Thursday, March 20, 2008

How to find and use Australian census data 1 - Languages spoken at home case study

Given just how much browsing I do among Australian Bureau of Statistics data, I thought that it might be of interest to a broader audience to show some of the things that you can do with the census data.

Go to census data on-line. There you can search census data by location (1996, 2001, 2006) or by topic (2001, 2006). For both the 2001 and 2006 census data, there are a range of tools that you can use.

Let's start with one of my current pre-occupations, the nature of change in Sydney and NSW. One measure of that change is in the languages spoken at home because this provides one measure of cultural change. Now here the 2006 census results includes a very useful data set - 20680-Language Spoken at Home by Sex - Time Series Statistics (1996, 2001, 2006 Census Years) - New South Wales.

When you go the page, click on details and you will find a table that you can download in the form of an excel spread sheet. If you want to save the table for analysis, copy it onto a new spread sheet. You can then manipulate the data to your heart's content.

So before going on, what does the data tell us? Well, first it's NSW as a whole, so the state average conceals change within NSW. Even at this level, the stats show the huge changes that have been taking place.

Between 1996 and 2006, the number of people speaking only English at home rose from 4,730,822 to 4,846,670, an increase of 115,848 or 2.45%. Australians are generally mono-lingual, so this is one measure of "traditional" Australians.

By contrast, the number of people speaking a second language at home rose from 1,092,226 to 1,314,557, an increase of 222,331 or 20.36%.

Putting this another way, over the ten year period the proportion of NSW people speaking only English at home declined from 79 to 74%. This is actually quite a shift in a ten year period, a shift that we know was largely concentrated in Sydney.

But what do the numbers tell us about changes in the composition of the NSW population during the period? The results here are quite fascinating to someone like me.

During that ten year period, the top growth languages in absolute terms were:

  • Mandarin 59,944
  • Arabic 39,288
  • Cantonese 22,345
  • Hindi 18,237
  • Vietnamese 18,210
  • Korean 13,554
  • Tagalog (includes Filipino) 9,076
  • Tamil 6,674
  • Assyrian 6,550
  • Indonesian 6,235
  • Serbian 5,179

Not all languages grew. Those languages losing the largest number of speakers were:

  • Italian -15,477
  • Chinese Other (Hokien etc) -7,347
  • German -7,264
  • Greek -6,832
  • Maltese -3,404
  • Polish -2,767
  • Croatian -2,613
  • Hungarian -2,190

The pattern of language change is, as you might expect, directly linked to changing migration patterns.

The European languages in decline reflect major national groups that came to Australia during the post war migration period. Languages on the increase reflect recent migration.

I found the Chinese figures especially interesting.

The other, now declining, category is a bit of a hodge-podge, but includes languages such as Hokien dating back to earlier periods of migration.

The once dominant Cantonese, though still larger than Mandarin in absolute terms ( 129,604 speakers as compared to 100,595) , is clearly now being overtaken.

I will finish here to keep the post reasonably short. In my next post I will show you how you can drill down to local level, looking especially at the way in which you can create your own maps.


Lexcen said...

Thanks Jim.

Jim Belshaw said...

Good morning, Lexcen. You were one person I had in mind when I started this post! If you haven't discovered the map facility I describe in my next post, you may get side-tracked. If my memory hasn't failed me, I see, to remember the post you wrote on the census results in your own area.

Lexcen said...

Morning Jim, the map for my area shows a small square where indigenous population is at 1-3%. That's a surprise because I've never met any indigenous people in my area.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Lexcen. Glad to see that I side-tracked you!

The result may not be surprising. If the population of that small square is, say, 1000,then you are talking about 10-30 indigenous people.That's not a lot.

Anonymous said...

The Mandarin growth is not surprising, given the migrants arriving from PR China (and, less so, Taiwan) since the late 1980s; you still get a HK element boosting Cantonese, and Hokkien and other Chinese languages depending on where the speaker had come from. Having recently analysed the language background of Year 7 at SBHS, the most spoken-at-home non-English language was Shanghainese, a variety the census doesn't register. Shanghainese speakers also speak Mandarin. I guess you could make the analogy that Mandarin to Shanghainese is a bit like Danish to Norwegian, but Cantonese to Mandarin is more like Danish to English. Aside from the nature of Chinese writing making the two mutually comprehensible when written, speakers cannot understand each other. (For the writing, think numbers. 2008 is mutually comprehensible in writing right across Europe; spoken, not so.)

Lexcen, not all Indigenous Australias look like, um, Indigenous Australians...

I downloaded the atlas, Jim. I was especially fascinated to note the Eastern Suburbs are almost a public schools no go zone! More so than the North Shore.

Jim Belshaw said...

Good morning, Neil. I understood the reason for Mandarin's rise, but had never heard of Shanghainese.Very interesting. I must find out more some time.

I am glad that you downloaded the Atlas. It's a very interesting document. I noted the Eastern Suburbs public school figure. The ditribution of public school attendance across Sydney provides a powerful argument for differential funding of public schooling as a social equity measure.

I spent some time trawling through the data for some of the most disavantaged areas in western Sydney such as Airds. Depressing stuff in some ways.

Anonymous said...

On Shanghainese, also known as Wu. M. speaks Shanghainese, another Wu dialect from Jiangsu Province, Mandarin, and of course English. I can actually hear the differences between Shanghainese and Mandarin, though I really speak neither.