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3416.0 - Perspectives on Migrants, 2007  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 25/02/2008  First Issue
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MIGRANTS AND ENGLISH PROFICIENCY:
Information available from the Migrant Data Matrices

On this page:
INTRODUCTION
ENGLISH PROFICIENCY - MIGRANT-SPECIFIC, DEMOGRAPHIC DATA
EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT AND ENGLISH PROFICIENCY
LABOUR FORCE STATUS AND ENGLISH PROFICIENCY
HOUSEHOLD INCOME AND ENGLISH PROFICIENCY
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION


INTRODUCTION

This article serves two purposes:

  • it looks at the English proficiency of migrants to Australia, and interrelated factors such as educational attainment, labour force status and household income; and
  • it shows how the Migrant Data Matrices (ABS cat. no. 3415.0) can be used as a research tool.

The Migrant Data Matrices product was first released in November 2007. It provides an easier and quicker means of finding ABS migrant and ethnicity related data. The first issue features 18 data collections, with more to be added in future releases.

One collection, the 2006 General Social Survey (GSS), provides data on topics including health, housing, education, work, income, financial stress, broad assets and liabilities, transport, social capital, voluntary work, family and community, and crime. Survey respondents were asked about their country of birth and year of arrival, if born overseas. People who were born in non-main English-speaking countries (i.e. countries other than the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, the United States of America, Canada and South Africa) were also asked to self assess their proficiency in spoken English. Translators were used in some cases or other household members acted as interpreters for non-English-speaking people.

Migrant related statistics from the GSS are now available in the Migrant Data Matrices. Located under the Family and Community topic, the GSS matrix '3415.0 Migrants, General Social Survey, Australia, 2006' is an Excel workbook containing 32 spreadsheets on different topics, explanatory notes, links to the source publication and a glossary of migrant related terms. There is a wealth of information in the GSS matrix including:
  • migrant-specific data, e.g. year of arrival in Australia, age on arrival, birthplace, main language other than English spoken at home, Australian citizenship and visa category
  • demographic data, e.g. age group, sex, marital status and relationship in household
  • geographic data
  • work and education data
  • household income data
  • other survey-specific data, e.g. characteristics of friends, difficulties experienced with service providers, victim of crime, family and community support, housing mobility and financial stress indicators.

The 'English proficiency' variable is present in all 32 spreadsheets of the GSS matrix, which allows analysis across a wide range of social and other characteristics. This article presents a selection of findings from the GSS. It examines the English proficiency of migrants, and the relationships between language skills, education, work and income.

It is worth noting that information about English proficiency can be found in other ABS publications such as Labour Force Status and Other Characteristics of Migrants, Australia, 2004 (cat. no. 6250.0, also featured in the Migrant Data Matrices) and the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, Summary Results, Australia, 2006 (cat. no. 4228.0, to be included in the next issue of the Matrices). The 2006 Census of Population and Housing provides another source of information, which can be readily accessed from the ABS home page or the Migrant Data Matrices. This article used the GSS as its source because it provides a recent, broad range of statistics which can be readily accessed through the Migrant Data Matrices. For further information on ABS – and non-ABS – statistical sources relevant to migrants and ethnicity, please see the Guide to Migrant Statistical Sources, 2007 (cat. no. 3414.0).


ENGLISH PROFICIENCY - MIGRANT-SPECIFIC, DEMOGRAPHIC DATA

GSS respondents from non-main English-speaking countries were asked, "Do you consider that you speak English 'very well', 'well', 'not well' or 'not at all'?" Those who replied that they spoke English 'very well' or 'well' were classified as being 'proficient in spoken English', while 'not proficient in spoken English' was applied to the 'not well' or 'not at all' responses.

