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In this issue, we will focus on understanding statistical concepts, and examine the difference between censuses and surveys. All censuses and surveys are based on a population. A population is an entire group with at least one characteristic in common. For example, every person in Australia on Census Night or, another example is every agricultural property in Australia. We can measure certain characteristics within this population by using a census or a survey.
A census collects information from every unit in a population. As a result, data is truly representative of the whole population and detailed accurate data can be made available right down to small areas.
However, there are huge resource costs arising from the expansive coverage so the number of questions asked is usually kept to a minimum. Processing the data takes time and usually only main results are released. More detailed results are not as readily available and need additional time and money to provide.
In a survey, only part of the total population is selected. The survey data is then used to make inferences about the whole population, providing a reasonably reliable picture of that population. Most ABS findings are based on surveys, covering such topics as household expenditure, employment, crime, etc.
ABS surveys are generally conducted on a nationwide basis and produce data at a national, state and sometimes regional level, but detailed data for small areas are not available.
Costs are generally much lower than a census so more questions, or more detailed questions can be asked, and results can be available far more quickly.
For further explanation of terms see Statistical Language! (cat. no. 1332.0.55.002)
If you would like to know more about statistical literacy and its relevance to you, check out the article: What is statistical literacy and why is it important to be statistically literate? as featured in Tasmanian State and Regional Indicators (cat. no. 1307.6) or visit the Understanding Statistics portal on the ABS website.
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