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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2005  
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Contents >> Population >> Social circumstances of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Social Circumstances of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

POPULATION CHARACTERISTICS

Between 1994 and 2002, the proportion of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults in mainstream employment rose from 30% to 36%.

Since 1994 there have been a number of improvements in the social circumstances of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. These include gains in educational attainment, improvements in employment (with associated reductions in unemployment), and increases in home ownership. Nevertheless, Indigenous Australians remain disadvantaged across a range of areas of social concern when compared with non-Indigenous Australians. In addition, many Indigenous peoples living in remote areas have limited access to services and mainstream labour markets.


THE INDIGENOUS POPULATION

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population of Australia was estimated at 458,500 people at 30 June 2001 and projected to have grown to between 492,700 (low series) and 525,000 (high series) by mid 2005. In 2001, Indigenous peoples represented 2.4% of the total Australian population of 19.4 million. Among Indigenous people, 90% identified their Indigenous origin as Aboriginal, 6% identified as Torres Strait Islander and 4% identified as both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. The Indigenous population is relatively young, with a median age of 20.5 years compared to 36.1 years for the non-Indigenous population.


National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS)

The 2002 NATSISS is the second national social survey of Indigenous Australians conducted by the ABS, building on the 1994 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey (NATSIS). It is a multi-dimensional social survey of Australia's Indigenous population aged 15 years and over. The NATSISS was designed to enable analysis of interrelationships between social circumstances and outcomes.

This article uses data from the 2002 NATSISS together with other data collections to examine health, education, work and housing issues. The population is generally confined to persons aged 18 years and over to enable comparisons with the non-Indigenous population using data from the ABS 2002 General Social Survey (GSS). Social participation and law and justice issues relating to Indigenous peoples are covered in other articles in this publication.

General Social Survey (GSS)

The 2002 GSS is a multi-topic social survey of Australia's population aged 18 years and over. Like the NATSISS it collected data across a range of social dimensions. While some respondents were Indigenous, this article only includes GSS data related to the non-Indigenous population.

Indigenous status

Indigenous people
are those people who identified themselves as having 'Aboriginal origin only', 'Torres Strait Islander origin only' or 'Both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin'.

...remoteness

In 2001, 30% of the Indigenous population lived in Major Cities, about 44% in regional areas and 26% in remote areas. By comparison, approximately two-thirds (67%) of the non-Indigenous population lived in Major Cities and only 2% in remote areas. As a consequence, the proportion of the total population that were Indigenous varied from 1% in Major Cities to 24% in remote areas (45% in the Very Remote component).

...states and territories

The states with the largest Indigenous populations were New South Wales (29% of the total Indigenous population) and Queensland (28%). Queensland had the largest Torres Strait Islander population (59% of the total Torres Strait Islander population), including 14% living in the Torres Strait area. The other states with large Indigenous populations were Western Australian (14% of the total Indigenous population) and the Northern Territory (12%).

Indigenous peoples comprise about 30% of the Northern Territory population but less than 4% of the total population in each of the other states and territories. Four-fifths (81%) of the Indigenous population living in the Northern Territory lived in the Remote and Very Remote areas of the Northern Territory.

Population by Remoteness Areas(a) - 2001
Graph: Population by Brmotness Areas(a) - 2001


Remoteness areas

The ABS Remoteness classification is based on road distance to different sized urban centres, where the population size is considered to govern the range and type of services available. In this article remote areas include the Remoteness categories Remote Australia and Very Remote Australia, while non-remote areas include Major Cities of Australia, Inner Regional Australia and Outer Regional Australia. For further information see Statistical Geography: Volume 1 - Australia Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC), 2001 (ABS cat. no. 1216.0).

Population projections

Population projections are not predictions or forecasts. They are an assessment of what would happen, in future years, to a population given a set of assumptions about future trends in fertility, mortality and migration. (endnote 1)

Age standardisation

Some results in this article have been adjusted to account for differences in the age structures of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations, and to allow for meaningful comparisons between the 2002 NATSISS and 2002 GSS. As health and labour force characteristics are influenced by age, data on these topics have been age-standardised wherever comparisons are made between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. Note that age-standardised estimates are to be used for comparison purposes only, and do not themselves represent any real population parameters.


HEALTH AND DISABILITY

Health concerns among the Indigenous population include high rates of diabetes, heart disease and respiratory conditions. (endnote 2) The health of people in remote communities is affected by their isolation and limited access to health services as well as factors relevant to the Indigenous population as a whole (see Australian Social Trends 2003, Services in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities).

In 2002, 38% of Indigenous people reported that they had a disability or long-term health condition, with little difference between people living in remote and non-remote areas. Among Indigenous peoples aged 15-49 years in 2002, those with a disability or long-term health condition reported lower levels of participation in sport, school completion to at least Year 10 or mainstream employment (non-CDEP employment) than those without a disability or long-term health condition. They reported higher levels of financial stress and contact with the criminal justice system (as either victims or offenders), and greater difficulty with transport (endnote 3) (see Australian Social Trends 2005, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons: contact with the law).

