net loss increased again in September 2020 to 10,800. Another COVID wave appeared, and with it came further restrictions.
Interstate migration patterns can also be understood as three phases.
- First lockdown reduces arrivals: In the first stage of the pandemic departures remained steady and arrivals decreased. This led to a net loss of 6,600 people over the June and September quarters of 2020.
- Volumes increase, losses peak: From December 2020 the volume of arrivals and departures began to increase. Over the next two quarters departures remained well above arrivals. Victoria lost 11,000 people (December 2020 and March 2021).
- Record volumes but smaller losses: In the June and September quarters of 2021 interstate migration volumes reached record levels. The previous peak was 48,000 moves in December 2018. Both the June quarter (50,000 moves) and the September quarter (62,000 moves) set new peaks. As volumes increased the gap between arrivals and departures decreased. There were net losses of 3,700 in June 2021 and 2,100 in September 2021. The September figure was the smallest interstate migration loss of the pandemic period.
Changes in age structure during COVID
Before the pandemic Victoria’s population had been increasing across all age groups. (See interactive Chart 4 below.) Between 2017 and 2019 the state’s population increased by over 275,000 people. Almost half this increase (131,000) was in the ages 15 to 44. These increases represent the impacts of recent waves of overseas and interstate migration.
Chart 4: Population by age group, Victoria
The migration losses during COVID have had clear effects on young adult age groups. Overseas migrants come to Australia under different visas. These include international students, temporary workers and working holiday makers. Many of these arrive in the country in their late teens and early 20s.
The age group 15-29 years shows the largest decrease over the last two years as migrants have left the country. The population in this age group decreased by 80,000 or almost 6% between 2019 and 2021. The largest part of the decrease was in the year 2020-21. In this year alone the age group decreased by 66,000 or almost 5%. As a share of the Victorian population, the 15-29 age group decreased from 21.2% in 2019 to 19.8% of the population in 2021.
Migration has little impact on the size of the population at older ages. The population aged 75 years and over increased by 76,000 or 18% from 2016 to 2021. There was an increase of over 18,000 in 2021-21 while the state's population was decreasing.
Population future beyond COVID
There is considerable uncertainty around the post-COVID future. It is unknown when Victoria will re-open for a return to ‘normal’ levels of overseas migration. There is a common assumption driving some published projections. It is assumed migration will return over two-to-three years. At this point Victoria will resume pre-COVID growth rates. Chart 5 below shows recent growth rates and two published projections. The two projections contain similar assumptions and short-term results.
The Victorian Government produces a State Budget each year. A Budget Update follows mid-year. The assumed population growth rate used in economic modelling is published with the Budget Update Papers. These projections show Victoria’s growth rate to be 1.7% by 2023-24.
The Commonwealth Centre for Population publishes an annual Population Statement. The Statement describes recent population change across Australia. It also provides an outlook for the future. The projections in the Statement show Victoria reaching a growth rate of 1.8% by 2023-24.
Chart 5: Historic and projected population growth rates, Victoria
What data informed these insights
Quarterly population estimates are the key data informing these insights. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) publishes these estimates six months after their reference date. The most recent publication was in March 2022, with data up to 30 September 2021.
The population forecasts in the final section of this piece are from two sources:
- The Victorian Government produces an annual Budget Update which reports on progress since the previous State Budget. These forecasts are from the December update to the 2021-22 State Budget.
- The Commonwealth Government forecasts are from the December 2021 Population Statement. The Statement describes recent changes to Australia’s population and projects future population changes.
Download the summary data tables (Excel, 22.7 KB) used to create the graphs above.
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