Thinking about diversity statistics

When people talk about diversity in Australia, there is one stat quoted over and over: one in four Australians were born overseas and over two in five have at least one parent born overseas.

This is an incredible data point which is becoming more widely known. It neatly captures the scale of Australia’s diversity. This can be particularly helpful when looking back over time to previous versions of the Census. This rate has increased steadily over the past generation.

Yet I get a bit bored of it. You hear this in nearly every political speech on immigration. It’s quoted in support of everything migration related even if the relationship is particularly weak. Diversity for diversity’s sake is not necessarily a good thing. This line of argument runs the risk of disappearing into a level of meta analysis where policy goals become confused and actual outcomes blurred.

At a conference last week, I heard a different data point which tells the same story on diversity but with better ability to discuss the ramifications of immigration to Australia:

  • 19.2 per cent of people speak a language other than English at home. This is skewed towards large urban centres, for instance in Sydney where 34.4 per cent speak a language other than English (H/T Graeme Hugo)

This means something. It means even more if we consider the trend growth of non-English spoken language at home which increased by over 15 per cent between the 2006 and 2011 Census.

Some may say this is obvious given one in four people are born overseas but this overlooks the fact many people born overseas were born in English speaking countries (myself included).

Looking at language better highlights inter-generational trends as some second-generation migrants may speak a language other than English at home.

One in five people speak a language other than English at home. This cuts much deeper in terms of what immigration means for policy surrounding education, the labour force and an ageing society than one in four people were born overseas.

By talking about diversity in this manner, a much stronger case can be built about how government policies should engage with migrant communities. By combining this with the rapid trend growth, we can add a sense of urgency to the conversation.

(More information on language spoken in Australia)

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