Demographics of Australia & the Pacific Islands

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  • 0:03 Population of…
  • 1:05 Ethnic Groups & Languages
  • 4:04 Religion
  • 5:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this video, you will be able to describe the demographics of Australia and the Pacific Islands, including population, ethnicity, language and religion. A short quiz will follow.

Population of Australia & the Pacific

The population of Australia and the Pacific Islands totals approximately 45 million as of 2013 with around 24 million in Australia, 4.5 million in New Zealand, 2 million in the rest of the Polynesian triangle, 14 million in Melanesia, and 580,000 in Micronesia. The Polynesian Triangle is a triangle with New Zealand at the southwest corner, Hawaii at the north corner, and Easter Island at the east corner. Melanesia and Micronesia are farther west.

This total of 45 million is comparable to a fairly large European country and so might be considered a small population. But not counting Australia, this area is actually pretty densely populated. While people are spread over a larger area of the Earth's surface, they live on islands; there isn't actually that much land surface. The total land area is 300,000 square miles (not counting the 2.97 million square miles of Australia), and isn't much bigger than France.

Ethnic Groups & Languages

While Australia and the Pacific Islands might not be large in land area, they're certainly diverse in ethnic heritage and language. There are 20- to 30,000 islands in the whole Pacific Ocean, and 19 countries (including Chile, Japan and the United States) that have islands there).

Australian ancestry is mostly European, with 60% of the population stating as such in the 2011 census. Of these, 36% have English ancestry, 10% Irish, and 9% Scottish. 35.4% of the Australian population simply consider themselves of 'Australian' ancestry, but only 3% of Australia's population are indigenous. These indigenous people were split further into as many as 500 tribes, speaking 250 to 300 languages and 600 dialects, though less than 200 are still spoken today. Among the general population, the vast majority speak English, and only 33% of the population speak a second language at all.

New Zealand was home to the native Maori people and has a much larger native population. 15% of the population are Maori, with 12% considering themselves to be Asian, and 7.4% Pacific Islander. But a full 67.6% describe themselves as 'New Zealand European.'

The Polynesian Triangle is home to two distinct groups culturally: East Polynesia and West Polynesia. In West Polynesia, the culture is one that is accustomed to high populations, strong marriages and judicial institutions, currency and trading. Eastern Polynesian cultures are more used to smaller groups and smaller islands. The Maori of New Zealand are believed to be Eastern Polynesian in descent. However, most of Polynesia has had an influx of settlers from around the world, and ethnic origins are now mixed. Hawaii, for example, has a large Asian population. There are around 30 indigenous Polynesian languages, though they are all similar: using the same vowel sounds and structures, and using an apostrophe to indicate a glottal stop (like in Hawai'i). However, while a large proportion of the people in Polynesia speak other languages, English is the official language of most islands and is the language most often spoken, followed by French.

Micronesia has five distinct ethnic peoples, but all of these are part of a larger Micronesian culture. The area contains 20 languages which form part of the Micronesian group of languages. The people of Micronesia are mostly related to Polynesians, Melanesian and Filipinos.

Melanesia is mostly inhabited by the Melanesian people who have been there for many thousands of years. They speak one of many Papuan languages (based around New Guinea), of which there are 800 varieties. However, there are also groups like the Motu and Fijians who speak languages of Polynesian origin.


According to the 2011 census, Australia is 61% Christian, with 25% identifying as Catholic, 17% Anglican, and 19% of other denominations. But Australia is a relatively secular country, with 22% declaring no religion, and 9% not answering the question. The number of Christians in Australia has declined significantly in recent years.

Just over half the population of New Zealand are Christian (as of the 2006 census), with 11% Catholic, 10% Anglican, and 22% making up other Christian groups. But New Zealand is even more secular than Australia, with around 39% declaring no religion and 12% not declaring one at all.

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