Recent Commonwealth Treasury intergenerational reports have failed to consider the very different challenges that arise for the Indigenous population as a consequence of demographic ageing. Almost universally across the country, Indigenous populations are moving into a phase of demographic transition that will see the population in the prime workforce age groups peak relative to those of dependent age. This phase of so-called demographic dividend enables the maximising of income, savings and investments, at least potentially. Given current levels of Indigenous education, workforce participation and productivity the danger is that the opportunity for Indigenous families and communities to ‘cash in’ on this transitory structural position may be foregone, or at least less than optimised, for want of adequate human capital among key implicated cohorts. This paper explores these issues by establishing interactions between population change, educational outcomes and workforce participation among the Indigenous residents of Wadeye in the Northern Territory. It reveals structural connections between demographic and socioeconomic change and demonstrates that far from benefitting from demographic dividend, the Wadeye community is more at risk of prolonged dependency due to almost wholesale disengagement from schooling. The immediate challenge is twofold—to restore participation in compulsory schooling and to engage the substantial numbers who have already moved beyond school age with limited exposure to formal education in productive activity.
Keywords: Indigenous demography, schooling, education, employment, population change, Wadeye.