Tasmania’s population growth (and lack thereof) was again the focus of calls to increase skilled migration to the state. The Tasmanian liberal party today announced that it would seek to increase skilled migration in an attempt to increase the state’s population to 650,000 by 2050 (http://www.tas.liberal.org.au/news/big-tasmania-%E2%80%93-boosting-our-share-business-and-skilled-migration-0).
Acknowledged by Will Hodgman as an ambitious target, it aims to increase Tasmania’s current population by roughly 137,000 people in the next 37 years. The target is above both the medium growth projections of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Demographic Advisory Council and the Tasmanian Treasury.
For the year ending March 2013, Tasmania recorded the slowest population growth in the nation at .1%, compared with 1.8% nationally. Broadly, there are three key components to population change; natural increase (more births than deaths), net overseas migration, and net interstate migration (the difference between arrivals and departures to the state). Although Tasmania recorded positive population growth in 2012 (up 1,750 people from 2011), the mass exodus of people from the state was the single most contributing factor to the states’ sluggish population growth.
Net interstate migration in Tasmania has historically been negative (Figure 1 below), while net overseas migration has remained positive since 2001 (data not shown). In the year 2011/2012, Tasmania recorded its greatest net interstate migration loss since 1999/2000 with over 12,738 people exiting the state (and only 10,186 to replace them, resulting in a loss of 2,552 people). The state gained roughly 995 people due to net overseas migration.
My population projection work (which was presented to the leader and advisors of the Liberal Party prior to the release of this policy), demonstrates the large numbers of interstate migrants needed to reach the population target of 650,000 by 2050. These numbers are in excess of net gains of 3,000 people each year (from interstate and overseas migration combined), beginning immediately (2013) and remaining constant for the next 37 years.
Additionally, it would require an increase in the total fertility rate of Tasmanians (already the second highest in the country at 2.001). In a previous entry, I have discussed that Tasmanians are already achieving their desired family sizes (http://www.aminakeygan.com/1/post/2013/09/abbotts-paid-parental-leave-scheme-unlikely-to-cause-baby-boom-in-tasmania-heres-why.html). As such, it is unlikely that the substantial population growth required to meet this target is going to come from natural increase.
In sum, any sort of population policy for Tasmania, is, at its core, a migration policy. While my work suggests the Liberal’s population target is unlikely to be met, particularly within the designated time frame, I do hope the policy release will ignite a more informed discussion concerning Tasmania’s population future.
There is significant economic (and population growth) opportunity in continuing to attract international (full-fee paying) students to Tasmania. It is in the state’s best interests to provide easier pathways for international students to remain in Tasmania upon completion of their education. These pathways should also provide opportunity for their families to relocate in Tasmania if desired. This not only brings economic capital to the state (presumably because the parents are able to afford full university fees up front and accommodation close to campuses), but also social capital and diversification.
Problematically however, the desire to continue (and increase) international student attendance to the state, sits at odds with the Federal Government’s cuts to higher education which are anticipated to see almost $24 million cut from the University of Tasmania over the next four years. Potentially, this will have serious adverse effects for the regional campus located in the state’s North West region, particularly given recent plans in conjunction with the Burnie City Council to develop new student accommodation for international/interstate students (see: http://www.cradle-coast.utas.edu.au/whats-new/whats-new/utas-at-the-makers).
Last month, prime minister elect, Tony Abbott formally announced his paid parental leave scheme (PPL). The PPL, which provides working mothers with 26 weeks of paid leave (at their current salary entitlements, plus superannuation) is hoped to cause a baby boom and falls in line with Abbott's "pro-growth" attitudes. The policy is couched in terms of making it easier for women (and men) to have the families they desire, whilst also maintaining female participation in the labour market (which helps alleviate increasing dependency ratios driven by an ageing population).
However, research has repeatedly demonstrated that the contributions of cash incentives (in the form of the Baby Bonus) and the previous PPL scheme to Australia's fertility rate have been relatively insignificant (you can find that research here, here and here). Cumulatively, the research shows that the costs of implementing these policies is exorbitant and their effectiveness in driving population growth is low. After all, they fail to adequately address the long term costs associated with bearing and rearing children.
In addition to these shortcomings, I maintain that there is an additional, equally important factor missing from the debate regarding the efficacy of these policies--intended family size. No one has asked "how many children do people intend to have?".
Using data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey, I question how many children Tasmanians' want--and importantly--whether or not they are having them. The HILDA survey questions individuals on how many children they intend to have, as well as the numbers of children they have already born--this allows for the creation of measures of 'intended family size' (children born + additional children intended).
