Indonesia’s 2020 Census: A first glimpse

Initial information from Indonesia’s population census of 2020 (SP2020) is now being released. The country conducts a full census once a decade.


As with everything in 2020 the roll out was affected by the Covid-19 crisis, but nonetheless the country was successful in conducting this key exercise in managing nationhood. Unless otherwise indicated all data in this note are sourced from the Indonesia Statistics Agency, BPS.

The national population in 2020 reached 270.2 million people. This was 31.6 million more, or 13.2 % higher, than at the time of the last census in 2010. This translated to an annual increase of 1.25%.

Artikel dalam Bahasa Indonesia di bawah: Sensus Indonesia 2020

This 1.25% increase represented a continuation of a 50 year trend in decelerating population growth since the early 1970s when annual population growth reached 2.3%. By contrast Australia’s rate of population growth over the past 10 years was over 1.5% per year.


Shifting regional balance of population

One of the key dynamics of Indonesia’s population profile is the steadily changing balance of distribution of the population. Historically Java has been the centre of the population in Indonesia. Tracking back to the 1950s there has been, however, a slow but steady decline in the concentration of Indonesia’s population living on Java.

In addition to census data, the Ministry of Home Affairs also maintains a registry of the population. This Home Affairs data is important especially as it used to inform issues such as the division of electoral boundaries and seat allocation from the national Parliament to local council levels. Historically there has not been a notable deviation between the data from the Ministry and the Census data from the Central Statistics Agency, BPS.

The chart below demonstrates the steady change in the percentage of Indonesians who live on Java.

The thin red dotted line represents a kind of trend line from the first national census in 1961 through to SP2020. In general the blue diamonds, which represent the data from the Ministry of Home Affairs, track quite closely to the census data. The most shocking deviation related to the Home Affairs data from 2012 (the data for which had to be used by the Election Commission to delineate electoral boundaries and seat allocation) for the 2014 elections is clearly an outlier. Given this deviance from the longer term trajectory of demographic developments, it may be worthwhile to enable the electoral authorities to make use of census data in future boundary delineations and seat allocations.

BPS also notes that the population at Census in September was 270.2 million. Interestingly they report that Home Affairs recorded a population of 271.35 million at the end of December 2020. Clearly the difference between the two as seen in the above chart is due to apparent regional differences in spread of population, not total population.

With specific reference to other major island regions of Indonesia the table below outlines the steady transformation in the distribution of the population over the past 50 years.

Java was the only major island region to experience a relative decline in population. The Southeast Islands (from Bali to West Timor) as well as Sulawesi retained a relatively steady proportion of the nation’s population over the past half century.

Meanwhile the regions of Sumatra, Kalimantan, the Moluccas and the Land of Papua enjoyed a relative expansion of the nation’s population residing there. These four regions have seen an increase in population from 23.7% of the national total in 1971 to 31.1% in 2020.

In terms of the total population on each of these major island groups, Java had 151.6 million, Sumatra had 58.6 million, Sulawesi had 19.9 million, Kalimantan had 16.6 million, the Southeast Islands had 15 million while the regions of the Moluccas and the Land of Papua had 8.6 million.

By way of comparison the small table to the right contrasts the regional shifts in Australia’s population over the past 50 years with those that have taken place in Indonesia.

The most notable development to note in the case of Australia has been the steady reduction in concentration of population from the more industrialised and cooler southeast corner of the country to the warmer and more resource rich northern and western regions of Australia.

The sharp increase in the relative population in the ACT region is a notable exception and may be worthy of consideration for those engaged in projecting the likely population growth in the newly established capital city region of Indonesia that is now being developed in rural East Kalimantan.

This quick comparison of the data in both tables above outlining the changing regional spread of populations suggests that Australia has seen more substantive transfers of population – certainly between the states/territories than has been seen in Indonesia between its major island regions. In terms of total population change, Indonesia’s population raise by 127% between 1971 and 2020 while Australia’s population rose by 109% in the 50 years between 1966 and 2016.

Sex ratios

SP2020 identified that national the sex ratio is now 102. This means that for every 100 females there are 102 males. Over the past 50 years there has been a steady but consistent increase of males relative to females. The following chart outlines these changes:

Among Indonesia’s 34 provinces Papua, North Kalimantan and Western Papua each have a ratio that exceeds 110 indicating a very high population of males. Meanwhile Yogyakarta and South Sulawesi are the only provinces with more females than males.

One of the common ways of identifying the future prospects for a healthy demographic is the sex ratio at birth. The table to the side compares the sex ratio at birth for a number of countries in the region. The data was sourced from the UN.

The world figure is 1.07, a figure that is obviously boosted by the extraordinary sex-imbalance in the large countries of China, Vietnam and India.

According to Human Rights Watch a sex ratio at birth that is not affected by pre- and early post-natal practices such as infanticide or negligent girl child deaths is a figure of approximately 105. East Timor, Indonesia, Australia, South Korea and Japan are each closest to that figure.

Revealing the demographic bonus

SP2020 identified that the percentage of Indonesia’s economically productive age (15 to 64 years) was 70.7% of the total population. This represents an historic record among earlier census findings.

Since 1971 the percentage of the population in the productive age segment has increased steadily from 53.4 to the current figure of 70.7%.

The percentage of the young population has been declining steadily over the past 50 years and is now barely half what it was back then.

At the same time the old age population (65 years and above) has more than doubled albeit beginning from a very low base.

Looking more closely at the various “generations” of people that are commonly used, an interesting development is now evident with the emergence of the Gen Z cohort as the largest group, now eclipsing the Millennial Generation. We may expect that by the time of the next Census in 2030 the remaining living Baby Boomers will have all moved into the post-65 year age group boosting further the percentage of Indonesians now living in the senior cohort of the population.

The contrast between Australia and Indonesia, in terms of the generational divides can be seen in the following adapted population pyramid.

In general Indonesia’s population is younger than that of Australia certainly in terms of the size of the older generations. Of some note is that in terms of the youngest generation, the so-called post-Gen Z cohort, the percentages between the two countries is almost the same. This no doubt is a reflection of the decelerating growth of Indonesia’s population.

Provisional conclusion

The data released by the BPS represents more of a “teaser” for the treasure trove of information that will be released later in the year.

SP2020 included some 99 questions to the population summarised in the side table. Full details of the contents of the SP2020 are as follows:

Future data will also include data disaggregated to at least the kabupaten and city level, not just the provincial level. The data revealed from the 2010 Census is a valuable source of understanding of socio-economic as well as socio-cultural circumstances of the population.  We will certainly be tracking the important release of further data from SP2020 as it becomes available.

Artikel dalam Bahasa Indonesia di bawah: Sensus Indonesia 2020

Photo at top: Antara/Oky Lukmansyah

Kevin Evans has been a student of Southeast Asia in general and Indonesia in particular for 35 years. During the 25 years he has lived in Indonesia, he has worked variously as a diplomat, stock broker, academic and NGO activist.

Picture of Kevin Evans

Indonesia Director
The Australia-Indonesia Centre

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