Unlocking the Hidden Nuance in the 2021 Census Data
Last Monday I saw The Guardian make the rather bold prediction that 2021 census data would reveal Australia at “a unique moment”, following the disruption of COVID-19 with expats returning home and with migration flows temporarily disabled, and that Australia could once again become a nation many of us thought we had long since left behind.
Their title screamed it all: “older, whiter and smaller” was the prediction.
We now know that the predictions have not quite materialized and despite the hyperbole, the overall trend line for Australia as an increasingly diverse and multicultural society remains clear and unrelenting.
Our country’s population has doubled in size over the past 50 years and added over a million new residents since 2017.
This census saw Australia reach a new tipping point where nearly 50% (48.2%) of Australian residents were born overseas or have at least one parent who was overseas.
More than 5.5 million Australians – more than one in five – now speak a language other than English at home. That’s 800,000 more since 2016.
Mandarin remains the most common language other than English in Australian homes, spoken by over 680,000 people in 2021. Arabic is the second most common language, and Punjabi, although smaller at 239,000 people, has grown by more than 80% since 2016 to become the fastest growing language in Australia.
My question for marketers is, does your business strategy/marketing plan take into account some of these major changes in Australia’s cultural and linguistic diversity?
In 1996, our top five countries of birth were: Australia, United Kingdom, New Zealand followed by Italy and Vietnam. In 2021, it is Australia and the United Kingdom then India, then China with New Zealand now fifth.
This is a major change and is unlikely to change anytime soon. And I would argue that brands and agencies that fail to adapt their plans to this are not only missing a major opportunity, but failing to engage with Australia as it exists in 2022.
Our diversity, and the census makes it clear, is central to Australian identity. For marketers, we must not only understand this reality, but seize and capitalize on the opportunities implicit in it, especially when it comes to media planning and the new growth opportunities that may arise from it.
Let me give you a few more examples of major demographic shifts that brands and marketers need to understand, adapt to, and incorporate into their future plans.
For all the headlines around the 5.5 million Australians who speak a language other than English at home, a less reported figure was that 850,000 of those people said they spoke little or no English all English.
That’s almost a million potential customers, whose preferred language might not be English.
I’m not sure many brands would want to ignore such a large audience, but I’m also aware that many marketers don’t necessarily give enough thought to how to connect and engage authentically with this audience. Understanding this growing demographic was a key factor in the decision to launch the multilingual news channel in SBS WorldWatch, with dedicated local news programming in Mandarin and Arabic with established connections to these communities, in its heart.
Data from last week shows there are now 812,000 Australians who identify as First Nations. This represents 3.2% of the census total and an increase of more than 25% in five years. The data also reflects significant linguistic diversity among Indigenous Australians, with some 167 First Nations languages spoken across Australia – an increase from the 150 reported in the previous census.
Importantly, a number of factors influence this data, but it highlights the diversity of cultures and experiences within Australia’s Indigenous population – another nuance little understood by planners and media agencies. . This is one of the reasons why the Beyond 3% initiative was launched last year to raise awareness of the role and value of First Nations media, as well as the audiences they reach and serve. In addition to supporting the strength of the First Nations media sector, we want to mature the conversation between communities and marketers for the benefit of all.
Contemporary Australia is a vibrant cultural and linguistic tapestry – a nation home to the oldest living culture on Earth, alongside people from all over the world. Our complexity as a nation will only increase, and our industry must not only recognize this, but also understand it.
It will help us better engage with the great diversity of an Australia that is anything but ‘older, whiter and smaller’.
Adam Sadler is Director of Media Sales for SBS
Today, SBS launched its Census Explorer website. The interactive tool is designed to give community groups, businesses and government the ability to explore 2021 census results in eight different languages with powerful visual tools, including data from 2016 and 2011 for comparison.