4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2004  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 15/06/2004   
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Contents >> Preface


Australian Social Trends 2004 is the 11th edition of an annual series that presents information on contemporary social issues and areas of public policy concern. By drawing on a wide range of ABS statistics, and statistics from other official sources, Australian Social Trends describes aspects of Australian society, and how these are changing over time. It is designed to assist and encourage informed decision-making, and to be of value to a wide audience including those engaged in research, journalism, marketing, teaching and social policy, as well as anyone interested in how we live today and how we've changed over recent decades.

The material presented in Australian Social Trends 2004 is organised into eight chapters. As in previous editions, each of the first seven chapters represents a major area of social concern (i.e. population, family and community, health, education and training, work, economic resources, and housing), with an eighth chapter covering other areas of social concern (e.g.crime and justice, culture and leisure, and the environment). This edition also contains, for the first time, an introduction that expands on the rationale behind the publication and describes its main aims and features.

The opportunity has been taken to present some articles which expand and update analysis of topics examined in previous editions using the most recently available data. For example, in this edition, such articles cover population projections, child care, home ownership, and religious affiliation. There are also articles, including several that utilise data from the ABS 2002 General Social Survey, which cover new topics of interest, such as social interactions outside home, families with no employed parent, and paying for university education. The national and state summary tables which present key social indicators in each of the seven major areas of social concern have been updated, as have the tables comparing Australia with major OECD countries, our closest neighbours, and our trading partners. The number of articles listed in the cumulative index now comes to over 300, published across all 11 editions.

I would like to thank the people throughout the ABS who compiled, wrote and edited Australian Social Trends 2004, and Tony Eardley from the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, who contributed an article for the Economic Resources chapter. I would also like to thank reviewers from a range of Commonwealth agencies and departments who gave their time and expertise, and various organisations that assisted in other ways by providing data and advice, including the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Commonwealth Department of Family and Community Services.

The ABS welcomes readers' suggestions on how the publication could be improved. To convey your views or to ask for more information, please contact the Director of Social Analysis and Reporting at the address below.

Dennis Trewin
Australian Statistician

Australian Bureau of Statistics
PO Box 10
Belconnen ACT 2616

June 2004



The ABS approach to measuring population wellbeing divides wellbeing into component areas of social concern, e.g. health, family and community, work, and so on.(SEE ENDNOTE 1) While this approach is intuitive and useful, and largely mirrors the way in which social welfare is publicly administered, its success is partly dependent on the extent to which information can be re-integrated to provide a cohesive picture of society and social trends. Certainly, when policy makers, service providers or researchers seek information, their focus is on complex social issues, which often cut across such areas. For example, to usefully inform on an issue such as homelessness, a researcher would need to bring together data relating to housing, family and community, and economic resources; and data on employment, and health may also be relevant. Thus, Australian Social Trends (AST) aims to bring together data from a wide range of social data collections, and to present these data from an issues driven perspective. More specifically, AST aims to:

  • inform decision-making, research and discussion on social conditions in Australia, social issues of current and ongoing concern, population groups of interest, and changes in these over time - by drawing together up-to-date social data and analysis from both ABS and other official sources, and incorporating readily understood commentary about the statistics
  • support the monitoring and review of progress towards social goals, changes in social conditions, and levels of population wellbeing - by presenting a comprehensive set of social indicators on a regular basis.


Released in 2001, the publication Measuring Wellbeing: Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics (ABS cat. no. 4160.0) describes the conceptual organisation of social statistics in the ABS. It presents an overall framework, and various conceptual models used in each of nine main areas of social concern. This overall framework underpins the selection and presentation of material in AST.


AST articles focus strongly on people and social issues. Each year, the selection of topics for the articles is based on contemporary issues which may be informed using recent data. Each article aims to tell a story, providing a sense of the social and historical context in which a particular issue is embedded, moving from the general to the specific, and using statistics to bring light to the issue. Articles aim to provide relevant statistical facts surrounding the issue (e.g. number, characteristics, change over time, sex, age and other differences), together with context and explanation through highlighting relevant social developments. For example, each article may examine current circumstances, how circumstances have changed over time, how different groups of people have been affected, and how various factors may be linked to observed trends.

