The population is just different here

This week our blog follows on from out topic last week (please refer) and provides a ‘compare & contrast’ of the Australia’s population by looking at how centralised it is.

Last week I highlighted the fact that most people live in the capital cities.  As at June 2008, Australia’s estimated residential population was approximately 21.3 million persons.  Of these 21.3 million, just under 13.7 million persons or 64.1 percent of people lived in the capital cities, 61 percent of the population lived in our five largest cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide).

If we compare these trends to the USA firstly, the table below details the 25 largest cities population wise in America.

Top 2o US cities by population

City 2007 Estimated population % of total population
New York, N.Y. 8,274,527 2.7%
Los Angeles, Calif. 3,834,340 1.3%
Chicago, Ill. 2,836,658 0.9%
Houston, Tex. 2,208,180 0.7%
Philadelphia, Pa. 1,449,634 0.5%
Phoenix, Ariz. 1,552,259 0.5%
San Antonio, Tex. 1,328,984 0.4%
San Diego, Calif. 1,266,731 0.4%
Dallas, Tex. 1,240,499 0.4%
San Jose, Calif. 939,899 0.3%
Detroit, Mich. 916,952 0.3%
Indianapolis, Ind. 795,458 0.3%
Jacksonville, Fla. 805,605 0.3%
San Francisco, Calif. 764,976 0.3%
Columbus, Ohio 747,755 0.2%
Austin, Tex. 743,074 0.2%
Memphis, Tenn. 674,028 0.2%
Baltimore, Md. 637,455 0.2%
Fort Worth, Tex. 681,818 0.2%

Source:, US Census Bureau

In 2007, America had an estimated population of 301.3 million persons, New York City was by far and away the most populous region of the country however, it accounts for less than 3 percent of the total population.  The five most populous cities as detailed above account for 6.17% of the country’s population.  Australia, a country of 21 million people has five cities with a population of more than 1 million persons, the US a country of more than 300 million inhabitants has just nine. Sydney, which is Australia’s most populous city accounts for one fifth (20.6%) of Australia’s population

If we have a look at the United Kingdom’s population it is also dispersed right across its small land mass.

To 20 UK Cities by Population


City 2001 Estimated Population % of total population
London 7,172,091 12.2%
Birmingham 970,892 1.7%
Leeds 715,404 1.2%
Glasgow 577,869 1.0%
Sheffield 513,234 0.9%
Bradford 467,665 0.8%
Edinburgh 448,624 0.8%
Liverpool 439,477 0.7%
Manchester 392,819 0.7%
Bristol 380,615 0.6%
Cardiff 305,353 0.5%
Coventry 300,848 0.5%
Leicester 279,921 0.5%
Belfast 276,459 0.5%
Nottingham 266,988 0.5%
Newcastle On Tyne 259,000 0.4%
Kingston Upon Hull 243,589 0.4%
Plymouth 240,720 0.4%
Stoke-On-Trent 240,636 0.4%
Wolverhampton 236,582 0.4%


Source:, 2001 UK Census

Although the available population data is a little older, it still shows that the population is dispersed and not centralized, well not outside of London anyway.  Although London is very populous it still accounts for a smaller proportion of the national population than both Sydney and Melbourne.  Whilst Australia has five cities with a population of greater than 1 million, London is the only United Kingdom city which reaches the 1 million persons mark.

Now I’m the first to admit there are many parts of Australia which are not practical to live in but when you have 64 percent of the population centralized into capital cities it’s no surprise that there is going to be a significant housing cost.

As I suggested last week we should take the lead from the US and UK and spread ourselves out across the country as much as possible.  By spreading out across the country we can provide more affordable housing.  This can’t be left up to residents. Government’s need to encourage changes by providing employment and essential services in areas outside of capital cities.  It is also a chance for a fresh start with infrastructure. Governments obviously can’t get it right in capital cities, perhaps they can start again and get it right in major regional centres.  These areas don’t need to be a long distance from the capital city, less than 150 kilometres away is fine so long as residents can still commute to the capital city if need be.

Undoubtedly the capital cities will always be the most populous areas of each state but luring residents out of these areas will ease the strain on infrastructure and will provide opportunities to deliver affordable housing.  This will only work if there are jobs for these residents and if the wage is such that it allows residents to live a similar lifestyle (if not better) than the one they enjoyed when they were capital city residents.

Cameron Kusher

About Tim Lawless

Tim heads up the RP Data research and analytics team, analysing real estate markets, demographics and economic trends across Australia

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5 Responses to The population is just different here

  1. Fiona Ibrahim December 4, 2009 at 1:17 pm #

    Having lived both in the USA and in London, my experience is that the statistics do not represent the reality. London is a conurbation- in reality, it spreads all the way out into Kent, Sussex, Essex, etc. Similarly, Seattle in the Pacific Northwest of the USA, was even 20 years ago, a continuous urban strip along the Interstate freeway, then 60 miles of city, north and south. Legally, the city of Seattle, as with London, refers to quite a small proportion of what was a very large urban area.

    However, your point about finding a way to create affordable, attractive, and also, sustainable, living places for Australians- Not just adding another suburb to the existing urban sprawl, is vital. Hopefully the public, as well as the planners and politicians, will move to make it happen.

    Community discussion such as this is therefore a very good idea!

  2. Terry Grigg December 7, 2009 at 6:58 am #

    While I agree with your sentiments in the article about spreading the population into regional areas – there is certainly no reason, with current communications and the future NBN, why this can’t happen. If we can have call centres in Asia why not Shepparton or Geelong!

    However I do disagree with your US population figures. Those you list represent legal entities (city corporations) not the true metropolitan spread.

    If you use the Metropolitan Statistical Areas of the US, see Wikipedia, the figures are as follows:

    1. NY, northern NJ and Long Island – 19m
    2. LA, Long Beach, Santa Anna – 12.8m
    3. Chicago, Naperville – 6.3m

    These figures represent a more true comparison with Australia population statistics.

    Terry Grigg

  3. franklyn williams December 7, 2009 at 7:29 am #

    Infrastructure or the lack of it is a major issue when it comes to people deciding where to reside .Melbourne and Sydney have attracted the bulk of the migrants coming into this country .Melbourne for eg has several regional cities such as Dandenong in the south east or Geelong in the west,but the rail services to these places is shocking to say the least,plus the lack of schools ,industry etc .State and local governments have been playing politics for too long and the consequences of which are the lack of housing and the exhorbitant prices we all have to pay to live in a continent of only 20million

  4. arthur mezups December 14, 2009 at 10:09 am #

    No,No,No comparing our apples to the “Big Apple” can’t be done due to the uniqueness of New York and suggesting it’s ok to commute 150 km to work is planning gone mad.

    You cannot stand on a bridge over the M5 motorway and look at a 40 km carpark stretching from the Airport to Liverpool and justify infrastructure,fuel costs,or human misery.Cheap housing is not cheap when “the poor have to pay twice”

  5. Smidsy May 2, 2013 at 4:33 am #

    Although, as pointed out above, the statistics a questionable.

    I thoroughly agree that the “satellite” towns need to offer job prospects & wages to attract people.

    I live in Perth, and would love to live in Mandurah, but I know that jobs are hard to come by there as a professional, and career progression(if I did get a job), doesn’t exist. The only choice is a daunting commute to Perth. 3 hour commute for an 8 hour working day is not worth it for the dollars. So, I must live in Perth.

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