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Sex Ratio

As an immigrant city, Melbourne had more males than females in its settler population throughout its first half-century. Despite assisted immigration schemes designed to bring young women to the colony, the number of males attracted by both the pastoral industry and gold far outnumbered the available women, diminishing opportunities for marriage and family formation. Although this imbalance would be evened out by natural increase, the gold-rush generation left the city with a male predominance until the latter years of the 19th century. Males outnumbered females by almost two to one in 1854. 'As to ladies,' wrote newcomer George Stephen in 1855, 'I have not yet seen one at large. If there are any, I conclude that they are secreted in the bush. They certainly are never visible in Melbourne or its environs.'

By 1881 the older people in the city's population were predominantly male, but among those under 45 the sex ratio was more even. Melbourne's economic decline over the next 20 years accelerated what began as a natural change. The tendency of men to leave the city in search of work, combined with women's greater longevity had, by 1901, created the beginnings of the female majority that would mark the city's population in the future. As with most mature cities in the Western world, Melbourne is now home to more women than men.

Shurlee Swain