Looking at birthplace and English proficiency, people born in Southern and Eastern Europe had wide ranging responses with regard to their spoken English skills. This group accounted for 17.8% of all migrants who arrived before 2002. The longer-term residency may explain the higher levels of English proficiency among some individuals in this group (i.e. 23.9% of all people born in non-main English-speaking countries who are proficient in spoken English are from Southern and Eastern Europe). However, Southern and Eastern Europeans also accounted for the largest proportion (34.9%) of those who are not proficient in spoken English.

People born in South-East Asia comprise the second largest group (21.6%) of those born in non-main English-speaking countries who are proficient in spoken English. People born in North-East Asia account for the largest share (17.6%) of new arrivals, and tend to have lower levels of English proficiency (i.e. 28.9% of people born in non-main English-speaking countries who are not proficient in spoken English are from North-East Asia).

The table below highlights this information, which is available in Table 2.3 of the GSS matrix 3415.0 Migrants, General Social Survey, Australia, 2006 (483kB, xls). The GSS matrix does not provide a breakdown of English proficiency by year of arrival (see 'Additional information' at the end of this article). Data shown for year of arrival refer to all migrants.

BIRTHPLACE AND ENGLISH PROFICIENCY

Born in main English-speaking countries(a)
Born in other than main English-speaking countries(a)
Year of arrival(b)
Proficient in spoken English
Not proficient in spoken English
Arrived 2002 to 2006
Arrived prior to 2002
%
%
%
%
%

Oceania and Antarctica
21.7
3.9
*2.3
13.3
10.0
North-West Europe
65.9
12.0
**0.5
15.1
32.7
Southern and Eastern Europe
..
23.9
34.9
*4.8
17.8
North Africa and the Middle East
..
9.0
*11.8
*5.6
6.0
South-East Asia
..
21.6
16.4
13.9
12.9
North-East Asia
..
10.9
28.9
17.6
7.8
Southern and Central Asia
..
10.9
*2.3
17.3
4.4
Americas
4.4
np
np
*3.2
3.7
Sub-Saharan Africa
7.9
np
np
9.0
4.6
All persons aged 18 years and over(c)
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

* estimate has a relative standard error between 25% and 50% and should be used with caution
** estimate has a relative standard error greater than 50% and is considered too unreliable for general use
.. not applicable
np not available for publication but included in totals where applicable, unless otherwise indicated
(a) Includes all overseas born persons, including temporary residents.
(b) Excludes persons where year of arrival was not stated.
(c) Includes inadequately described.
Source: ABS 2006 General Social Survey (cat. no. 4159.0)


Data from Table 2.4 of the GSS matrix show the main languages spoken at home by people who are not proficient in spoken English are: Cantonese (12.9%), Italian (10.5%), Mandarin (9.2%), Greek (9.0%), Vietnamese (6.9%) and Arabic (5.8%).

English proficiency is generally higher among younger age groups, whereas people aged 55 years and over report lower levels of English proficiency. For example, the 25 to 34 year age group accounts for 19.6% of all people born in non-main English-speaking countries who stated that they speak English well or very well. This group comprises only 6.0% of those who do not speak English well or do not speak English at all. In contrast, the 65 to 74 year age group represents 19.5% of people who are not proficient in English and 9.2% of those who are.

The graph below presents data from Table 3.1 of the GSS matrix.

AGE AND ENGLISH PROFICIENCY,
People born in non-main English-speaking countries(a)
Graph: Age and English Proficiency, People born in non-main English-speaking countries


Data available from Table 3.2 of the GSS matrix show that males born in non-main English-speaking countries generally have higher levels of English proficiency than their female counterparts. Looking at the group who are not proficient in spoken English, 58.1% are female and 41.9% male.

SEX AND ENGLISH PROFICIENCY,
People born in non-main English-speaking countries(a)
Graph: Sex and English Proficiency, People born in non-main English-speaking countries


EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT AND ENGLISH PROFICIENCY

The educational status of people who were born in non-main English-speaking countries varies greatly. Looking at the people in this group who are not proficient in spoken English: almost 40% have 8 years or less of schooling, however, a similar proportion have completed year 12.

