Recently I made a video showing data from the Australian Government indicating that births in Australia had plummeted late last year, especially in the state of Victoria. However, a viewer pointed out that these numbers don’t actually match the data being released by the Victoria State Government. I’m always happy to admit if I make a mistake, but to be fair to me, I was only quoting official government data published on their website. So in this video titled, “Births Didn’t Plummet? – Victorian Data 2021”, we’ll investigate the Victorian Government data and try to work out what the hell’s going on. Ultimately, we’re trying to uncover the truth, right? So let’s do some truth-seeking!
This is the report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics where the original data came from showing the latest birth figures. We can see that in November and December of 2021, there was a significant decline in births as compared to the last two years, with December only recording 21 births in the entire state (according to this federally-funded data).
But let’s take look at the state data. If we head over to the Victorian Government’s Births Deaths and Marriages to the page titled, “Births registered per month”, scroll down a bit and you’ll see a table that shows monthly birth registrations. For the purposes of this video, we’re interested in 2021 data. It’s in reverse chronological order, so I’ll flip it so that we can directly compare it to the federal dataset.
The first thing I notice is that the totals don’t match. The federal data states that there were around 64,800 births, but the state data says there were 76,800. If we look at the November figures, they’re way off – 3400 compared to 7000! December’s even worse – 21 births as compared to more than 8000! Actually, if you look at any of the numbers, not a single one of them matches! And it’s not even consistent. For example, in June, the federal data states there were about 6000 births, but the Victorian data states there were 7700, 1700 more! But the very next month in July where the ABS states there were 6200 births, the Victorian Government states there were almost 800 less at 5400! Sometimes there’s more, sometimes there’s less, but it’s never the same! Where are all these babies going? If I handed this in as a statistics assignment, I’d fail! I’m sure there are some really smart people working at these organisations, but they can’t even publish consistent numbers? What’s going on?
Unfortunately, the Victorian data only shows back until September of 2019, so I’d like to use Queensland data. This is the Queensland Government’s Data Portal which has data going back till 2010. This is a table of Births by Month in 2021. I’ll do as I did before and compare it with the ABS data. As you can see, I’ve filtered for Queensland data only, and here’s the side-by-side comparison. It’s the same issue. Nothing matches! Babies are going missing everywhere!
But perhaps I’m being a bit too harsh. Perhaps because of the pandemic, things went a bit awry. Communications broke down between states and the federal government. I don’t know. So let’s go back ten years to 2012. Again, I just went to the Queensland Government Data Portal and selected 2012 Births by Month. Here’s the data here. And again, I’ll compare it with the latest ABS dataset. I suppose, it’s a little bit better, but there are still discrepancies of hundreds of babies!
So which numbers do we trust? Do we trust the federally-funded ABS, or do we trust the Victorian Government? Or can’t we trust any of them? Perhaps some of you are thinking it’s no big deal. I would agree if these numbers represented say the number of families with parakeets, or the number of butterflies per square kilometre. I think we could all forgive them for not being so accurate with that sort of data. But each of these numbers represents a living, breathing human being. If there were differences of say one or two babies, perhaps we could write that off as some sort of administration error, but hundreds? Thousands?
The problem with all this data, maybe not this exact data, but data like this is used to determine where funding goes. It determines where a new school will be built, or a new hospital. But if it’s not accurate, or if there’s lots of discrepancies, can we even trust it?
Look, maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe I’m being a bit facetious. Don’t get me wring, I’m sure it’s a hard job collecting accurate statistics. But we’re not talking differences of five or 10. Were talking thousands! And as taxpayers, is this the sort of accuracy we’re happy with, knowing that politicians are using this data to make life-changing political decisions that affect all of our lives?
So in conclusion, can we definitively say that Australian births didn’t plummet? You tell me.
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