Once every five years, on a Tuesday evening in March, everyone in Aotearoa New Zealand completes a personal census form, and one person in each household completes a dwelling census form. This year Census night was the 6th of March, but unlike previous censuses, this one is being conducted online. Already this has caused widespread concern.
While there is an option to complete a paper based census form, you have to request that the forms be posted to your home address. Unlike previous censuses, there is not an army of thousands of enumerators armed with forms roaming the countryside to ensure every resident, tourist, freedom camper, homeless person etc receives and returns the census forms. The fact that a household pass-code was mailed only to dwellings with known addresses means that many more people than in previous years will miss out.
And as in many cases the letter containing the pass-code arrived only a few days before census night, those that are unable or unwilling to go online will not have enough time to request and have delivered paper forms in time for census night.
As I see it, the poorer sections of the community and also the elderly are more likely to not have a means of completing an online form. Within both groups, the odds of not having access to an internet connection or a smart phone are much higher than for other groups, yet these are the very people that are most likely to benefit from services and support that is funded according to population counts. For example, health districts are funded by central government based on the population within the district.
Even with a paper based census, some health districts have been underfunded as those in the lower socio-economic groups are more likely to fail to complete a census. And as these are the very people that place the most load on the resources of health districts, some district health authorities are struggling to remain solvent. The new method of collecting census data is only going to exacerbate the problem.
I appreciate that collecting census data on line results in a considerable cost saving, but if it results in inadequate or inaccurate data, what’s the point? I do hope that more thought goes into how data is gathered by the time the next census roll around in 2023.
The range of question asked were very similar to those of previous years, but I was pleased to see that some were more open ended than previously.
Until the 1990s, newly built homes were poorly insulated and a great many NZ homes suffer from dampness, mildew and mould. Then around the start of the millennium, many homes built in the 1990s began to display what is now termed “Leaky Home Syndrome“. This is likely to be a financial burden on home owners, local authorities and central government for some time.
I don’t recall seeing questions about damp homes in previous census, but this time there were two questions specifically about damp homes: “Is this dwelling damp?” and:
I have a sneaky feeling that if the previous government had not lost the November elections, this question would not have been included.
In previous censuses, this question was usually multi-choice and asked for your religious affiliation, with the major religions and denominations, “no religion” and “object to answering” listed, plus an option of “other” with a small space for writing a name of an unlisted religion. This year, the question is more open ended and did not ask for affiliation, but one’s actual religion.
I thought quite a bit how I should respond to this question. In previous years, I’ve either selected “other” and written “Religious Society of Friends”, or selected “none” as I’m not a believer in the supernatural. I’ve never been completely happy with either choice as Quakers are included in “Christian, other” for statistical purposes, and I don’t usually consider myself Christian. On the other hand, although I don’t believe in a supreme being or any other supernatural manifestations, I consider myself religious and take the tenets of Quakerism seriously. I finally settled on “Non-theist Quakerism”, and I’ll leave to the statisticians to decide what that means.
At the last census, 42% claimed no religious affiliation, while 49% claimed a Christian affiliation. It’ll be interesting to see if “no religion” outnumbers all the Christian factions/denominations combined.
For the third census in a row, the question on ethnicity has annoyed me. The term Pākehā has been dropped from the multi-choice answer in favour of “New Zealand European”. I don’t identify as European, and prefer to use Pākehā. So once again I selected my ethnicity as “other” and wrote in “Pākehā”.
There seemed to be more questions about difficulties one experiences due to health issues. These included:
- Do you have difficulty seeing, even if wearing glasses?
- Do you have difficulty hearing, even if using a hearing aid?
- Do you have difficulty walking or climbing steps?
- Do you have difficulty remembering or concentrating?
- Do you have difficulty washing all over or dressing?
- Do you have difficulty communicating using your usual language, for example understanding or being understood by others.
I don’t recall a similar series of questions in previous censuses, but perhaps the questions have more significance now that I’m in my late 60s, and I found myself answering some of them in the affirmative.
Other questions such as sex, income, voluntary work, employment status, education levels etc. were similar to those in previous censuses. I made a mental note that my income 20 years ago was more than seven times larger than it is today, and when inflation is taken into account it was more than 10 times greater. Such is life. Yet we don’t feel any worse off than we did back then. We’ve been on three ocean cruises in the last five years and generally have spent more on leisure activities over the last decade than we ever did when both of us had full-time professional careers. In hindsight, perhaps we didn’t have our work/life balance quite right.
In past years Census Night was a family affair, all sitting around the table completing our forms. That feeling just wasn’t there tonight. Sitting in front of the computer screen doesn’t compare. Will I ask for printed forms next time round? Definitely not. I will miss the “good old days”, but completing the census online was quick and effortless, not to mention that mistakes were easier to correct!
Why are our censuses always conducted on a Tuesday in March? Statistically, these are the days when the least number of people are in transit within Aotearoa New Zealand.
Now we just need to wait until the early results of the number crunching starts to trickle out in a month or two.