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ABS Census Data: A CALD Snapshot and how Australia compares to other nations

September 18, 2022

The 2021 Census results data by the Australian Bureau of Statistics was officially released on 28 June 2022 and provided excellent insight into Australia's population, including data on cultural diversity.

A record number of people and households responded in the 2021 Census period - in fact, a total of 96.1 per cent of Australians responded, and the results showed an increasingly multicultural society.

"This increasingly diverse social and cultural landscape present in the 2021 census is a great strength for Australian society."

The Executive Director of the Australian Multicultural Foundation, Dr Hass Dellal.

The data is a goldmine of statistical information on a range of other topics too, including:

  • household incomes
  • number of residents
  • Indigenous Australians and Indigenous population data
  • number of new migrants
  • Australians' ancestry
  • religious affiliation

However, for this article, we'll take a closer look at cultural and language diversity indicators to explore the current state of multicultural Australia.

Even then, the depth and breadth of data can be daunting, so this post will attempt to provide some context around Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) Australians and how the multicultural landscape is changing.

As a multicultural country, the first release of data from Australia's 2021 Census shows that:

  • 29.3% of the people living in Australia were born overseas
  • 22.2% have one or both parents born overseas and;
  • 48.5% have both parents born overseas.
  • In total, just over half of all Australians (51.5%) were born overseas (a growing number of first-generation migrants) or;
  • Have a parent born overseas (second-generation migrants)

The top five ancestries identified in the 2021 Census were:

  1. 33% English
  2. 29.9% Australian
  3. 9.5% Irish
  4. 8.6% Scottish
  5. 5.5% Chinese

The top five countries of birth outside Australia were:

  1. England
  2. India
  3. China (as the third-largest country of birth, it did not include Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan)
  4. New Zealand
  5. the Philippines

An interesting observation is that the vast majority in this list are officially English-speaking countries (all but China).

Not surprisingly, the most common language spoken at home is English, followed by:

  1. 2.7% Mandarin
  2. 1.4% Arabic
  3. 1.3% Vietnamese
  4. 1.2% Cantonese
  5. 0.9% Punjabi

In contrast to the top 5 countries of birth, 4 of the top 5 countries in this list are non-English speaking countries.

Across Australia, over 5.5 million people speak a language other than English at home, equating to around 21.5% of Australia’s total population of 25.5 million, or over one in five people.

Australian Bureau of Statistics

The language that has seen the most significant increase in use in Australian homes since the last census is Punjabi.

In the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania, Nepali is in the top five most commonly spoken languages, with 1.3% of those populations using it at home.

Across the Australian population, over 5.5 million people speak a language other than English at home, equating to around 21.5% of Australia's total population of 25.5 million, or more than one in five people.

Compared to previous years;

  • The 2016 Census reported the most common languages spoken at home were 72.7% English-only, 2.5% Mandarin, 1.4% Arabic, 1.2% Cantonese and 1.2% Vietnamese.
  • In 2011, it was 76.8% English only, 1.6% Mandarin, 1.4% Italian, 1.3% Arabic and 1.2% Cantonese.
  • An important distinction is that at the time of the 2011 census, Australia was moving away from referring to people who spoke a language other than English as a person from a non-English speaking background (NESB). Today, the term Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) is used.

On a global scale, Australia's neighbours Papua New Guinea and Indonesia are the most linguistically diverse countries in the world.

According to the World Economic Forum, 840 languages are spoken in Papua New Guinea, almost 12% of the total number of languages worldwide.

Indonesia has an estimated 711 languages across the archipelago. One theory about why these countries have so many languages is that many of their communities are geographically isolated.

Over 80% of Papua New Guinea's population lives in rural areas, and Indonesia is a collection of thousands of islands.

Indonesia, it's interesting to note, has achieved the impressive feat of establishing a national lingua franca without destroying its linguistic diversity. Australia ranks sixth in the world for linguistic diversity, between the United States in fifth and China in seventh place.

How does Australia's cultural and linguistic diversity compare to other countries?

According to the CIA World Factbook, the latest data on languages spoken at home show that 78.2% of US households speak English only, 13.4% Spanish, 1.1% Chinese and 7.3% other.

Interestingly, the United States has no official national language. English has official status in 32 of 50 states, Hawaiian is an official language in Hawaii, and Alaska has 20 official indigenous languages.

The CIA World Factbook also identifies ethnic groups in the United States as 61.6% White, 18.7% Hispanic (including people of Spanish/Hispanic/Latinx origin), 12.4% Black or African American, 6% Asian, 1.1% Amerindian and Alaska native and 0.2% Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander.

Over 350 languages are spoken in homes across the United States, and around 44.9 million people or 13.7% of the total US population, were born overseas, according to 2019 statistics.

Statistics on New Zealand's cultural and linguistic diversity are based on their 2018 Census. English is the de facto national language (it does not have legal status as the official language but is spoken by most citizens), spoken by 95.4% of Kiwis.

Maori is legally recognised as an official national language and is spoken by 4% of the population. Other languages spoken in New Zealand include 2.2% Samoan, 2% Northern Chinese, 1.5% Hindi, 1.2% French and 1.1% Yue (a dialect from Southern China).

Kiwis identified as 64.1% European, 16.5% Maori, 4.9% Chinese, 4.7% Indian, 3.9% Samoan, 1.8% Tongan, 1.7% Cook Islands Maori, 1.5% English, 1.5% Filipino, 1% New Zealander and 13.7% other (percentages add up to over 100% because census respondents could identify with more than one cultural identity).

Over a quarter of New Zealand residents, 27.4%, were born overseas.

English and French are the official languages of Canada, with 63.7% of Canadians speaking English at home and 20% speaking French at home, according to the 2016 Census (language statistics from the 2021 Census are due for release in November 2022).

0.3% of Canadians speak an aboriginal language at home. Over 200 languages are spoken in Canada, plus 60 Indigenous languages.

Canada's most common international languages are Chinese, Punjabi, Spanish, Italian, German, Tagalog, Arabic, Portuguese, Polish and Urdu. Of Canada's population of nearly 37 million, over 7 million people, or around 18%, were born overseas.

How can you find more ABS census data and information?

The 2021 Australian Census data illustrates that Australia's cultural and linguistically diverse nation can provide incredible opportunities for businesses and government alike. By understanding the latest census data to communicate and engage more effectively with members of a culturally and linguistically diverse community and with people from diverse backgrounds.

LEXIGO will create more tools, analyses and guides for understanding and making the most of this valuable information to enable effective communication across 171 languages. Check out LEXIGO's guide for choosing languages for your multilingual campaign here.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released most of the 2021 Census data on 28 June 2022, with smaller and more complex topics to be released in late 2022 and early to mid-2023. They will also host online and in-person events around the 2021 Census data release.

Contributors

Sophia Dickinson
Author
Sophia is a writer and communications consultant with 10 years’ experience in the public service and not-for-profit sectors. She has also taught English in France and spent a year working at a local NGO in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. She is passionate about writing, intercultural communication and languages (she speaks French, Indonesian and is learning Spanish).
Mark Saba, CEO, LEXIGO
Mark Saba
Founder and CEO
Mark is the Founder and CEO of multi-award-winning professional translation and multicultural communication agency, LEXIGO. Driving the vision at LEXIGO, Mark is responsible for the strategic development of LEXIGO’s highly intelligent technologies, with a particular interest in translation process automation, machine learning and multicultural marketing.
Contributors
Sophia Dickinson
Author
Mark Saba, CEO, LEXIGO
Mark Saba
Founder and CEO
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