Since the federation of Australia in 1901, national censuses have been conducted, with the first one being held in 1911, and subsequently every five years except during the Great Depression and the world wars. The last Australia census was held in 2011. As there is a question on religion, the Jewish community in Australia is able to build a fairly accurate picture of its demographic profile. One problem with the census figures is that there is clear undercounting, which most demographers believe to be around 20 percent after comparing the census data with relevant community statistics. Although previously conducted on a state-by-state basis, in 2011 this was also done on a national basis. This collaboration was a result of the GEN08, a major survey of Australian Jewry undertaken by the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation at Monash University, Melbourne, headed by Professor Andrew Markus, in collaboration with the Jewish Communal Appeal (JCA) in New South Wales. The discussion below is based on a report on the 2011 census, compiled by Dr. David Graham.12
The adjusted population figure for 2011 is 112,000, a 6 percent increase from 2006, when it was 105,000. Although this is only 0.8 percent of the total world Jewish population, Australia ranks as the ninth largest Jewish community, just after Germany. Despite the fact that the Jewish population has continued to increase since Australia’s foundation, it has remained a fairly static 0.5 percent of the total Australian population since convict days. However, the geographical spread is uneven, with 0.9% in Victoria, 0.6 percent in New South Wales, 0.3 percent in Western Australia, and only 0.1 percent in the other states.
The vast majority of Australian Jews are city dwellers, with 95 percent of Jews living in the capital cities, and 85 percent in Melbourne and Sydney, compared with 38.9 percent of the general population in these two cities. In Melbourne, Jews reside in a small band of suburbs in South-East Melbourne. In Sydney, most Jews live in the Eastern Suburbs.
The Jewish population is older than the general population with the overall median age being 42, compared to 37 in the general population. Overall, there are slightly more Jewish women than men, although this also differs on a state-by-state basis. The General Fertility Rate (GFR) is similar to the general population, but fell between 2006 and 2011. The majority of Jews live in households, rather than alone, with 61 percent of Jews living in couple families and 28 percent living alone. Both these figures are larger than the general community, which are 56 percent and 23 percent respectively.
The major factor in the growth of Australian Jewry has been immigration. Only 51 percent of Jews are native born, compared with 77 percent of the general community. The largest migrant group is from South Africa, constituting 13.5 percent of the Jewish community. They are followed by immigrants from the Former Soviet Union (11.2 percent), and Israelis (6.2 percent). Another 6.2 percent are from North America, and around 4 percent originate from Europe. The number of French Jewish immigrants is likely to increase in the coming years, although Australia has strict immigration rules. Immigration from South Africa and Israel continues, while immigration from the FSU has virtually ceased as they no longer enjoy refugee status, which ended in 1997.
Different Jewish migrant groups have gravitated toward particular cities. South Africans have largely settled in Sydney and Perth. In contrast, FSU Jews have preferred Melbourne, also home to many Polish Jews, who migrated there after the Shoah. Israelis, too, are more likely to settle in Melbourne. Although Russian is still the most common non-English language spoken at home, Graham argues that Hebrew will likely overtake it soon. The percentage of Polish- and Hungarian speakers is declining as the Holocaust generation passes away.
Like Jewish communities in other parts of the world, Australian Jewry is highly educated and exceeds the general community in all statistics. 60 percent of primary schoolchildren attend non-government schools, mainly Jewish, with this percentage increasing to 76 at high school. 77.3 percent completed secondary education, compared to 47.4 percent of the general population. This has a flow-on effect. The percentage of Jews attending university is 6.2 percent compared to 4.3 percent of the general population. 67 percent of those in their 30s have a bachelor degree, compared to 33 percent for the general population.
The high education levels, combined with Jewish entrepreneurship, are reflected in the Jewish community’s earning capacity. One third of the Jewish community has a gross weekly earning capacity of $3000, compared with only 14 percent of the general population. The average Jewish income is $1000/week compared to $760 for the general population. However, poverty does exist in the Jewish community; 14.6 percent have low family incomes. Single parent families, elderly Russians and Holocaust survivors, largely female, are represented in this group.
There is also a clear gender divide, both in terms of education and earning capacity. More men than women in their 60s have a university degree (31 percent compared to 24 percent), although there are more women in their 20s and 30s with a university degree than men. However, men are ahead in their earning capacity, with the average Jewish male in full-time work earning $90,000 per annum compared to $72,000 for women. On the other hand, women are still carrying the major burden of unpaid work in the home.