...self-assessed health

In 2002, 42% of Indigenous people aged 18 years and over reported their health as Excellent/Very good, 33% as Good, and 25% as Fair/Poor. While the proportion of people who reported Excellent/Very good health was similar in remote and non-remote areas, those living in non-remote areas were more likely to rate their health as Fair/Poor (27% compared with 22%). The pattern of self-assessed health in 2002 was similar to that reported in 1994.

After taking into account the different age structures of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations, Indigenous adults were one-and-a-half times more likely than non-Indigenous people to have a disability or long-term health condition. They were nearly twice as likely to report their health as Fair/Poor.
Self assessed health status(a) - 2002
Graph: Self assessed health status(a) - 2002


HEALTH CHARACTERISTICS OF INDIGENOUS PERSONS(a) - 1994 and 2002

1994
2002
Total
Remote
Non-remote
Total
%
%
%
%

Has a disability or long-term health condition
..
37.8
38.3
38.1
Self-assessed health status
Excellent/Very good
43.2
42.3
41.8
41.9
Good
37.6
35.6
31.7
32.8
Fair/Poor
19.1
21.5
26.5
25.1
All Indigenous persons
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

'000
'000
'000
'000

All Indigenous persons
190.8
69.3
182.1
251.4

(a) Aged 18 years and over.
Source: ABS 2002 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey.


EDUCATION

Education is generally considered to be a key factor in improving outcomes for Indigenous peoples (endnote 4). However, a range of issues affect participation in education, including access to educational institutions, health, financial constraints and community expectations.

In 2002, Indigenous people who had completed school to at least Year 10, reported higher levels of mainstream employment, higher income and greater use of information technology, compared with those who had not done so (endnote 3).

The proportion of Indigenous people aged 18 years and over who had a non-school qualification increased from 19% to 29% between 1994 and 2002. Over this period, the proportion who reported a certificate or diploma increased from 12% to 24% and the proportion with a bachelor degree or higher qualification rose from 1% to 4%. Despite these gains in educational attainment, Indigenous adults were still less likely than non-Indigenous adults to have a non-school qualification in 2002 (29% compared to 50%).


WORK AND INCOME

Income gained through employment is vital to the wellbeing of many working age Australians and their families, contributing to their financial independence and security. Factors contributing to the labour force participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples include their level of educational attainment and the limited range of employment opportunities in remote areas (see Australian Social Trends 2004, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the labour force).

In 2002, 36% of Indigenous people aged 18 years and over were in mainstream employment and an additional 13% were participants in CDEP. In non-remote areas there was a higher proportion of people in mainstream employment than there was in remote areas; and most CDEP participation was located in remote areas.

Between 1994 and 2002, the proportion of Indigenous people aged 18 years and over in mainstream employment rose from 30% to 36%, and the unemployment rate for this age group fell from 30% to 20%. The fall in Indigenous unemployment was consistent with the general decline in national unemployment over this period.

In 2002, compared with Indigenous people who were unemployed, not in the labour force or participants in CDEP, those in mainstream employment reported higher incomes, less financial stress and lower levels of involvement with the criminal justice system (as either victims or offenders) (endnote 3).

Indigenous people continue to experience lower levels of employment and higher levels of unemployment than non-Indigenous people. In 2002, after adjusting for the different age structures of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations, Indigenous adults were half as likely as non-Indigenous adults to be in mainstream employment and more than twice as likely to be unemployed.

EDUCATIONAL ATTENDANCE AND ATTAINMENT BY INDIGENOUS STATUS(a) - 1994 and 2002

Indigenous
Non-Indigenous
1994
2002
2002
Total
Remote
Non-remote
Total
Total
%
%
%
%
%

Attending post-school institution aged 18-24(b)
..
6.9
26.3
20.9
45.4
Has a non-school qualification
18.6
19.1
33.1
29.2
50.3
Does not have a non-school qualification: highest level of schooling
Completed Year 12
6.8
9.2
11.1
10.5
15.3
Completed Year 10/11
27.3
26.7
26.7
26.7
18.5
Completed Year 9 or below(c)
46.1
45.1
29.1
33.5
15.9
All persons
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

'000
'000
'000
'000
'000

All persons
190.0
69.1
180.9
249.9
18 119.2

(a) Persons aged 18 years and over who were not attending school.
(b) Comprises University or other tertiary institution, TAFE, technical or business college and industry skills centre.
(c) Includes persons who never attended school.
Source: ABS 2002 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey and ABS 2002 General Social Survey.

LABOUR FORCE STATUS OF INDIGENOUS PERSONS(a) - 1994 and 2002

1994
2002
Total
Non-remote Remote
Total
%
%
%
%

Employed
Mainstream
29.9
20.6
42.0
36.1
CDEP(b)
8.6
34.3
4.7
12.8
Total
38.5
54.9
46.6
48.9
Labour force participation rate
55.0
60.5
61.6
61.3
Unemployment rate
30.0
9.2
24.3
20.2

(a) Persons aged 18 years or over
(b) Compared with CDEP administrative records held by the then ATSIC (24,100 participants overall), CDEP was underreported in the 1994 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey (17,000 participants overall)
Source: ABS 2002 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey.

