Wednesday, March 04, 2015

On the potential demise of the quinquennial census of Australia

The Guardian's Oliver Milman reported last month that the Australian Bureau of Statistics might reduce the frequency of national census-taking. At present, an Australian census is held every five years, the most recent being in 2011. The plan to shift to a ten-year census cycle, with frequent surveys in between censuses to maintain data, is apparently quite controversial, for the same sort of reasons that I recognize in Canada in the debate over the long-form census. I do admit to wondering if a five-year census is practical, but I also admit to envying Australia its thorough data-collection processes.

The compilation of the 2016 census is in doubt, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in talks with the federal government over changes to the mass data collection exercise.

The ABS is understood to favour a shift to taking a full census once every 10 years, rather than every five years, bringing Australia into line with the US and Britain.

In the interim, the ABS would conduct smaller sample surveys on a quarterly basis to provide information on Australia’s demographics.

The ABS’s last census was in 2011, deploying 29,000 people to record the details of people living in Australia.

[. . .]

The ABS is required by an act of parliament to conduct a census every five years, and the results are used to frame various policy and spending decisions, meaning a change in the law would be required to switch to the 10-year model.

The Community and Public Sector Union said a $78m cut to the budget of the ABS over the past two years has resulted in 10% of staff leaving and the remaining workforce deals with “antiquated” computer systems.

“The news that the census might be cut or scaled back is deeply disturbing and will send shockwaves throughout the community,” said a union spokesman, Alistair Waters. “It is the bedrock of much of what the ABS does and it plays a vital role in business and society.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

"The Tragedy of Canada's Census"


Aarian Marshall's CityLab article does a great job of examining the consequences and the causes of Canada's census mayhem. Reducing the amount of hard data reduces the ability of governent to deal with issues. That might have been the whole point.

Rosana Pellizzari, the medical officer of health of Peterborough, Ontario, knows a thing or two about bad data. The public health office she oversees is charged with running policy-driven health programs and services for the mid-size city and county, population 123,000, which makes it the 33rd largest metro in Canada, if that country's most recent census is to be believed.

Trouble is, she's not sure it can be. In 2010, with little fanfare or preparation, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s conservative government decided that the next long-form census, completed in Canada every five years, would not be mandatory. As officials told the story, without citing any specific polls, the public had expressed concerns about their privacy when filling out the long-form census, as well as the threat of jail time should they decline to fill it out.

“We were all shocked,” says Marni Cappe, who in 2010 was the president of the Canadian Institute of Planners. “It sent a ripple through the community … They did it on a [June] afternoon when they thought, ‘Who would be paying attention?’”

So in 2011, Statistics Canada, the governmental body responsible for collecting and analyzing all of Canada’s statistics, sent out two versions of the census. The first, a mandatory short-form questionnaire, asked Canadians about their about age, sex, marital status, mother tongue, and the languages spoken at home. The second was the National Household Survey (NHS), a 40-page voluntary survey sent to 30 percent of Canadians. Munir Sheikh, then the head of Statistics Canada, resigned over the change in policy. “I want to take this opportunity to comment on a technical statistical issue which has become the subject of media discussion ... the question of whether a voluntary survey can become a substitute for a mandatory census," he wrote. "It can not.”

Today, four years after Canada’s first voluntary long-form census, and one year away from what looks to be its second, Rosana Pellizzari is still wondering how to deal with the dearth of data. Thirty-six percent of Peterborough residents sent the voluntary survey did not return it, which gave the metro the lowest NHS response rate of all Canadian cities.


Marshall does an excellent job placing this change in its full Canadian political context, and notes the worrisome possibility that it might be imitated in other countries. This is strongly recommended: go read it.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Three links on African immigration to China


1. I'd like to point people towards Africans in China, a blog maintained by researcher Roberto Castillo. This blog concentrates on the African immigrant community in Guangzhou, its development and its issues.

2. Yucheng Liang's study "The causal mechanism of migration behaviors of African immigrants in Guangzhou: from the perspective of cumulative causation theory", published in 2014 in The Journal of Chinese Sociology, draws on ethnographic interviews and statistical analyses to argue that African immigraiton to China can be expected to continue and that China should innovate accordingly to try to minimize potential problems.

This study tests international migration theory, especially cumulative causation theory, by looking into the causal mechanisms of international migration behavior among African immigrants in China by using the respondent-driven sampling method since African immigrants in China belong to a small hidden population. This method collected a representative sample (N = 648) from two locations in 2011. The paper reveals that the immigration behaviors of African immigrants in China from 2005 to 2011 have characteristics similar to international immigrants in initial stages - the cumulative causal effects of immigrants' social capital was continually strengthened during the reproduction of migration behavior in the sending countries. Consequently, given the sustainable economic growth and maintenance of a stable society in China, the scale of future transnational immigration (including illegal migration) will continue to expand. The paper proposes that at the present stage, existing policies should raise the entry threshold of African immigrants into China in order to mitigate the speed and scale of migrants' social class decline.

It's also quite interesting to note that, far from Guangzhou and the south of China, in the Zhejiang city of Yiwu in the lower Yangtze basin, another African immigrant community is starting to take form. I point readers specifically towards the 2010 article "From Guangzhou to Yiwu: Emerging facets of the African Diaspora in China" (PDF format), written by Adams B. Bodomo and Grace Ma and published in the International Journal of African Renaissance Studies - Multi-, Inter- and Transdisciplinarity. This article suggests that, owing to a variety of factors, Africans have better experiences here than in Guangzhou.

Yiwu Africans also experience constraints in their Chinese sojourn but these are not different from what any foreigner living in China would experience: linguistic misunderstandings, cultural differences, and even having to put up with socially unacceptable practices like spitting profusely. But Yiwu Africans, in most cases, are treated respectfully by Zhejiang law enforcement officers. Civil liberties are well respected. For instance, freedom of worship among these Africans seems to be one of the highest in China. There may be a number of reasons why this difference is there. One, it may be that Africans who number less than 30,000 in Yiwu can be contained easily. Two, most of the Africans in Yiwu are from the Magbreb region of Africa, while most Africans in Guangzhou are from Sub-Saharan Africa. My fellow West Africans in Guangzhou report that even the brutal Guangzhou police treat Arab Africans more respectfully than Black Africans. But, third, and more importantly, the difference, we propose here, is due to the differences in efficiency and fairness on the part of Yiwu law enforcement officers such as the police and immigration officials. We propose here that, partly as a result of these differences in treatment, and also if Yiwu gets more developed into an international trade centre, it may overtake Guangzhou as a model residential city for Africans and many foreign businessmen from developing parts of the world, such as West Asia and Latin America. In that sense then, Guangzhou is missing an early opportunity as a model multi-racial business city in China.

If in fact the majority of African migrants in Yiwu are from the Maghreb, this does suggest at least the potential for Yiwu to start attracting migrants from the wider Arab world. The role of Islam in binding together Chinese and non-Chinese Muslims, meanwhile, is also noteworthy.