Interestingly, people born in non-main English-speaking countries who are proficient in English have a higher year 12 completion rate (64.9%) than people born in Australia (43.0%). Over 80% of all recent arrivals (between 2002 and 2006) have completed year 12. This compares with just over 50% for those who arrived prior to 2002.

The table below highlights this information, which is available in Table 5.2 of the GSS matrix. The GSS matrix does not provide a breakdown of English proficiency by year of arrival (see 'Additional information' at the end of this article). Data shown for year of arrival refer to all migrants.

HIGHEST YEAR OF SCHOOL COMPLETION AND ENGLISH PROFICIENCY

Born in Australia
Born in main English-speaking countries(a)
Born in other than main English-speaking countries(a)
Year of arrival(b)
Proficient in spoken English
Not proficient in spoken English
Arrived 2002 to 2006
Arrived prior to 2002
%
%
%
%
%
%

Year 12
43.0
50.9
64.9
39.0
82.4
53.5
Year 11
11.1
12.3
6.5
*13.0
6.4
8.5
Year 10
27.9
24.6
13.5
12.7
*13.0
19.0
Year 9
9.5
8.5
5.2
*13.0
**2.1
7.1
Year 8 or below(c)
8.6
3.7
10.0
39.2
*13.0
11.9
All persons aged 18 years and over
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

* estimate has a relative standard error between 25% and 50% and should be used with caution
** estimate has a relative standard error greater than 50% and is considered too unreliable for general use
(a) Includes all overseas born persons, including temporary residents.
(b) Excludes persons where year of arrival was not stated.
(c) Includes persons who have never attended school.
Source: ABS 2006 General Social Survey (cat. no. 4159.0)


Data from Table 5.3 of the GSS matrix show that people born in non-main English-speaking countries who are proficient in English have a higher rate of post-school qualifications (60.8%) than people born in Australia (52.7%). Around 45% of new arrivals hold a Bachelor degree or higher qualification, compared with 23% of people who arrived prior to 2002.

Looking at people born in non-main English-speaking countries who are not proficient in spoken English, only 27.2% hold a non-school qualification (compared with 52.7% for Australian-born).

LEVEL OF HIGHEST NON-SCHOOL QUALIFICATION AND ENGLISH PROFICIENCY

Born in Australia
Born in main English-speaking countries(a)
Born in other than main English-speaking countries(a)
Year of arrival(b)
Proficient in spoken English
Not proficient in spoken English
Arrived 2002 to 2006
Arrived prior to 2002
%
%
%
%
%
%

Postgraduate degree
2.3
4.7
8.8
**1.2
19.0
4.8
Graduate diploma/Graduate certificate
2.4
2.1
1.8
**0.5
**2.1
1.7
Bachelor degree
13.8
14.5
21.6
7.6
24.0
16.5
Advanced diploma/Diploma
7.6
11.6
9.7
*7.1
11.1
10.0
Certificate III/IV
17.4
17.4
11.8
*6.8
*5.4
14.3
Certificate I/II
6.5
7.8
6.0
*2.7
*2.8
6.7
Certificate not further defined
1.7
*1.5
*0.4
np
np
Level not determined
0.9
*1.3
*0.8
*1.4
np
np
Total with a non-school qualification
52.7
60.9
60.8
27.2
65.4
56.0
No non-school qualification
47.3
39.1
39.2
72.8
34.6
44.0
All persons aged 18 years and over
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

* estimate has a relative standard error between 25% and 50% and should be used with caution
** estimate has a relative standard error greater than 50% and is considered too unreliable for general use
— nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)
np not available for publication but included in totals where applicable, unless otherwise indicated
(a) Includes all overseas born persons, including temporary residents.
(b) Excludes persons where year of arrival was not stated.
Source: ABS 2006 General Social Survey (cat. no. 4159.0)


LABOUR FORCE STATUS AND ENGLISH PROFICIENCY

People born in non-main English-speaking countries who are not proficient in spoken English are less likely to be in full-time employment and more likely to not be in the labour force. Only 18.8% of this group were in full-time employment compared with 47.0% for those who were proficient in spoken English.

