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The Meaning of Life 2004 According to the ABS

10 May 2004 at 1:05 pm
Staff Reporter
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has released its Measures of Australia's Progress or MAP, which has been described as about as close as a statistician can get to the meaning of life!

Staff Reporter | 10 May 2004 at 1:05 pm


The Meaning of Life 2004 According to the ABS
10 May 2004 at 1:05 pm

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has released its Measures of Australia’s Progress or MAP, which has been described as about as close as a statistician can get to the meaning of life!

The MAP presents 15 headline dimensions of Australian progress that cover many of the areas of life most important to Australia and Australians.

The latest publication draws on ABS and other data to paint a picture of national progress over the past ten years. The publication updates and expands upon the first issue of MAP.

(In 2002, the ABS released the first issue of Measures of Australia’s Progress.)

MAP 2004 shows:

Health: During the past decade, Australians’ health improved – children born in 2001 were expected to live three years longer than those born in 1991. Indigenous Australians, however, have a life expectancy that is considerably lower than other Australians.

Education and Training: During the past 10 years, the Australian population became more educated – between 1993 and 2003 the proportion of people aged 25–64 years with a vocational or higher education qualification rose from 45% to 55%.

Work: Since the last recession in the early 1990s the unemployment rate has gradually declined, and in 2003 was 5.9%.

National income: Australia experienced significant real income growth during the past decade. Between 1992–93 and 2002–03, real net national disposable income per capita grew by around 2.8% a year.

Financial hardship: Between 1994–95 to 2000–01 the real income of ‘less well-off’ Australians grew by 8%. But the incomes of better-off groups increased by proportionally more.

National wealth: National wealth, as measured in Australia’s balance sheet, grew during the 1990s. Real wealth per person increased by about 0.6% a year between 1993 and 2003.

Productivity: In recent years, Australia has experienced improved rates of productivity growth. During the decade 1992–93 to 2002–03, Australia’s multifactor productivity rose 1.3% per year on average.

The natural landscape: Biodiversity cannot be measured comprehensively, however there is a concern that Australia’s biodiversity has declined in the past decade partly encapsulated in a rise in the numbers of threatened birds and mammals. Land clearance, one influence thought to be reducing biodiversity, decreased by about 40% between 1991 and 2001. The area of land protected in national parks and the like increased.

The human environment: Australia’s air remains relatively clean by the standards of other developed nations. The available indicators, such as the incidence of fine particle pollution in several cities, suggest that Australian air quality has improved during the past decade, despite increased motor vehicle use.

International environmental concerns: Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2001 were about 4% higher than they were in 1991. Per capita, we have one of the world’s highest levels of greenhouse gas emissions, although our per capita emissions are decreasing, as are our emissions per $ of GDP. Our heavy reliance on fossil fuel burning for energy (rather than other forms of power like nuclear or hydro-electricity), the structure of our economy and the level of land clearing; are three influences behind our high emissions.

Crime: Though small, the changes in the prevalence rates for personal crimes between 1998 and 2002 showed an increase from 4.8% to 5.3%. Most of these people were assaulted. Between 1993 and 2002, there was little change in the proportion of households that were the victim of a household crime (an actual or attempted break-in or motor vehicle theft) and it remained at slightly less than 9%.

Housing; Oceans and Estuaries; Family, Community and Social Cohesion; and Democracy, Governance and Citizenship: While no headline indicators are presented for these four topics, each contains a commentary that discusses a range of information and indicators covering progress in each area.

Australian Statistician Dennis Trewin says measuring a nation’s progress – providing information about whether life is getting better – is one of the most important tasks that a national statistical agency can take on.

He says that for almost 100 years, the ABS has been measuring Australia’s progress through the multitude of statistics we publish relating to Australia’s economy, society and environment.

Recent years have seen growing public interest in the interrelationships between economic, social and environmental aspects of life. There have been, for example, debates about the sustainability of economic growth and a recognition that the environment is neither an inexhaustible source of raw materials nor capable of absorbing an unlimited amount of waste. Similarly, progress relates to social concerns – such as health, education and crime – and whether and how economic growth benefits those areas.

He says answering the question “Has life in our country got better, especially during the past decade?” is far from easy. Indeed there can be no definitive answer, because we all have our own views about what is most important to individual and national life.

During the past four years, the ABS consulted a wide range of experts, organisations and individuals to understand what they saw as the most important aspects of national progress.

This second edition of MAP incorporates a number of changes that strengthen the publication, including a strengthened discussion of governance, democracy and citizenship, that uses a range of information to illustrate aspects of Australian life in this dimension, but does not assess overall progress.

If you would like an electronic copy of the ABS Family, Community and Social Cohesion commentary in HTML just send us an e-mail to with ABS latest in the subject line.

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