EXPERT REACTION: 2016 Census data released

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The Australian Bureau of Statistics has published the 2016 Census data. The findings include that there were 23,717,421 people were in Australia on Census night, an 8.8 per cent increase from 2011. An independent report into the 2016 Census found the data were of good quality and are fit-for-purpose. The report says that although there were problems with the online Census form, the digital approach should be continued.

Organisation/s: Australian Bureau of Statistics

Media Release

From: Australian Bureau of Statistics

Census reveals: we're a fast changing nation

The results of the latest national Census today reveal we’re a fast changing, ever-expanding, culturally diverse nation.

It has been less than 10 months since the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) took the pulse of the nation to find out who we are, how we live, what we do, and where we’re headed.

The Census has helped update Australia’s estimated resident population, which has grown to 24.4 million people by December 31, 2016.

The 2016 Census counted 23,717,421 people in Australia on Census night, which included 23,401,892 people who usually live in Australia– an 8.8 per cent increase from 2011. On Census night, over 600,000 Australians were travelling overseas.

The Census found that New South Wales remains our most populous state, with 7,480,228 people counted, ahead of Victoria in second (5,926,624 people) and Queensland in third (4,703,193 people).

Yet it’s the home of the nation’s capital – the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) – that experienced the largest population growth of any state or territory over the past five years, adding more than 40,000 new residents – an increase of 11 per cent.

Located approximately 45 kilometres from the Perth CBD in the woody hills of the Darling Scarp, Serpentine - Jarrahdale showed the fastest regional growth in the country, with a population increase of 51 per cent to 27,000 people – up from 18,000 people in 2011. Gungahlin, a thriving northern area in the ACT, continues to flourish and is now home to 71,000 people, up from 47,000 in 2011 – an increase of 50 per cent.

Stretching from the beaches of Bondi and Manly to the Blue Mountains, Greater Sydney once again came in as Australia’s largest population centre, with 4,823,991 people, with around 1,656 new people calling the Harbour City home every week since the last Census. However, the cultural hub of Greater Melbourne is closing in fast with 4,485,211 people, increasing by around 1,859 people every week since 2011.

1.3 million new migrants have come to call Australia home since 2011, hailing from some of the 180 countries of birth recorded in the Census, with China (191,000) and India (163,000) being the most common countries of birth of our new arrivals.

While the majority of migrants settle in Sydney and Melbourne, most Kiwis choose to call Queensland home, with more than one in three (35 per cent) of the 98,000 New Zealanders who have arrived in Australia since 2011 settling in the Sunshine State.

Of all Australian residents, just more than a quarter of people (26 per cent) said they were born overseas, with England remaining the most common country of birth other than Australia. However, with China, India, and the Philippines all in the top five, for the first time in our history, the majority of people born overseas are now from Asia, not Europe.

At the same time, we remain a predominantly English speaking country, with 72.7 per cent of people reporting they spoke only English at home. Tasmania had the highest rate of people speaking only English at home with 88 per cent, while the Northern Territory had the lowest rate at 58 per cent.

Australia also remains a predominantly religious country, with 60 per cent of people reporting a religious affiliation. However, the proportion of people reporting no religion increased to 30 per cent in 2016 – up from 22 per cent five years ago and nearly double the 16 per cent in 2001.

Australians are getting older. The 2016 Census found that there are 664,473 additional people aged 65 and over since 2011. Tasmania is our most experienced state, with nearly one in five people aged 65 and over. The Apple Isle also recorded Australia’s highest median age (42 years), ahead of South Australia (40 years).

The proportion of the people who reported as having Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin has increased again in 2016, accounting for 2.8 per cent of the population. With 649,171 people indicating that they have Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin, the population size has increased by 18.4 per cent since 2011, and nearly doubled since 1996.

Australian Statistician David W. Kalisch said the ABS was pleased to deliver this valuable dataset for Australia, emphasising it is high quality and acknowledging the participation of Australians.

“2016 Census data provides a detailed, accurate and fascinating picture of Australia and our communities,” Mr Kalisch said.

“Once again, thanks to the participation of millions of Australians in last year’s Census, the ABS has today unveiled a comprehensive range of Census data that provides valuable insights into the makeup of our population and will be used to inform critical decisions that guide the future of our nation over the coming years.”

The Independent Assurance Panel, established by the Australian Statistician to provide extra assurance and transparency of Census data quality, concluded that the 2016 Census data can be used with confidence.

“The 2016 Census had a response rate of 95.1 per cent and a net undercount of 1.0 per cent, meaning the quality is comparable to both previous Australian Censuses and Censuses in other countries, such as New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom,” Mr Kalisch said.

“Sixty-three per cent of people completed the Census online, embracing the digital-first approach and contributing to faster data processing and data quality improvements.