My findings are surprising and question the efficacy of Abbott's PPL scheme increasing fertility in Tasmania (where we already have the nation's highest fertility rate at 2.17 births per woman).
As shown below, in 2011, on average, the current family size (children already born) of Tasmanian men and women actually exceeded the numbers of children Tasmanians reported they intended to have (intended family size). Put simply, Tasmanians are already achieving (and exceeding) the family sizes they intend. This is a unique position for Tasmania. The 'gap' between intended and actual family size is well documented throughout Australia, however, no where else are Australians achieving their childbearing goals in the same way as they are in Tasmania.
Given this context, it is unlikely that the current PPL scheme will entice Tasmanian women (and their partners) to increase their family sizes.
This is not to say, however, that the PPL scheme should be abandoned. Until the previous Labour Government's introduction of a federally funded PPL scheme, Australia was only one of two countries (out of 34--the United States is the other) in the Organisation of Co-operation and Economic Development (OECD) that did not offer its' citizens paid parental leave.
Under Abbott's new scheme, Australia will be brought into line with the vast majority of other OECD countries that pay parental leave at replacement level wages.
Policies that support Australians in having children, and (initially) alleviate some of the financial burden associated with bearing and rearing them are of national importance, and in the country's best interests. However, in order to affect the birth rate, effective policies that address the long term costs--both opportunity and financial--of having more children are required.
Last week I attended a population growth debate at the University of Tasmania. The house moved that "bigger is better for Tasmania", and the negative offered clever rebuttal by couching their arguments in the catchphrase "smaller is smarter".
While both sides presented convincing arguments, the majority of them were focussed on broad sweeping motherhood statements and provided little substantive flesh on the bones. The team in the affirmative made calls for "making Tasmania amazing", encouraging "engagement", "critical thinking" "cultural diversity" and "community inter-connectivity". On the other side, rebuttals came in the form of growing "niche markets", "ending our growth fetish" and creating "small innovative enterprises". Surprisingly, no one addressed how these goals could be or would be achieved.
I do not adopt a value position on whether Tasmania's population should be bigger, or should be smaller. We are what we are and we need to work within those parameters to be the best we can be (talk about motherhood statements!). What struck me most during this debate was the audience polling.
Overwhelmingly, both before the debate began, and at its end, the audience was strongly opposed to the idea that bigger is better for Tasmania. There was very little desire for the state's population to grow.
Now, I am not suggesting that on the basis of a informal opinion poll of roughly 200 Tasmanians that this attitude is reflective of a broader community desire to keep our population numbers down. But, it did get me thinking, particularly in the context of recent Tasmanian population projections, and the Liberal's plan for a "BIG Tasmania". The first projects our population increase (at its medium target) by almost 59,000 people by 2062, while the latter aims for a population of 650,000 by 2050 (a whopping increase of 138,000 people over the next 37 years).
These figures make me wonder, and so I turn to you, the readerHow big is too big? How big is big enough? And, what do Tasmanians actually want?
Population projections are the calculation of the number of persons we might expect to be living in a certain population based on the numbers living now and current age-specific mortality and fertility rates. Projections are a very useful demographic tool and allow us to envision the possible future size and composition of a population. However, all too often, their potential is misunderstood or undervalued. This reflects, in part, a common belief that projections are predictions, and a word of caution is required when interpreting them. Population projections are always based on a very specific set of circumstances and provide certain hypothetical 'what ifs' for future directions of population change.
Last month the Department of Treasury and Finance released its latest population projections for Tasmania. The projections cover the period 2013-2062 and the medium series sees our population grow by around 65,000 people in the next 50 years. The low and high projections--which do not necessarily provide either higher or lower limits of population for the decades ahead--see Tasmania's population decline by 68,000 and grow by roughly 240,000 people, respectively.
Notably, the medium series projects that in 2062 Tasmanian men will outnumber Tasmanian women by around 6,600--the opposite of our current sex distribution. Mother nature has always ensured that more boys are born than girls (evolutionary demographers suggest this is due to men's increased health complications and risk taking behaviour), and it is likely this pattern will continue. What is unlikely however, is whether in the future Tasmania will 'rain' men.
Last year, men outnumbered women in all age groups in Tasmania except those between 35-59 (and those in the very old age groups due to women's increased life expectancy over men). Notably, the majority of this difference can be explained in terms of net migration losses to the mainland. In 2012, the largest group to leave the state were men aged between 35-59 years old--presumably for better employment/wage opportunities given Tasmania's current economic climate.
Unless effective policies can be designed and implemented in order to retain Tasmania's working age population, it is unlikely that Tasmania will 'rain' men in the foreseeable future.
See related link: "Tassie could rain men in a population boom expected to add 78,000 people in 50 years"