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2077.0 - Census of Population and Housing: Understanding the Increase in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Counts, 2006-2011 Quality Declaration 
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 17/09/2013  First Issue
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CHANGING PROPENSITY TO IDENTIFY AS BEING OF ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER ORIGIN BETWEEN CENSUSES

INTRODUCTION

The 93,300 increase in the count of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people between the 2006 and 2011 Censuses was larger than can be fully accounted for by demographic factors (natural increase and migration). For further information about the increases resulting from demographic factors, refer to the chapter Measuring Changes in Population between Censuses.

There are other factors that help explain the part of the increase which cannot be accounted for by demographic factors. These include:

  • improved coverage in the 2011 Census, resulting in some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were missed in the 2006 Census being counted in the 2011 Census (this is explored further in Technical Note 1: Measuring Change in Population Estimates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
  • a decrease in the number of Census records with an unknown Indigenous status between the 2006 and 2011 Censuses, meaning that more people had their Indigenous status recorded in 2011 than in 2006, some of whom would have been of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin (this is explored further in Technical Note 2: People for Whom Indigenous Status is Unknown, and
  • an increased propensity for people to identify themselves and their young children as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin in the 2011 Census than in the 2006 Census.
This chapter explores the final point, an increased propensity to identify as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin, by focusing on the increase in the count of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for the three age cohorts which experienced the largest increases between 2006 and 2011 (0-4 years, 5-14 years and 20-54 years in 2011).


SUMMARY OF FINDINGS
  • In 2011, 10,500 more people aged 20-54 years identified themselves as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin than people aged 15-49 years in 2006. Many of these people would have been parents.
  • As Census forms are usually completed by a parent on behalf of children, the increase in the count of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children aged less than 15 years is linked to the increased count of parents who identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin in 2011 but not in 2006.
  • Analysis of age cohort data indicates that a person's propensity to identify as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin tends to vary across life stages.

CHANGES IN INDIGENOUS STATUS OF CHILDREN

Children aged 0-4 years

The 2011 Census counted 67,400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 0-4 years, which was an increase of 11,800 from the 2006 Census which counted 55,600 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 0-4 years.

An examination of the fertility rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander females by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found no significant change in the fertility levels between the periods 2001-2006 and 2006-2011. For further information about this analysis, refer to Technical Note 3: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Fertility Rates.

Census forms are usually completed by a parent on behalf of children aged less than 15 years. This means that the increase in the count of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 0-4 years that was far greater than that expected was the result of increasing numbers of parents identifying their children as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin in the 2011 Census than in the 2006 Census.

Children aged 5-14 years

The 2011 Census also counted 16,200 more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 5-14 years than Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 0-9 years in the 2006 Census. Any changes to the counts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in this age group would be expected to come from deaths and overseas migration. While improved coverage in the 2011 Census is likely to have contributed to some of the increase, a key contributor is likely to be parents identifying these children as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin in the 2011 Census but not in the 2006 Census.

Children with mixed parentage

The ABS looked at the extent to which the increase in the count of children identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin could be attributed to an increase in the count of children with mixed parentage.

For the purposes of this statistical analysis, mixed couples are opposite-sex couples where one person is of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin and the other is a non-Indigenous person. Mixed couples as a proportion of all Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander couples (where at least one person is of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin) increased from 71% in 2006 to 74% in 2011.

The count of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children aged 5-9 years in 2011 was 9,400 greater than the count of those aged 0-4 years in 2006. The analysis indicates that half of the 9,400 increase was attributable to children with mixed parentage, while 35% (3,300) was attributable to children where both parents were non-Indigenous people or one parent was a non-Indigenous person and the other parent's Indigenous status was unknown.


INDIGENOUS STATUS OF PARENT(S) OF ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER CHILDREN AGED 0–4 YEARS IN 2006 AND 5–9 YEARS IN 2011(a)

2006
2011
Change
Proportion of total change
no.
%
no.
%
no.
%
%

Indigenous status of parent(s)
Both parents of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin
10 105
18.2
10 516
16.2
411
4.1
4.4
One parent of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin
32 899
59.2
37 607
57.9
4 708
14.3
50.3
Both parents non-Indigenous or one parent non-Indigenous and one parent Indigenous status unknown
7 331
13.2
10 593
16.3
3 262
44.5
34.8
Both parents Indigenous status unknown
5 233
9.4
6 220
9.6
987
18.9
10.5
Total
55 568
100.0
64 936
100.0
9 368
16.9
100.0

(a) Usual residence Census counts. Excludes overseas visitors. Includes Other Territories.


While this suggests that mixed couples were more likely to identify their young children as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin in 2011 than in 2006, it is important to note that it is not possible to fully quantify the extent to which mixed couples have contributed to the increase due to incomplete information (that is, where the Indigenous status of the parent(s) is unknown).

Link between increased count of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and increased parental identification

To further explore the link between the increased count of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the 2011 Census and increased parental identification, the ABS attempted to connect children to their mothers using the Family Tree method. For further information about this method, refer to paragraph 27 of the Explanatory Notes.

Using the Family Tree method, it is possible to match young children with their biological mothers using Census information on the relationship in the household, the family reference person indicator, and the number of children ever born. As older children may be less likely to live in the family or live with their mothers due to family dissolution or other factors, this method will generally match more younger children to their biological mothers. For this reason, the analysis focused on Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children aged less than one year in 2006 and compared them with their age cohort of children aged five years in 2011.