“The ABS undertook a range of quality checks, including a thorough Post Enumeration Survey, to ensure the data can be trusted. These quality assurance measures, and a range of other factors, were considered and verified by the Panel.”

Expert Reaction

These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives on this issue. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Views expressed are the personal opinions of the experts named. They do not represent the views of the SMC or any other organisation unless specifically stated.

Dr Mark Antoniou is a researcher in the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development at Western Sydney University

Over 300 languages are spoken in Australia, making us one of the most multicultural and linguistically diverse nations in the world. English remains by far the most spoken language in Australian homes. Interestingly, the census figures reveal a shift in the top languages spoken at home from European to Asian. This reflects recent immigration trends. Mandarin remains the most spoken language other than English, and the number of Mandarin speakers has increased quite dramatically. Arabic has climbed to become the third most spoken language, followed by Vietnamese and Cantonese. Hindi and Punjabi also have increasing numbers of speakers. In contrast, European languages such as Italian, Greek, and Spanish have fallen in the rankings, and each of these European languages has been declining in their number of speakers.

Last updated: 29 Jun 2017 4:36pm
Dr Jenna Condie is a Lecturer in the School of Social Sciences and Psychology at Western Sydney University

The 2016 census data shows that the number of households where at least one person accesses the web continues to increase. The vast majority of Australian households - 83.2% - have someone in the home that accesses the web. We can take this as a good sign, given the web increasingly mediates all aspects of our lives. However the data suggests that there are still a good number of Australian households not online (14.1%) and it is important that existing social inequalities are not furthered by advances in digital technologies. It would be useful to know more about the quality of Australia’s web use – how well are people using the web and what do we need to do to support people to use the web in meaningful ways?

Last updated: 27 Jun 2017 1:33pm
Professor Adam Possamai is the Director of Research in the School of Social Sciences and Psychology at Western Sydney University

With the 2016 census, Australia is less a Christian country (from around 61% in 2011 to 52%), and is only just over half Christian dominant. It has become more of a secular country with around 22% of the population claiming to have no-religion in the former census to close to 30% in this round. It is the first time in the history of our country that the no-religion category is the largest group in Australia. In 2011, it was the Catholics (around 25%) who are now down to around 23%. Australia is also more a non-Christian country as religions other than Christianity are at around 8% (from 7% in 2011).

Last updated: 27 Jun 2017 1:30pm
Dr Shanthi Robertson is a Senior Research Fellow in the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University

Many of the trends on migration and cultural diversity revealed in the 2016 Census are unsurprising. Migrants today are increasingly young and educated, tend to settle in urban areas and, although the UK and New Zealand remain key source countries, today’s migrants are more likely than in the past to hail from Asian countries, particularly India and China.

What the data only hints at, though, is that Australia’s cultural landscape is increasingly one of cultural complexity as well as cultural diversity. With source countries for new migrants diversifying and numbers of second generation and third generation Australian increasing, cultural diversity in Australia is increasingly transformed by generational change, high levels of intermarriage, cultural adaptation, multilingualism, ‘hybrid’ identities and the increasing transnational mobility for work, study and visits of both the overseas-born and the Australian-born.

Ethno-cultural boundaries and group identities that may have seemed clear in the early stages of multiculturalism, are likely to become less clearly defined, as ethnic communities experience more internal diversity and more first and second-generation Australian have multiple cultural identities and affiliations that can both overlap and change over time.

Australians with Indian ancestry, for example, can have a wide range of linguistic and religious affiliations, while Australian residents with Chinese ancestry may have transnational connections across a global Chinese diaspora, not just mainland China. Migrants who arrive from the UK and New Zealand, which also have histories of multiculturalism, can also have diverse heritages. These trends will in the future involve a rethinking of diversity and how it’s measured in Australia.

Last updated: 27 Jun 2017 1:20pm
Dr Emma Power is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Social Sciences and Psychology at Western Sydney University

2016 Census data shows that a declining proportion of Australian households own or are purchasing their own home. This confirms a long-standing national decline (a national trend since 1971 of 69%).

In conjunction with declining home ownership we are also seeing an increasing proportion of renter households in Australia.

Australian renters are paying higher rents – median household rent has increased at a greater rate than median personal income. This has greatest impact on single person households and single-parent and couple households where there is only one income. The median single income household would need to spend more than 50% of their household income to pay the median rent. This is unaffordable by any measure and is indicative of the housing stress facing Australian renters.

Last updated: 27 Jun 2017 1:13pm
Dr Rae Dufty-Jones is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Social Sciences and Psychology at Western Sydney University

Australian households are changing. The traditional nuclear family is declining as a proportion of all household types, and there are increasing proportions of single parent households and couple households without children.

Since 1991 the proportion of multi-family households has more than doubled, and lone-person households have increased by almost 25%. 

