Who decides which questions are on the Census?

Glenn - The Census Expert

Glenn is an ABS data expert with huge intellect and capacity to convert demographic data into profound insights about places. He has contributed numerous blogs and consulting projects covering economic development, housing consumption and affordability, migration, fertility, ageing, role and function of ‘place’, communities of interest and more. Glenn works with over 120 councils bringing the client perspective into the development of our information products. He is a Census data expert, having worked at the Australian Bureau of Statistics for 10 years. If there's anything Glenn doesn't know about the Census, it's probably not worth knowing - so ask Glenn!

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5 Responses

  1. nick Collyer says:

    Hi Glenn, I’m curious to know why those particular questions about disability were asked in this (2011) census. The questions focus on what people-support a person with a disability has, as opposed to umpteen other possible questions (about disability). Why was this?

    thanks Glenn, regards, Nick

  2. nick Collyer says:

    Nick again Glenn, just to give u some background to prev Q’n: Stella Young of the ABC’s ‘Ramp Up’ (disability site) was cross that those Q’ns didn’t ask about her, only about people-supports. I’m sure the ABS had its reasons: what were they?
    chrs Nick

    • Glenn says:

      Hi Nick,

      Thanks for the comment. I’m afraid I can’t help too much, and you may need to ask the ABS. Those questions were first asked in 2006 and have been rolled over for this Census. Disability is notoriously difficult to ask about in a self-responded questionaire, but the Howard government specifically requested that the ABS include something about disability in 2006.

      Those questions about need for assistance were decided on after field testing, as giving the best indication of the level of disability in the population, based on people’s own responses. Many of the Census questions deliberately have some level of ambiguity because it’s been worked out that people will answer them in the way that most closely approximate what the ABS are trying to measure (not necessarily EXACTLY what the question is asking).

      I did read Stella’s comments on this, and I think that in the spirit of the question, she would answer “Yes, sometimes” to the body movement question, but I understand that due to the exact wording of the question she felt compelled to answer “No”.

      The ABS also decided that answers to the individual questions are not good enough quality to release so that the output is just “Yes, needs assistance” or “No, doesn’t need assistance”. So unfortunately the output is not all that useful anyway. The good thing about 2011 is that we will be able to see change over time, however.


  3. Nick says:

    Okay thanks Glenn – but I can see her point in the sense that many people with disabilities that limit their participation in everyday activities are not captured by the questions because they manage those activities independently of people supports, if not as quickly or easily as most. I guess it also indicates that ‘disability’ is a subjective identity as much as it is an ‘objective’ set of needs for support. The data that emerge from these questions will have to be taken with a grain of salt, and it will be interesting to see how they are used in relation to the Commonwealth’s planned National Disability Insurance Scheme, cheers Nick

    • Glenn says:

      Absolutely I can see her point too. We have always said we think the disability estimates are an undercount. Making such a question objective and able to be includded on a self-enumerated form is very difficult. Certainly will be interesting to see how they are used.


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