Changing life chances or changing statistical identification? Estimating the scope of Indigenous identification change and its impact on the demographic and socio-economic composition of the Indigenous population using the Australian Census Longitudinal Dataset
The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population grew by 128,500 people between 2011 and 2016, or around 19%, much faster than the growth of the total Australian population. This rapid population growth can only partly be explained by natural increase and the Indigenous identification of children of mixed descent. The changing propensity for people to identify as Indigenous in the census has also contributed to Indigenous population growth. One issue arising from the changing propensity of people to identify as Indigenous in the census is that such identification change can bias the monitoring of socio-economic change for the Indigenous population. If the people moving in or out of the population classified as Indigenous are of differing socio-economic status to the population consistently identifying as Indigenous, then this can appear in the aggregate as if people’s life-chances are changing. Rather, this may be an artefact of the population’s changing composition. This paper presents estimates of how statistical identification change may be impacting on the monitoring of key socioeconomic indicators related to the Indigenous population. It shows that identification change has biased estimates of changes to socioeconomic outcomes across a range of measures, including those relating to employment, housing and education.
Nicholas Biddle is an Associate Professor at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, and Deputy Director of the Centre for Social Research and Methods, Research School of Social Sciences, College of Arts & Social Sciences, Australian National University.
Francis Markham is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Research School of Social Sciences, College of Arts & Social Sciences, Australian National University.