Age composition

A further demographic feature that has implications for current economic status and future economic need is the contrast between the age distribution of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations (as shown in Figure 2.4) for the East Kimberley region as a whole. For the Indigenous population, several features are noteworthy. First, the broad base of the age pyramid describes a population with continued high fertility (a Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of 3.3). Second, the rapid taper with advancing age highlights continued high adult mortality. Using the ABS experimental Indigenous life table for the Northern Territory (which arguably reflects age-specific mortality rates closest to those of the East Kimberley population), life expectancies for males and females are seemingly stuck at around 56 and 63 years respectively, with much of the excess mortality occurring in adult ages (ABS 2002b). Third, uniformity in the decline of population with age suggests net inter-regional migration balance. Finally, the relatively large numbers of women in the childbearing ages, and the even larger cohorts beneath them, indicate substantial population momentum with associated high potential for future growth in numbers. Actual numbers in each age group are shown for Indigenous males and females in Table 2.5.

Figure 2.4. Distribution of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populationsa of the East Kimberley by age and sex, 2001

Distribution of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populationsa of the East Kimberley by age and sex, 2001

Note: a. Based on 2001 ABS ERP

By contrast, the non-Indigenous age distribution is typical of a population that is subject to selective inter-regional migration producing net gains among those of working age and their accompanying children, and net losses in the teen ages and at retirement. Underlying this pattern are high rates of population turnover (Taylor and Bell 1999). Furthermore, stability in the shape of the non-Indigenous age pyramid over time reflects the on going role of this region within the Western Australian economy as a place of selective migration tied to short-term employment opportunity (Bell and Maher 1995).

Table 2.5. Estimated Indigenous resident population by five year age group and sex: Northern East Kimberley, 2001

Males Females Total
0-4 293 313 606
5-9 303 250 553
10-14 260 256 516
15-19 246 212 458
20-24 183 202 385
25-29 168 178 345
30-34 167 158 325
35-39 132 141 273
40-44 91 112 202
45-49 89 89 178
50-54 58 62 120
55-59 58 50 107
60-64 35 42 78
65-69 36 31 67
70-74 14 22 36
75+ 35 33 68
Total 2,166 2,151 4,317

The study region

For the population in the study region, place of enumeration data are utilised to examine whether any variation is evident in the age distribution of those Indigenous people counted in the three towns of Kununurra, Wyndham and Halls Creek as opposed to those counted in rural communities. The idea here is that the towns may be more attractive to certain age groups since they contain high schools and post-secondary training facilities, and are the focus of most mainstream employment in the region. Table 2.6 examines this proposition for Aboriginal residents of the region and the data show very little variation between town and country populations. If anything, the age profile in towns is slightly older, especially among females, but the proportion of the population in the young adult age group of 15-24 is lower in towns than in communities. In both sets of locations, the age pattern is very similar to that described by the ERP for the East Kimberley as a whole, with around 40% of the population under 15 years of age and very low proportions of people over 65 years.

Table 2.6. Percentage age distribution of the Indigenous population counted in communities and towns within the Northern East Kimberley, 2001

Communities

Towns

Males

Females

Total

Males

Females

Total

0-4

12.8

15.5

14.1

15.0

14.2

14.5

5-14

25.3

24.9

25.1

26.2

21.8

23.8

15-24

22.0

19.8

21.0

16.8

18.4

17.6

25-44

26.3

24.3

25.4

24.8

29.9

27.5

45-64

9.8

10.5

10.1

13.1

11.6

12.3

65+

3.8

5.0

4.4

4.2

4.2

4.2

Total

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

Source: Indigenous Area Profiles, ABS Cat. no. 2002.0