OPINION: Census outlines ‘typical’ Aussies, but misses statistical relveance

Image: gizmodo.com.au
Image: gizmodo.com.au

Last week, media outlets across the country jumped on a release from the Bureau of Statistics outlining the first insights into Census 2016 results.

Of most interest was the description of the “typical Australian” as well as similar “typical” people for each state and territory, based on 14 criteria.

Apparently, according to the headlines and Bureau, the “typical” Australian is not a blue-eyed, blonde-haired surfer who loves a barbecue. It’s a 38-year-old Australian-born woman of English heritage, who lives in her three-bedroom house with a husband and two children, owns two cars, has an HSC education and does up to 14 hours of unpaid domestic work each week.

While the typical Aussie has a mortgage, in NSW the woman owns her home outright.

That sounds like great fodder for news articles and many jumped at the chance – the BayPost/Moruya Examiner would’ve as well, but found it hard to find someone who fit all those criteria (and who wished to speak to us about being “typical”).

And there’s the issue. “Typical” – as outlined by the Census data released – is essentially irrelevant. It was a summary of collated responses highlighting the “mode”, the most common response. Whereas the 38-year-old age criteria was the “median” response, the statistical average of all respondents.

Therefore, if a large proportion of our ageing population has a mortgage – not difficult to assume – but those younger had a variety of responses including still living at home or renting in addition to owning, of what use is saying the average-aged person most commonly owns their home?

Or consider that the typical Aussie is a woman is only because of our population’s hair’s-breadth gender split of around 50.5-49.5 per cent. Why/how does that make her the typical person though?

In a column for the Sydney Morning Herald, law professor Graeme Orr took issue with the ABS “stunt”.

“The ABS might as well announce that the typical Australian meal is a Vita Brits sandwich of chocolate, chicken and salad,” he wrote.

“Yes, Vita Brits are popular for breakfast and chicken for dinner.  But putting them all in one plate doesn't make a meal any more than the ABS's potpourri creates something resembling the ‘common man’.”

The full suite of 2016 Census data is due to be released in June. In the meantime, for something a little horrifying, type “stereotypical Australian” into a Google search...