Despite these trends the make-up of the Australian housing stock has not shifted dramatically. This is because most housing is historical stock – it was built to suit the traditional nuclear family rather than the more diverse household types we see today.

There is a need for more diverse or flexibly designed housing to accommodate the changing nature of Australian households.

This could include housing that is designed to allow multi-family households to share a house well. For example, that provides spaces that are large enough for households to come together, but also give families privacy.

There is also a need for housing that is adaptable over time – for example, houses with doors that lock to turn a larger house into a few smaller dwellings would allow households to alter their housing to suit their changing needs as people move in and out of the household.

Last updated: 27 Jun 2017 1:09pm
Dr Louise Crabtree is a Senior Research fellow in the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University

The Census figures show that a greater proportion of households are carrying mortgage debt and a greater proportion of households are renting. These figures are consistent with concerns that home ownership is becoming unaffordable in Australia.The ongoing growth of lone person households and corresponding reduction in household size is also worth noting – as this indicates that the types of housing that might be appropriate or desirable in Australia is changing.

Last updated: 27 Jun 2017 1:05pm
Dr Kate Huppatz is a Lecturer in the School of Social Sciences and Psychology at Western Sydney University

The Census data shows that our understanding of what constitutes a ‘family’ needs to catch up to lived experience. For some time we have been seeing a growth in diverse family formations. While the nuclear family is still considered to be the norm, one family and couple family households are on the decline and lone person, single-parent, and multiple family households are on the increase, as are same-sex couples and couples without children.

Migration, an ageing population, divorce, increased gay and lesbian rights and our tendency to delay marriage and family would all play a part in these trends.

There is also an important gender dimension to these family statistics – women make up the majority of lone person households and single-parents. Women therefore face specific economic and social challenges which require sensitive solutions from communities and government policy.

Last updated: 27 Jun 2017 1:03pm
Dr Luis Angosto Ferrandez is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at Sydney University

Rather than merely adapting to the social world, censuses play a central role in configuring it. Censuses legitimise certain social identities, but they can also contribute to generating those identities. In this regard, some analysts consider that censuses nominate groups into institutionally recognised existence.
Politics, and not only demographics, is at the core of national censuses. The release of the 2016 Australian Census Data is a great opportunity to increase public awareness around key aspects of contemporary life in Australia and discuss plans for the future of the country.
Another important aspect in contemporary censuses is that of self-identification. This is a relatively recent mechanism in the history of censuses, replacing external identification – that is, when a census enumerator decided what was the social identity of the interviewee according to pre-existing categories. 
Self-identification overcomes undignifying census practices and is expected to provide more realistic portraits of the cultural diversity in a country.

Last updated: 27 Jun 2017 12:59pm
Professor Peter Phibbs is Head of Urban and Regional Planning and Policy at Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning, University of Sydney

Australia’s housing affordability problem is not only having an impact on the number of people renting versus buying, but is also driving up household sizes, especially in Sydney where average household size has continued to climb.
This means that while Sydney’s population is continuing to grow, affordability pressures mean that the number of dwellings to service this increased population is struggling to keep up, as more people are living in each dwelling.

Last updated: 27 Jun 2017 12:57pm

Professor Lisa Jackson Pulver is Pro Vice-Chancellor Engagement and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership at Western Sydney University. She was a member of the Census Independent Assurance Panel that assessed the quality of the census data.

The Census Independent Assurance Panels report has been released. In it, we determined the 2016 Census data is of comparable quality to the 2011 and 2006 Census data and can be used with confidence.

The 2016 Census results for those who identified as being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander are comparable to those who identified their background in the 2011 Census. There remains a large undercount of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and this is a concern that that ABS will need to address. One way to do this is to work more closely with communities and understand better what communities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want from the Census. These are hard conversations to have, but ones that are needed so that the statistical agency and its many partners can serve better the needs of vulnerable Australians.

Last updated: 27 Jun 2017 12:41pm
Dr Peter Robinson is a Senior lecturer in Sociology and History at Swinburne University of Technology

Census data showing an increase in same-sex marriages is welcome because the more the ABS is permitted to collect more information on our same-sex populations the safer and more established they will become.

The number, in excess of 46,000, suggests same-sex people can enjoy couple status and privileges without the need for marriage, which in Victoria would be a function of the State's relationship legislation which allows same-sex couples of more than two years' standing the same rights and privileges as de facto straight relationships, a fact often overlooked in the gay marriage debate. It suggests also that homophobia is in decline.

Permitting the ABS to collect more details about where same-sex relationships predominate would help because until they can occur as safely and easily in country towns and regions as they do in parts of Melbourne, Perth and Sydney and provincial cities we cannot finally say that homophobia is on the wane or has been eliminated.

Last updated: 27 Jun 2017 11:36am

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