Archive for November, 2010


Light blogging due to an exam, an election, travel and work.

But in transit I have read Andrew Leigh’s new book Disconnected, about social capital in Australia. In his introduction, Andrew L tells us that ‘just as some people collect coins and others collect Pokemon cards, I collect pieces of data’. Much of it on social connection, trust, and organisational membership is reported in this book. As a dabbler in this field myself, I know that much of this data is hard to get and it’s very useful to have it presented in one place.

One piece of new survey research Andrew L reports is on friendship. For something so integral to most people’s lives friendship is a seriously under-researched topic in social science (and in liberal philosophy too, despite it being one of the last spheres of unregulated voluntary relationships).

In 1984, Australians reported on average 8.9 easily available people with whom they could speak frankly without having to watch what they say. Now the number averages out at 6.7 such friends. The average number of people on which respondents could turn to in times of difficulty (apart from those at home) dropped from 4.9 to 4.5. ‘Enough’ in both cases, but drops nonetheless. Read the rest of this entry »

No progress to graduate target

The latest issue of ABS Education and Work suggests that maybe we have headed slightly backwards on our way to the government’s target of 40% of 25-34 year olds having degrees. From 34.6% last year the ABS finds 34.2% this year. But the differences aren’t statistically significant.

On the other hand, there is one factor that might slow growth a little. In 2003, the government announced that it was going to penalise universities that ‘over-enrolled’ too much. This flowed through to slightly lower commencements in subsequent years, and a small drop in completions 2006-2008. Combine that with a slight increase in the size of the relevant age cohorts and it’s likely that we have some slightly less educated birth years now reaching the 25-34 age group (assuming they did not take advantage of renewed growth in places later).

Against this migration would be pushing the numbers up – due to migration criteria permanent migrants aged 25-34 are more educated than Australian-born people of the same age.

Education and Work also shows essentially no change in graduate over-qualification from 2009 – 27.4% last year, 27% this year. Graduate unemployment fell from 3.4% to 2.5%.

And yet more gay marriage polling…

The Fairfax broadsheets this morning have the third recent gay marriage poll, with the usual pattern – a small but safe majority in favour, and a bit over a third against.

Though so far this is causing Labor most grief, Peter Hartcher argues in the SMH that it may eventually be more troublesome for the Coalition.

This is because while Labor voters clearly support gay marriage, Liberal voters are fairly evenly divided. In this poll Coalition voters were 51% against /42% favour. But in the Essential Research poll earlier in the month they were even at 45%/45%, and in the Galaxy poll last month 48% favour/ 46% against.

The Coalition members who spoke in the debate on Adam Bandt’s motion last week reflected this balancing act, supporting just about every aspect of gay equality except marriage.

Will David Cameron’s happiness survey have any policy relevance?

Years ago David Cameron bought into the great cliche of happiness researchers, pronouncing that ‘it’s time we focused not just on GDP, but on GWB—general wellbeing’. Now as Prime Minister he’s getting Britain’s statistical agency to ask people questions about their well-being and life goals.

As a dabbler in happiness research I like more data, and there is probably room for a bit more on the relationships between life goals and happiness. But I remain very sceptical that this kind of work can produce anything that is useful from a policy perspective, as opposed to just interesting from a social science perspective.

The whole belief that Western countries can achieve sustained and non-trivial changes in their self-reported well-being seems, with one intriguing exception, to be inconsistent with the masses of post-WW2 research into this topic. Despite the huge changes in that time period – including policy change, social change, economic change and technological change – the self-reported happiness or life satisfaction of most countries seems to fluctuate without major long term trends.

The Eurobarometer life satisfaction question below suggests that this this is true of Europe, with Denmark the interesting exception (apparently the start of it coincided with a soccer victory). Read the rest of this entry »

Over-qualification and migrants

An AMP-NATSEM report on migration released today included this figure on a long-term theme of mine, the employment outcomes of graduates:

In response to my claims that over-qualification is significant among graduates, Bob Birrell has said that the figures are distorted by the large number of over-qualified migrants. The numbers in this figure shows that this is a factor for migrants from non-English speaking countries. Read the rest of this entry »

Should pollsters ask ‘offensive’ questions?

