IDENTIFICATION AS AN ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER PERSON IN THE CENSUS OVER TIME
This article was prepared by the ABS' Centre of Excellence for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Statistics and was reviewed by:
- Dr Fadwa Al-Yaman (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare)
- Fui Choong (Department of Health)
- Prof. Lisa Jackson Pulver AM (University of Sydney)
- Richard Percy (Department of Health)
- Debra Reid (Chair of ABS Round Table on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Statistics 2013-2019)
- Prof. Ian Ring (James Cook University)
- Emma Rowland (Department of Health)
- Dr Tomoko Sugiura (Department of Health)
- Dr Andrew Taylor (Charles Darwin University)
- Prof. Maggie Walter (University of Tasmania)
The ABS greatly values the knowledge, expertise and contributions of these reviewers and thanks them for their time and input.
INTRODUCTION AND KEY STATISTICS
An important consideration in official statistics for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is that a person’s Indigenous status can change over time. The reasons for this are varied and complex.
In Australia, Indigenous status is a self-reported measure collected through the Standard Indigenous Question (SIQ)
– part of the ABS Indigenous Status Standard
. The SIQ has remained the same since it was first introduced in 1996. In the Census, the SIQ can be completed by each person on the Census form or by any responsible adult who fills in the Census form on behalf of all household members (for example, a parent may complete to the Census on behalf of their child). A person’s Indigenous status in the Census can therefore reflect how they choose to identify themselves, or how a member of their household has identified them.
This article uses longitudinal data from the 2006-2011-2016, three wave Australian Census Longitudinal Dataset (ACLD) to explore whether people who identify as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin in the Census do so consistently over time. It outlines the spatial and demographic characteristics of people who have ever identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander in the Census. This includes people who have:
- Chosen to identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander in 2006, 2011 and 2016 (people who are consistently identified).
- Chosen to change their Indigenous status and have identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander in either 2006, 2011 or 2016 (people who are newly identified in 2011, newly identified in 2016 or previously identified).
This article does not question the legitimacy of a person’s decision to identify as an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person in the Census.
- Of people who ever identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander between 2006 and 2016, two-thirds (66%) consistently identified
- The Northern Territory had the highest proportion of consistently identified people (92%)
- Victoria had the highest proportion of people who were newly identified in 2016 (17%)
- People living in Major Cities were the most likely to change their identification between 2006 and 2016 (45%)
- Young people aged 25-34 years in 2016 accounted for almost a quarter (24%) of previously identified people
- Most people (86%) whose Indigenous status changed between 2006 and 2016 had a non-Indigenous spouse or partner in 2016
- Men were more likely to change identification than women (37% compared to 31%)
Why is this analysis important?
How a person reports their Indigenous status can change and there are many personal and external influences that inform a person’s decision to identify as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin in the Census. The statistics in this article do not explain why a person may have consistently identified in the Census or why their Indigenous status may change. This type of information is not collected in the Census. There are many qualitative works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors, or involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities that discuss the topic of identity and the factors influencing a person’s identity throughout their life.
The analysis presented in this article does however allow Census users to better understand changes in the counts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in successive Censuses. It illustrates where these changes are occurring and whether these changes are associated with key life stages – childhood, spouse/partner relationships and early adulthood.
What are the implications of this analysis?
This analysis can be used to consider whether changes in how people identify are contributing to changes in other key socio-economic characteristics such as transitions from education to employment, changes in housing tenure or personal income. These characteristics will be explored in future work using the three wave ACLD. The findings in this analysis provide some context for considering the influence of changing Indigenous status on key demographic indicators such as life expectancy and population projections.