Over 60% of people born in non-main English-speaking countries who are not proficient in spoken English were not in the labour force (i.e. retired from work and other). Of these, 36.9% were retired.

The graph below presents data from Table 5.1 of the GSS matrix.

LABOUR FORCE STATUS, Country of birth and English proficiency
Graph: Labour Force Status, Country of birth and English proficiency



HOUSEHOLD INCOME AND ENGLISH PROFICIENCY

Reflecting their labour force status, people born in non-main English-speaking countries who are not proficient in spoken English are less likely to receive wages or salary and more likely to have government cash pensions and allowances as their main source of household income. Only 44.0% of this group were in the 'employee' category compared with 62.1% for those who are proficient in spoken English (58.9% for people who were born in English-speaking countries and 64.6% for those born in Australia).

Data from Table 6.1 of the GSS matrix also show that 34.2% of people born in non-main English-speaking countries who are not proficient in spoken English cited 'government allowances' as their main source of household income compared with 18.4% for those proficient in spoken English (21.3% for people who were born in English-speaking countries and 19.0% for those born in Australia). This may be due in part to changes in Australia's migration program in recent years, which has placed greater emphasis on skilled migration and on English proficiency.

PRINCIPAL SOURCE OF HOUSEHOLD INCOME, Country of birth and English proficiency
Graph: Principal Source of Household Income, Country of birth and English proficiency


Accordingly, people born in non-main English-speaking countries who are not proficient in spoken English tend to have lower levels of household income than other groups. Data from Table 6.2 of the GSS matrix show that 46.5% of this group were in the lowest range of household income compared with 23.3% for those proficient in spoken English (20.0% for people who were born in English-speaking countries and 17.6% for those born in Australia).

HOUSEHOLD INCOME RANGE, Country of birth and English proficiency
Graph: Household Income Range, Country of birth and English proficiency


However, Table 6.2 of the GSS matrix shows that people who arrived in Australia between 2002 and 2006 generally have a higher level of household income than people who arrived prior to 2002. For example, one quarter of recent arrivals are in the highest income range compared with one-fifth of people who arrived earlier.

HOUSEHOLD INCOME AND YEAR OF ARRIVAL(a)
Graph: Household Income and Year of Arrival



ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

This article presents some of the migrant and ethnicity-related information available from the ABS 2006 General Social Survey, which can be readily found in the new Migrant Data Matrices (ABS cat. no. 3415.0). A selection of migrant-specific data have been shown for people from non-main English-speaking countries with a focus on English proficiency, educational attainment, labour force status and household income. Data from nine of the 32 Excel spreadsheets in the GSS matrix were used, however this represents only a small proportion of the information available in the GSS and also in the Migrant Data Matrices. For additional information, please see the contents page of the GSS matrix, the GSS: Summary Results, Australia, 2006 (cat. no. 4159.0) or the Guide to Migrant Statistical Sources, 2007 (cat. no. 3414.0). As noted in the article, the GSS matrix does not provide a breakdown of English proficiency by year of arrival. These data were collected in the GSS but were not published due to high relative standard errors. (These microdata are available in Confidentialised Unit Record Files.)

The 2006 Census of Population and Housing provides another source of information, which can be readily accessed from the ABS home page. Individual tables of Census data are available by topic for chosen locations. For example, under the topic 'Language' there are 14 choices of data – such as 'Country of birth by proficiency in spoken English by sex' – which can be selected for a particular geographic area. These tables can be quickly prepared online and downloaded for free.

For further information about ABS data, please contact the National Information and Referral Service on 1300 135 070.



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