A key aspect of the publication is its readability. Information is deliberately presented in non-technical language that can be readily understood by the general reader. Statistics are organised to illustrate specific issues, and to highlight the meaning behind the data and the main patterns and exceptions. As far as possible, technical terms are defined separately from the flow of the main story, but are included within each article, so each article can stand alone.

The tables of summary indicators provided at the start of each chapter are a recurring feature of the publication (updated annually). However, the suite of articles changes each year, with some topics refreshed as new data become available. Thus, each edition remains responsive to contemporary concerns, while a more comprehensive picture of Australian social conditions is accumulated across editions. To enhance this approach, each article includes cross references to other articles in the current edition, and in previous editions. A cumulative topic list, covering articles from the 1994 to 2004 editions of AST, is at page 203.

Recurring topics have covered: population projections and growth; families, work and child care; disability and caring in the community; National Health Priority Areas; work related training; the social conditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; long-term unemployment; and income distribution.


AST complements the recent ABS publication, Measures of Australia's Progress (MAP) (cat. no. 1370.0). MAP presents a suite of indicators for reporting on economic, social and environmental progress and considers the interrelationships between these aspects of life. For the social perspective, three headline dimensions are used to discuss progress in the wellbeing of individuals: health; education and training; and work (with financial hardship covered under economic progress). Three further headline dimensions are used to measure progress in the way we live together as a society: family, community and social cohesion; crime; and democracy, governance and citizenship. In addition, MAP presents a number of supplementary indicators. However, the presentation and discussion of any suite of indicators cannot fully reveal the richness of Australian society - how Australians live together and, for example, how different areas of our lives are intertwined. AST extends both the breadth and depth of the social investigation presented in MAP.


Structure - Seven core areas of social concern form the chapters of each edition: population, family and community, health, education and training, work, economic resources, and housing. An additional chapter covers other areas of social concern, such as culture and leisure, transport and communication, crime and justice, and the environment. Occasionally an AST edition will focus on a theme. Past themes have included regional issues (2003), and the wellbeing of older Australians (1999).


Summary tables - The summary tables at the beginning of each chapter are a fundamental element of AST. They present a range of statistics that summarise key aspects of each core area. They show at a glance changes that have taken place at a national level over a decade, and differences across states and territories for the most recent year.

Articles - Each chapter contains several articles, each 3-6 pages long. The articles focus on specific social issues or population subgroups. They are designed to stand alone, while complementing one another in terms of content. Articles contain references to other AST articles that provide more background or in-depth discussion of a topic, and references at the end of each article direct readers to further Australian and international reading on the topic. A short summary of each article is provided on the chapter title page.

Sources and definitions - The main data sources used in an article, and definitions of key terms used, generally appear on the first page of the article, in the upper-right-hand corner. Data sources and definitions for the summary tables are provided directly following these tables.


International comparisons - A set of international summary tables covering the areas of population, health, education, and work are located towards the end of the publication. These tables enable the reader to consider Australia's international standing in relation to various key social indicators.

Cumulative topic list - This index lists all articles, from all AST editions, under topic subheadings.

AST seminars - The dissemination of each year's edition of AST includes seminars held in most states and territories. These are based on articles from the most recent edition supported by related statistics, with a state or territory focus where feasible. For information contact the client liaison area in ABS Regional Offices.

Access - All editions of AST can be accessed via the ABS web site; from the home page as well as PDF versions of each edition and Excel spreadsheet versions of the summary tables. Hard copies of the publication are available from ABS Regional Offices. For more information, see p. viii of this edition.

1 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2001, Measuring Wellbeing: Frameworks for Australian social statistics, cat. no. 4160.0, ABS, Canberra.

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