Yesterday the Fairfax broadsheets published some Roy Morgan research on attitudes to homosexuality, including responses to the proposition ‘I believe homosexuality is immoral’. In the Age’s letters page, Benjamin John Doherty objects:

AS A gay man, I find it offensive and astonishing that Roy Morgan Research could ask such a leading question as whether people believe homosexuality is immoral, and then have the results used for serious political analysis.

Gay people are born gay, a simple fact that some heterosexual people seem to have profound difficulties getting their heads around. …

If Mr Morgan and his researchers went around asking people if they thought it was ”immoral” to be white-skinned, Aboriginal or to have red hair, the outcry would be swift and loud, and the results would be denounced as absurd.

Pollsters do actually write survey questions that could cause offence. 20 years ago in Perth a pollster put to its respondents the proposition that ‘most Aborigines are dirty and unkept’ (45% agreed). A 2001 survey asked for responses to the proposition that ‘all races of people are equal’ (12% said no).

This is all legitimate research – pollsters exist to report opinion, whatever it might be. All the major religions in Australia currently or traditionally view homosexual acts as immoral, and that’s the view the Morgan question is alluding to. It’s a little clumsy in blurring desires which are hardwired with actions that are choices (which may be why it gets slightly lower negative results than other questions which specify actions). But for tracking broad opinion trends over time the question is good enough.

And more gay marriage polling…

More polling today, this time from Essential Research, on same-sex marriage.

This 53% support, 36% oppose result is less decisive than the 62%/33% result recorded by Galaxy Poll in October.

There were differences in the questions, with Galaxy prefacing its question by telling respondents that gay marriage already existed in other countries. Perhaps that helped sway respondents without strong views. Read the rest of this entry »

Should welfare recipients get tax deductions for making themselves eligible for welfare?

As the media is reporting, the High Court has today ruled in favour of Symone Anstis in her claim to deduct from her taxable income expenses incurred in maintaining eligibility for Youth Allowance.

We have discussed this issue before.

My view on the substantive policy issues remains unchanged. The legal principle established by this case, that welfare recipients can claim as deductions expenses incurred to maintain their eligibility for their welfare payment, should be overturned by statute.

Ms Anstis claimed computer depreciation, textbooks, a student administration fee, and supplies for children taught during her teaching rounds. What claims would be allowed to maintain continuing unemployability or disability?

The expense to government of this decision may not be massive. Under the low-income tax offset many if not most welfare recipients won’t pay tax anyway. But the principle of no tax deductions for welfare eligibility should be established in law.

12/11: The Australian is reporting that

The decision …. overturns a long-standing ATO policy that self-education expenses to obtain a first qualification are not tax deductible…

This is incorrect. The deductions are not for self-education as such; they are for maintaining YA eligibility. People who don’t get YA can’t claim deductions.

Distributing blame in a broken federal system

“The federal government had delegated regulation of private vocational colleges to state governments.”

– Margaret Simons in “Exodus”, on the decline of the international student industry, The Monthly, November 2010

The feds do find constitutional tricks to control things over which, like education, they have no constitutional authority. But private vocational colleges have been particularly tricky as many of them don’t take the poison of Commonwealth cash. The feds cannot ‘delegate’ powers they do not have.

Comments like this one by Margaret Simons highlight one drawback of taking on all problems and using the states as sub-contractors. The Commonwealth gets blamed for things like dodgy colleges that are not its fault – or at least not beyond giving shonks an incentive to set up colleges as migration rackets.

The rise and reproduction of meritocracy

Australians like the idea of meritocracy – the idea that rewards should allocated on the basis of ability and effort. Meritocracy is often contrasted with rewards being based on luck or privilege. In an unmeritocratic society, rewards go to people who are already privileged.

Some overlapping questions from the Australian component of the 1992 International Social Science Survey and the 2009 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes let us see how perceptions of opportunity in Australia have changed.

The question are about ‘opportunities for getting ahead’, and ask how important various characteristics are. Most Australians see race and gender as ‘not very important’ or ‘not important at all’ for getting ahead. Indeed, there has been a dramatic change in perceptions of how important race is in getting ahead. Read the rest of this entry »