The analysis found that just over two-thirds of the matched children aged less than one year in 2006 (68%) and aged five years in 2011 (69%) had an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander mother, suggesting that the Indigenous status of the biological mother did not have an impact on whether the child was more or less likely to be identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin in 2011 compared with 2006.

Application of the Family Tree method resulted in 86% of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children aged less than one year in the 2006 Census being matched with their biological mothers aged 15-49 years in 2006. In the 2011 Census, 79% of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children aged five years in 2011 were matched with their biological mothers aged 20-54 years in 2011.

While the matching rate was lower in 2011, there were 1,400 more five year olds matched with their biological mothers in 2011 than children aged less than one year who were matched with their biological mothers in 2006. This is due to an increase of 6,700 in the count of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander females aged 20-54 years in 2011 when compared with their age cohort of females aged 15-49 years in 2006.


ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER CHILDREN AGED LESS THAN ONE YEAR IN 2006(a) MATCHED TO THEIR BIOLOGICAL MOTHERS(b), by age cohort in 2006

Graph shows more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged five years in 2011 were matched with their biological mothers than those aged less than one year in 2006


In addition to the 6,700 females aged 20-54 years in 2011 who identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin in 2011 but not in 2006, there were 3,700 males who also identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin in 2011 but not in 2006. This resulted in 10,500 more Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people aged 20-54 years in 2011 than those aged 15-49 years in 2006, many of whom would have been parents. The results of the analysis above supports the premise that the increase in the counts of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children between 2006 and 2011 is linked to an increased count of parents who identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin in 2011 but not in 2006.


CHANGES IN INDIGENOUS STATUS ACROSS TIME AND IN DIFFERENT CONTEXTS

Changes in Indigenous status across life stages

Understanding some of the reasons why a person may choose to identify as an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person assists in the interpretation of statistics about Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples. Unexpected changes in counts of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples, such as those observed between the 2006 and 2011 Censuses, suggest some individuals do not consistently identify themselves or their children as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin across time and in different contexts.

A person's propensity to identify themselves and their children as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin tends to vary across life stages, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people more likely to identify as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin as they grow older. The graph below shows the count of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 0-14 years in 1996 compared with their single year age cohorts in the four subsequent Censuses (that is, the counts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 5-19 years in 2001, 10-24 years in 2006 and 15-29 years in 2011). As the Census is not a longitudinal collection, it is not possible to say how many of the same Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are being counted across these age cohorts. In addition to mortality, two factors - Census undercount, and changing propensity to identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin either by parents of young children or by teenagers or young adults themselves - could contribute to changes in the counts of age cohorts between Censuses.

The graph shows that between 1996 and 2011, the count of children in the first four single year age cohorts (that is, children aged 0-3 years in 1996, 5-8 years in 2001, 10-13 years in 2006 and 15-18 years in 2011) was higher than in each previous Census. This provides the clearest indication there has been an increased propensity on the part of parents to identify their children as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin with each successive Census, as it is usually a parent who records the Indigenous status of a child on the Census form.


ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER PEOPLE(a) BY AGE COHORT IN 1996

Graph shows the Indigenous status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 0–14 years in 1996 has varied in the three subsequent Censuses as they have aged


In contrast, the counts of young adults in each Census are consistently lower than their single year age cohorts from the previous Census. This may be due to greater mobility in this phase of life (making an undercount of people in this age group more likely). It could also be a sign of young people having the opportunity to identify on their own behalf for the first time, resulting in some change in the reporting of Indigenous status for people in this age group. For example, the count of children aged 12-14 years in 1996 was higher than the count of people aged 17-19 years in 2001 and aged 22-24 years in 2006. In 2006, the count of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the same age cohort (that is, people aged 27-29 years in 2011) was lower than in 2011, possibly reflecting less mobility among people in this age group, and an increased propensity to identify as being an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person as part of this next stage of life.

Other factors influencing changes in Indigenous status

In 2012, the ABS conducted a series of focus groups with the aim of understanding the reasons why an individual may (or may not) choose to identify as an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person in surveys and censuses. This research explored changes to patterns of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander identification over time. Young participants compared negative experiences of older Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people known to them with their own more positive or neutral experiences. Participants also spoke about increased confidence in their identity as they grew older, leading to a greater propensity to identify as an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person.

Changes in the environment were also discussed in relation to changes over time in an individual’s identification behaviours. Participants commonly expressed the view that it is easier and more beneficial, both at the group and the individual level, to identify as an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person now than in the past. In addition, participants’ knowledge of the importance of identifying (for the purposes of social policy and population enumeration) and their increasing comfort with research questions were also mentioned.

Participants noted a range of factors influencing their decision to identify as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin, including:
  • pride and confidence in their identity
  • the perception that identifying may lead to positive impacts for the individual and/or wider Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community
  • the amount of information available about the reasons why information on Indigenous status is being collected
  • the content, purpose and relevance of the survey
  • past experiences
  • the belief and experience that identifying may lead to racism, discrimination or differential treatment.
Where the ABS was referenced specifically, participants expressed that they would identify as an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person in the Census.

It is important to note that focus group participants were self-selecting. Participation was open to people who identified as being an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person and so a bias toward consistent identification is possible in the participants’ views. The findings generated by the focus groups are valuable in informing discussion on identification behaviours, but are not representative of the views of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

For more information on this research, refer to the ABS information paper Perspectives on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Identification in Selected Data Collection Contexts, 2012 (cat. no. 4726.0).

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