Census can introduce us to our country

2011-10-22 09:29

Census-taking is a momentous and challenging undertaking. In the era of evidence-based decision-making, it can point to vital population changes that will inform policy-making and implementation.

Census 2001 showed us the population had increased from 40.6 million in 1996 to 44.8 million in 2001. And it revealed several other surprises.

Undercount is high
The undercount was exceptionally high (17% compared to 10% in 1996), contrary to the initial expectation that the undercount would be reduced.

Young males, particularly aged 20 to 34, were missed. This outcome emanated from issues related to publicity and ownership of the exercise by certain groups within the country.

People on the move
Although the number of people in each province had increased, except in Northern Cape, the proportion of the people in each province compared to the country as a whole had changed.

For example, the percentage of the population in Gauteng had increased from 18.1% in 1996 to 19.7% in 2001, while the percentage of people in Eastern Cape had decreased from 15.5% to 14.4%.

We didn’t breed like rabbits

The percentage of persons aged 65 and above had remained relatively stable while that of those aged below five years had decreased slightly.

Apparently this was due to a decline in the average number of children that women in the reproductive ages were having. Both the white and Indian/Asian population groups had begun the transition toward ageing populations.

We got cleverer

Significant inroads had been made since 1996 in the area of educational attainment of the population.

The proportion of persons aged 20 years and above who had no schooling had decreased from 19.3% in 1996 to 17.9% in 2001. The proportion that had completed secondary education had increased from 16.4% to 20.4%.

However, a number of provinces were still lagging behind namely Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and North West.The black African population was still the most affected.

Only 6.9% had completed secondary education compared to 40.9% for whites and 34.9% for Indians/Asians.

The percentage of people aged 15 to 65 who were employed had decreased from 38% in 1996 to 34% in 2001, while the percentage of those who were unemployed had increased from 20% to 24%.

The highest unemployment rate was reported in the black African population group (28%) and the lowest in the white population group (4%).

The younger age groups, particularly those aged between 20 and 39 years, and those who had completed less than secondary-level education were the most affected.

Most employed people were working in community-related industries (community, social and personal services), trade and manufacturing.

The occupational profile of those who were working had not significantly changed. Most of the people were still working in elementary occupations and those related to sales.

A small number were working as professionals and managers (7.5% and 5.8% respectively).

Families changed size and shape

This brought to light that there were still major challenges with regard to addressing structural issues in the labour market.

There were nine million households enumerated in 1996 and 11.2 million in 2001.

However, the proportion of households headed by females had increased from 38% in 1996 to 43% in 2001.

The profile by population group was such that while the majority of the households in all other population groups were headed by males (more than 65%), almost half of the households within the black African population were headed by females (47%).

The most affected provinces were Limpopo, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. The average household size had decreased across the board whether by province, population group or gender of the head.

There was also a significant increase in the proportion of single-person households within the black African population (from 17% in 1996 to 20% in 2001).

Substantial progress had been achieved as far as availability of facilities and services to households was concerned.

The proportion using electricity for lighting had increased from 58% in 1996 to 70% in 2001.However, the lowest percentages were recorded in Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo (50%, 61% and 64% respectively).

The proportion of black African households which had access to piped water for domestic use had significantly increased from 48% in 1996 to 52% in 2001.

Also, the proportion of households which had their refuse removed by local authorities had increased from 52% in 1996 to 55% in 2001.

What surprises may Census 2011 hold?

It is not easy to anticipate what Census 2011 will portray. For example, we don’t know what impact the HIV/Aids pandemic and internal migration have had on the age structure and distribution of the population by province.

Also, the gender disparities that emanated from the data collected in Census 2001 may have changed, among other structural changes.

» Masiteng is Stats SA’s deputy director-general for population and social statistics 

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