The balance of the sexes: The feminisation of Australia's population, 1901-2008

Brian Opeskin*, Rebecca Kippen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


The numerical balance between males and females in a population has been of long-standing interest to social scientists because of its effects on marriage, fertility, and the societal roles of men and women. Yet, little attention has been paid to mapping changes in sex ratios or identifying their demographic determinants. This study addresses this gap by examining secular changes in the balance between males and females in Australia from 1901 to 2008. A method of decomposing these changes into components due to sex differentials in fertility, mortality, and migration is described and applied. The study describes the gradual feminisation of the Australian population over a century and gives an account of how the ratio of the sexes differs by age and how long it takes to exhaust the numerical superiority of men at birth. The study explains these changes by examining long-term trends in the sex ratio of births, deaths, and net migration for successive cohorts. The relatively high mortality of males and the emerging pattern of feminine net migration since the 1970s explain the transformation of the Australian population from its highly masculine past to its contemporary state of greater balance between the sexes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)517-533
Number of pages17
JournalPopulation, Space and Place
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2012


  • Australia
  • Life expectancy
  • Migration
  • Mortality
  • Sex differentials
  • Sex ratios


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