Alternative census - what you told us

16:00, Mar 02 2013

We're worried about our weight. We have a lot of beards. Our cats like to kill birds. And we really, really hate it when online surveys have gremlins.

These are some of the conclusions that can be drawn from the frankly unscientific Sunday Star-Times "alternative census", which we ran last week as a kind of warmup to the real, but slightly dull, census that we're all obliged to fill out on Tuesday.

More than 8000 New Zealanders completed our survey, spilling their guts about such core Kiwi characteristics as pavlova-making experience (41 per cent had), chickens (8 per cent have them) and antidepressants (10 per cent take them). Numerous respondents suggested additional questions we should have asked.

"Why didn't it have a question asking how many hours a week do you spend requesting that your forgotten passwords be reset? Now that would be relevant," asked SarahF27.

"What if you are a female and have a moustache? Should be a box for them to tick," said Willet.

"You should have put in ‘Have you stopped beating your wife yet?' with only Yes and No answers (just to spice things up)," said oberstBob.


Expat Tracy Livingstone thought we should have taken a broader view in the question asking where you live: "Oh come on. Question 24 should surely include a town in Australia. We are still Kiwis too!"

But by far the biggest complaint was about the problematic Question 9, which asked which days in the past week you'd had a drink. The question design meant it was impossible for hardened boozers to tick boxes for more than a single day, and for teetotallers to choose zero days.

"Perhaps," mused someone called Persistenz, "it never crossed the mind of the journalist writing the questions that someone could go seven days without having an alcoholic drink."

True, a week does seem an awfully long time to go dry, but no, we're not unaware of the existence of teetotallers: the problem was a technical glitch in the way the survey was uploaded. Similarly, the ethnicity question didn't allow for multiple choices. So we've ignored answers to those questions, and 8000 apologies for the screw-ups.

Fortunately, this wasn't the real census. So in the unscientific and unserious spirit in which our alt-census was always intended, we've drawn a few tentative conclusions.

The main caveat here is selection bias. We collected information from readers of the Sunday Star-Times and Stuff who happened to have 10 minutes to spare on a sunny Sunday afternoon. By the looks of it, this meant people who were disproportionately well-off and bearded. Wellingtonians in particular were notably over-represented, providing 25 per cent of respondents despite being home to 11 per cent of the country's population. Which may explain the beards.

Anyway, this is what we've learnt:

We've experienced a fair bit of crime.

More than 250 people - around 3 per cent of respondents - said they'd been a victim of violent crime. Once you include property, fraud and "other" crime, 20 per cent said they'd been a victim.

We're not all that big on chickens.

Only 8 per cent of us have chickens. Then again, around 140 respondents (2 per cent) said they had more than 10 in their yard.

We're eating out a fair bit.

Almost 80 per cent of respondents have had a restaurant meal in the past three months, and one in six had eaten out in the two days before completing the survey.

Though perhaps we shouldn't be quite so often.

A stonking 28 per cent of people selected "Yes, my excess weight is a real problem", and another 51 per cent reckoned they could afford to lose a kilo or two. That left just 21 per cent saying their weight was "fine".

Our cats are birdkillers.

About half of respondents have a cat. Of cat-owners, just a third are confident their moggie isn't a bird-chomper - the other two-thirds suspect, or know, they're harbouring a bloodthirsty killer.

We're time-shifting our TV-watching like crazy.

This question irritated some respondents too, as there was no box to tick if you don't watch telly at all. Oops. Still, most households do have a telly, so we've not discarded the result, which shows that only 37 per cent of people say they're watching TV mainly at the time of broadcast (rather than on MySky, On Demand and so on). Surely that adds up to a lot of TV ads getting skipped.

We're reading Kiwi authors. Well, some of us are.

Almost a quarter of respondents had read a book by a New Zealand writer in the past month. A few eager beavers (4 per cent) claimed they'd read three or more in that time.

We're often abroad. Well, some of us.

Around 17 per cent of respondents said someone they used to live with had left New Zealand for an extended period. Meanwhile 40 per cent said they'd been abroad for leisure at least once in the past year, with a lucky 1 per cent having been overseas for fun six times or more.


Sorry about the beard fixation, but a remarkable 25 per cent of male respondents said they had beards. Seriously? One in four? Either online census-fillers are unusually hirsute, or this must include those guys who skip shaving for a couple of days then seriously overestimate the length and impact of their pathetic stubble.

Online copyright thieves don't give a toss.

This one's intriguing. Just under 40 per cent of us have illegally downloaded something online in the past year. But among those downloaders, 83 per cent were unrepentant. Only 17 per cent say they felt a bit guilty as they did it.

There's been far too much Gangnam-ing.

One in three respondents have done the "Gangnam Style" dance. Come on!

Full results below:

Sunday Star Times