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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2008  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 23/07/2008   
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Contents >> Introduction

INTRODUCTION

ABS FRAMEWORK FOR SOCIAL STATISTICS

The broad framework ABS uses to develop and organise its social statistics program was published in Measuring Wellbeing: Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics (cat. no. 4160.0) in 2001. This framework describes the scope of social statistics and the linkages both within this field of statistics and with economic statistics. It also describes commonly used definitions, classifications and counting rules and, where relevant, is consistent with national accounting standards. Its systematic approach supports the identification and analysis of data needs and helps to ensure that a comprehensive and well balanced array of data items are collected across the social statistics program.

The concept of wellbeing is central to the framework. This multifaceted concept recognises a range of fundamental human needs and aspirations, each of which can be linked to an area of social concern. These needs and aspirations are the focus of government social policy and service delivery, and are reflected in many of the structures of government.

Key dimensions

A number of key areas of social concern form one dimension of the framework. The areas identified are: population; family; health and community; education and training; work; economic resources; housing; crime and justice; and culture and leisure. Each of these areas is explored through a series of questions:

  • How does this area relate to the wellbeing of both individuals and society?
  • What are the key social issues that need to be informed in this area?
  • What groups are at risk of disadvantage?
  • What are the social and economic transactions that affect individual wellbeing?
  • What detailed frameworks relate to this area?
  • What definitions, classifications and units of measurement will result in effective social indicators for the area?
  • What data sources relate to this area?


Areas of social concern

Selected
population groups
Population
Family and community
Health
Education
and training
Work
Economic resources
Housing
Crime
and justice
Culture
and leisure

Unemployed people
x
x
x
x
x
x
Retirees
x
x
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Lone parents
x
x
x
x
x
x
Children
x
x
x
x
x
Migrants
x
x
x
x
x
Older people
x
x
x
x
x
People with low income
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
People with a disability
x
x
x
x
x
Crime victims
x
x
x



Another dimension of the framework focuses on a variety of population groups which are of special interest to the community and to governments. These groups include, for example, older people, children, youth, families with children, the unemployed, lone parents, people with disabilities, carers, recipients of various government benefits, low income earners, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and people whose language background is other than English.

These two basic dimensions of the framework are brought together in the form of a matrix showing areas of social concern by population groups. The diagram above illustrates this matrix, showing how each area of concern can be related to selected population groups and how different areas of concern can be interconnected. The scope of social statistics in Australia is broadly defined by reference to this matrix and the relationship of its elements to various aspects of human wellbeing, both at the level of the individual and for society as a whole. The ABS aims to provide information about the elements of this matrix over time through its work program activities.

Application of the framework in Australian Social Trends

Australian Social Trends (AST) is structured according to the framework’s areas of concern. It draws on a wide range of data, sourced both from ABS and other agencies, to present a contemporary picture of Australian society. For each area of concern it provides a set of national and state/territory indicators which describe how key aspects of wellbeing in that area have been changing over time and how circumstances differ between states/territories. It also provides comparisons with other countries.

AST aims to:
  • inform decision-making, research and discussion on social conditions in Australia, social issues of current and ongoing concern, population groups of interest, and changes in these over time, by drawing together up-to-date social data and analysis from both ABS and other sources, and incorporating readily understood commentary about the statistics.
  • support the monitoring and review of progress towards social goals, changes in social conditions, and levels of population wellbeing, by presenting a comprehensive set of social indicators on a regular basis.

Each year, the selection of topics for the articles aims to address the current or perennial social issues which may be informed using recent data, and to provide answers to key social questions across the range of areas of concern. The suite of articles changes each year, with some topics refreshed as new data become available. The aim of this approach is for each edition to remain responsive to contemporary concerns, while accumulating a more comprehensive picture of Australian social conditions across editions. To enhance this objective, articles often include cross references to other relevant articles in the current edition, and in previous editions.

AST aims to increase the accessibility of information on important social issues and so a key aspect of the publication is its readability. Information is deliberately presented in non-technical language that can be readily understood by the general reader. Statistics are organised to illustrate specific issues, and to highlight the meaning behind the data and the main patterns and exceptions. As far as possible, technical terms are defined separately from the flow of the main story, but are included within each article, so each article can stand alone.

In keeping with these aims, AST articles focus strongly on people and social issues. Each article aims to tell a story, providing a sense of the social and historical context in which a particular issue is embedded, moving from the general to the specific, and using statistics to bring light to the issue. Articles aim to balance ‘what’ analysis (relating the relevant statistical facts surrounding the issue, e.g. number, characteristics, change over time, sex, age and other differences), with ‘why’ analysis (providing context and explanation by highlighting relevant social changes and events and the chronologies of these). For example, each article may examine current circumstances, how circumstances have changed over time, how different groups of people have been affected, and how various factors may be linked to observed trends.


FEATURES OF AUSTRALIAN SOCIAL TRENDS

Structure

Seven core areas of social concern form the chapters of each edition: population, family and community, health, education and training, work, economic resources, and housing. An additional chapter covers other areas of social concern or interest, such as culture and leisure, transport, crime and justice, and the environment. Occasionally an AST edition will focus on a theme. This edition has a regional issues theme.

Chapters

Summary tables - The summary tables at the beginning of each chapter present a range of statistics that summarise the key aspects of each area. They show at a glance changes that have taken place at a national level over a decade, and differences across states and territories for the most recent year. Each set of tables is accompanied by a summary of key points and graphs for selected indicators.

Articles - Each chapter contains several articles which focus on specific social issues or population subgroups. They are designed to stand alone, while complementing one another in terms of content. Most articles contain references to other AST articles that provide more background or in-depth discussion of a topic. Endnotes at the end of each article direct readers to further Australian and international references on specific issues.

Sources and definitions - The main data sources used in an article, and definitions of key terms used, generally appear towards the end of the HTML article. Data sources and definitions for the summary tables are provided directly following these tables.

Other features

International comparisons - A set of international summary tables covering the areas of population, health, education and work are located at the end of the publication. These tables enable the reader to consider Australia's international standing in relation to various key social indicators.

Cumulative topic list - This index lists all articles, from all AST editions, under topic subheadings.

AST seminars - The dissemination of AST includes two yearly seminars held in most states and territories. These are based on articles from the most recent edition supported by related statistics, with a state or territory focus where feasible. For information contact the client liaison area in ABS state/territory offices.

Access - All editions of AST can be accessed via the ABS website. The website version includes Excel spreadsheet versions of the summary tables. To purchase a hard copy of the publication, call 1300 135 070.

Social indicators and progress

AST complements the five-yearly ABS publication, Measures of Australia's Progress (MAP) (cat. no. 1370.0), and the annual electronic publication, Measures of Australia's Progress: Summary Indicators (cat. no. 1383.0.55.001). MAP presents a suite of indicators for reporting on economic, social and environmental progress and considers the interrelationships between these aspects of life. MAP focuses on progress, while AST presents a detailed set of social indicators and profiles diverse aspects of society in short articles.


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