Statistical Representations and Stereotypes of Youth Labour Market Participation. Insights from Australia

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 4:30 PM
Room: F204
Oral Presentation
Dina BOWMAN , School of Social and Political Sciences, Brotherhood of St Laurence, Australia
Statistical data can have important explanatory power, and with the rise of 'evidence-based' policy such forms of knowledge have become more influential. As Boehm and her co-authors (2012:316) observe: 'Knowledge generation is not neutral, but it is influenced by social and political relationships that enact and generate knowledge'. Using youth labour market data as a case study, this paper will explore how statistical categories create and reinforce normative understandings of life stages, in this case, the period between 15-24 years of age. For example, the Australian Bureau of Statistics uses the category ‘fully engaged’ to describe those who are in ‘fulltime employment, full time education or training at or above Certificate III, both part-time employment and part time education/training, or both full time employment and full time/training’.  The number of people in this group is subtracted from the population of young people within certain age groupings – such as 15-24 or 18-24 – to calculate those who are ‘not fully engaged’.  In government and other reports, this group is often referred to as ‘disengaged’ or ‘inactive’. In everyday usage, these terms have negative connotations. This paper will examine how the use of statistical categories such as 'fully engaged', 'disengaged' and 'inactive' in policy discourse in Australia - and elsewhere - reinforces negative stereotypes about young people and obscures the processes that shape young people's lives.