Project description

In Australia, the debate about the generational divide is as heated as it ever was, stoked by stereotypical media-baiting — from the Baby Boomers who wrecked the world and stole all the wealth, to Millennials with their sense of entitlement and lack of work ethic. The truth about whether life is better or worse now than it was 30 years ago lies somewhere in the middle.

With that emotional environment in mind, the ABC News Story Lab wanted to find a way of introducing hard data into the debate to actually show ‘How Life Has Changed\’ for people of various ages since the 1980s. We combed publicly available data for the outcomes that make a difference to people’s lives – home ownership rates, life expectancy, death rates from common diseases, education levels and employment rates, to name a few.

The aim was to show readers how life in the 1980s was different for people of their own age. We therefore structured the interactive story by 10-year age categories, grouping outcomes most relevant to that age group. Readers could either click on an age category they were interested in, or scroll through the whole story to each about each group.

The data was presented in slope charts with start and end points of (approximately) 1981 and 2016, showing male and female data where relevant. Slope charts are a simple, uncluttered way to show the change between two time points where the activity in between is not important. The slope of the chart reflected the percent change from the 1980s and the lines were scaled to reflect the most striking differences – a steeper line indicated a more dramatic change.

The data was supplemented with commentary from newspaper articles of the time to show how attitudes had changed. For example, the headline for a chart on how childhood obesity has increased by 145% was ‘Australia was still becoming accustomed to working mothers in 1981. “Children grow fat while mothers work,” one headline screamed.’

Noteworthy design and development characteristics of the story include:

– The illustrations add visual interest and set the tone of the piece.
– The illustrations are all animated SVGs to ensure they maintains sharp clarity on variable sized devices and retina resolutions.
– We use elements of the title illustration throughout the piece to add interest and tie it all together.
– We highlight the important keywords throughout to help with visual scanning.
– We dock the age-group selector to allow easy navigation to your area of interest.
– The piece is designed to give the same quality of experience for our mobile audience as those on larger devices.
– Colour contrasts are all W3C AA compliant. Colours contrast sharply with the background and are optimised to ensure clarity for our readers with various forms of colour blindness.
– The variable height animated slope charts are built using D3.js
– Smooth scrolling navigation to different article sections

What makes this project innovative?

The innovation here was mostly in the editorial thinking — deciding to tell a story in this format, which allows anyone to take away a 'personal' story from wider national insights.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

The goal of the article was to help people understand how Australian society has changed over time, and to explain how life circumstances for people of a certain age today may be different compared with when others were that age. Anecdotal evidence from the contact we had with many users suggested it achieved this goal, and fostered conversations between generations about the topics raised.

Source and methodology

The article contains an extensive list of sources and footnotes, reproduced here. - Infant mortality data came from the OECD - SIDS death rates were supplied by Red Nose - Childcare attendance represents children under 12 in formal child care; data came from the ABS Child Care - Arrangements, Australia, 1984 and Childhood Education and Care, Australia, June 2017 studies - Total weekly household spending, gross household income, average weekly household income and spending on child care, rent, housing, fuel and power, health care and home ownership rates for over-65s came from the ABS Household Expenditure Surveys from 1984 and 2015-16 - Data on children with parents working came from the ABS Child Care Arrangements, Australia, 1984 and Labour Force, Australia: Labour Force Status and Other Characteristics of Families, June 2016 studies; 1981 data included families with children under 12 - Children’s obesity data for 1985 came from an Australian study (7-15-year-olds) and for 2016 from the AIHW’s “A picture of overweight and obesity in Australia 2017” report (5-17-year-olds) - School retention rates came from the ABS’s Social Indicators Australia 1984 and Schools, Australia, 2017 reports Teenagers’ (15- to 19-year-olds) median annual income and trade union membership rates came from the ABS’s Social Indicators Australia 1984 and Characteristics of Employment, Australia, August 2016 reports Unemployed, underemployed and married people not in workforce rates by age group came from the ABS’s Labour Force, Australia, October 2018 report for either June and May - Fatal road accident rates were supplied by the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities Marriage rates, bachelor’s degree rates, women with four or more children, people working in manufacturing, yearly incomes and age proportions came from ABS census data from 1981 and 2016 - Earnings over $100,000 by education level is based on those earning more than $98,277 (nominally $26,001) in 1981 and $104,000 in 2016 - Median marriage age came from the ABS’s Social Indicators Australia 1984 and Marriages and Divorces, Australia, 2016 reports - Proportions of 18- to 34-year-olds living at home was calculated from census data by the ABS Student living-away-from-home allowance came from the Sydney Morning Herald, September 14, 1981 and the Department of Human Services - Unemployment benefit and pension payments came from the Australian Government Social Security Guide De facto relationship and widowed rates came from the ABS’s Social Indicators Australia 1984 and the 2016 census - Median age of first-time mothers came from the ABS’s Social Indicators Australia 1984 and the AIHW’s Australia’s mothers and babies 2016 reports - National median house price is the weighted average of six capitals, and mortgage affordability is mortgage repayments at the standard variable rate on 75 per cent of the median house price on a 25-year loan as a percentage of average household disposable income, and was supplied by Bis Oxford Economics - Home ownership rates for 25- to 34-year-olds represent households where the home is owned and the reference person, who is typically, but not always, the owner, is aged 25–34. The data was supplied by the ABS - Alcohol consumption rates came from the ABS’s Apparent Consumption of Alcohol, Australia, 2016-17 report Smoking rates, death rates from heart disease (ischemic heart disease), strokes (cerebrovascular disease), cancer and lung disease came from the ABS’s Social Indicators Australia 1984 and Causes of Death, Australia, 2016 reports - Adult obesity data came from the ABS’s National Health Surveys for 1989-90 and 2014-15 - Divorce rates came from the ABS’s Marriages and Divorces, Australia, 2016 report - Retirement rates represent people not in the workforce and came from the ABS’s Labour Force Australia January 1981 and Retirement and Retirement Intentions, Australia, July 2016 to June 2017 - Average retirement age and life expectancy at 65 came from the OECD - Incomes of people aged 65 and over was based on earning more than $68,042 ($18,001 nominally) in 1981 and $65,000 in 2016, or less than $15,123 ($4,000 nominally) in 1981 and $15,599 in 2016

Technologies Used

We used R for data analysis. The final article presentation was designed and developed as a one-off project with bespoke code.

Project members

Reporter: Catherine Hanrahan Designer and illustrator: Ben Spraggon Developer: Josh Byrd Editor: Matt Liddy

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