What Austria's latest census tells us about how its society is changing

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected]
What Austria's latest census tells us about how its society is changing
Austria fared particularly badly in a recent study on racial discrimination. Photo: Jacek Dylag/Unsplash

Data from the latest Austrian census show how the country's foreign-born community is balancing out the effects of an aging population - and also highlights other ways society is changing in the Alpine nation.


Like many of its European neighbours, Austria is a country undergoing a major demographic shift. With the wave of baby boomers entering retirement and child birth rates remaining low, the older segments of the population are growing while the working-age population is shrinking.

The results of the latest census, conducted in 2021, shows that over-65s now make up almost 20 percent (19.4 percent) of the Austrian population - up from 14.4 percent back in 2011. 

This means that every one in five people in Austrian has now reached retirement age. 

Meanwhile, the working-age population shrunk as a percentage of the population as a whole over this time. In 2011, people aged 15 to 64 made up a solid 69.4 percent of Austria's population, but by 2021, this had dropped to 66.2 percent. 

READ ALSO: Austria breaks population growth record in 2022

The lowest aged segment comprising people under the age of 15 also decreased slightly in the decade before the survey, going from 15.4 percent in 2011 to 14.4 percent in 2021.

"The trend of a growing and ageing population in Austria will continue in the coming years," explained Tobias Thomas, Director General of Statistics Austria. 

However, Thomas also pointed out that the population as whole was also continuing to grow over time - largely as a result of migration.

In the ten years between 2011 and 2021, Austria's population grew from around 8.4 million to almost nine - an increase of 6.7 percent. (Incidentally, it is currently around 9.1 million in 2023.) 


Back in 2022, deaths actually outnumbered in births in Austria, but unusually high net migration that year - largely due to the war in Ukraine - meant that the country's population continued to grow in spite of this.

READ ALSO: Ukrainian refugees push Austria’s population past nine million

At the time of the census, however, more than 1.8 million first-generation immigrants lived in Austria, making up just over 20 percent of the population. 

Most foreigners in Austria hail from Germany, with Romanians, Serbians, Turks and Croatians also ranking in the top five immigrant groups.

Among working age people, the proportion of people born in another country was higher than average, with foreigners making up almost 25 percent of this group.

As of 2021, there were around 1.74 million people over the age of 65 living Austria, compared to around 5.93 million people aged between 15 and 64. 

The data suggests that migrants are currently bolstering gaps in Austria's working force and rebalancing the demographics a little at a time when large numbers of baby boomers are starting to claim their pensions.

It also demonstrates the impact migration has had on boosting the country's population growth, in spite of its aging population. 

Smaller households and longer commutes

Another key trend that emerged in the census was the continued drop in the size of the average household, with the vast majority of Austria residents currently living in one- or two-person homes or flat-shares.

In the 1961 census, less than half (around 46 percent) of Austrian households were comprised of less than three people, but by 2021, this had ballooned to more than 68 percent, with around 38 percent living alone.


Over those sixty years, the average number of people in a household shrunk from 3.02 to 2.19, potentially reflecting a shift away from traditional family structures and an increasing level of mobility among the population. 

A tram in Vienna.

A tram in Vienna. Photo by Jiamin Huang on Unsplash

In addition, people in Austria showed a strong level of flexibility about where they worked, with one in every seven workers - around 600,000 people - commuting to a different federal state each day. The average journey to work in Austria took 27 minutes, though people in mountainous regions took an average of eight minutes more. 

Unsurprisingly, Vienna had particularly strong appeal for workers, with more than a quarter of the capital's labour force commuting into the city for their job. 

Trend towards higher education

A particularly positive trend in the recent Austria census was the increasing number of people recieving qualifications after school, and the growing share of women receiving a higher education.

Overall, the huge shifts in the educational structure and gender roles can be seen in the census data recorded over the years.

In 2021, just 27.9 percent of women said they had only completed compulsory schooling, compared to 73 percent of women in 1971. 

READ ALSO: The verdict: Is it worth enrolling your kids in one of Vienna’s international schools?


Nowadays, women also make up 54 percent of the some 1.18 million people who said they had a degree in Austria, with women generally having far more university qualifications than men in the 20-40 age group.

On average in the population as a whole, with 16.3 percent of women saying they were university graduates in 2021, compared to just one percent in 1971. Among men, the percentage of university graduates increased 3.5 percent to 14.4 percent over this time. 


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