Labour force status(a) - 2002
Graph: Labour force status(a) - 2002


Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP)

In recognition of the limited employment opportunities in remote areas, the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) scheme was established and has since extended into some non-remote areas. By providing Indigenous community organisations with funds to pay participants working on community projects, the scheme provides jobs and training for people who agree to forego an unemployment allowance.

Between 1994 and 2002, administrative records held by the then Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission indicated that the number of participants in CDEP rose from 24,100 to 34,200. While the estimate of CDEP participation in the 2002 NATSISS (34,200) closely reflected the corresponding administrative records, CDEP participation was underreported in the 1994 NATSIS (16,800). (endnote 5)

According to the 2002 NATSISS, around 70% of all CDEP participants worked 24 hours or less per week and almost half reported low incomes (that is, their equivalised gross household income was in the second or third deciles). Indigenous people on CDEP were more than twice as likely as those in mainstream employment to either report working part-time or to have low incomes. (endnote 3)

In this article, mainstream employment refers to non-CDEP jobs.

...income

In 2002, the mean equivalised gross household income of Indigenous people aged 18 years and over was $394 per week, with a higher level reported in non-remote areas ($407 per week) than in remote areas ($354 per week). The real mean equivalised gross household income of Indigenous people rose between 1994 and 2002 from $374 to $394 per week (after adjusting for increases in the cost of living using the Consumer Price Index). In 2002, the mean equivalised gross household income of Indigenous adults was equal to 59% of that of non-Indigenous adults.

...financial stress

In 2002, 54% of Indigenous people aged 18 years and over reported that they would be unable to raise $2,000 within a week in a time of crisis. This measure of financial stress was reported by a greater proportion of people in remote areas (73%) than in non-remote areas (47%). Overall, Indigenous adults were almost four times more likely than non-Indigenous adults to report this measure of financial stress.


HOUSING

Housing satisfies many fundamental personal and social needs, providing shelter, security, privacy, living space and necessary household facilities. The relationship between adequate housing and the general health and wellbeing of the Indigenous population has been a focus of concern, underlying a range of government policies and programs. (endnote 6)

In 2002, the majority (70%) of Indigenous people aged 18 years and over were living in rented dwellings. The proportion renting was lower in non-remote areas (64%) than it was in remote areas (85%). In remote areas almost four out of five renters were living in accommodation provided by Indigenous Housing Organisations or in other community housing.

Overall, about a quarter (27%) of Indigenous people were living in dwellings that were either fully owned or being purchased. The proportion of people in dwellings that were being purchased rose from 11% in 1994 to 17% in 2002.

...dwelling problems

The adequacy of dwellings and household facilities may vary with geographical location. In 2002, Indigenous people in remote areas were more likely than those in non-remote areas to live in dwellings with major structural problems (58% compared with 33%) and less likely to have had repairs and maintenance carried out in the previous year (52% compared with 67%).


Equivalised household income

Gross income comprises income from employment and investments, pensions and similar transfers from government, private institutions and other households.

Equivalised gross household income is a standardised income measure, adjusted for the different income needs of households of different size and composition. It takes into account the greater income needs of larger households and the economies of scale achieved when people live together. For a lone-person household, it is equal to gross household income. For a household comprising more than one person, it indicates the gross household income that would need to be received by a lone-person household to achieve the same economic wellbeing as the household comprising more than one person.

Income quintiles and deciles are the groupings that result from ranking all people in the population in ascending order according to their equivalised gross household income, and then dividing the population into five equal groups, each comprising 20% of the population (quintiles) or ten equal groups, each comprising 10% of the population (deciles). Previous analysis has shown that households in the lowest income decile tend to have expenditure patterns more in common with higher income households than with other households at the bottom of the income distribution. Accordingly, to assist analysis of the circumstances of Indigenous people on low incomes, the proportion of Indigenous people who fall within the income boundaries of the second and third deciles (i.e. derived from the 20% of people in the total population with household incomes between the bottom 10% and the bottom 30% of incomes) is presented in this article as an alternative to the lowest income quintile. See also Household Income and Income Distribution, Australia 2002-03 (ABS cat. no. 6523.0).

INCOME AND FINANCIAL STRESS BY INDIGENOUS STATUS(a) - 1994 and 2002

Indigenous
Non-Indigenous
1994
2002
2002
Total
Remote
Non-remote
Total
Total
%
%
%
%
%

Equivalised gross household income - second and third deciles
..
47.5
34.1
37.5
19.8
Unable to raise $2,000 within a week for something important
..
72.7
47.3
54.3
13.6

$
$
$
$
$

Mean equivalised gross household income ($)
374
354
407
394
665

(a) Persons aged 18 years or over.

Source: ABS 2002 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey and ABS 2002 General Social Survey.

TENURE AND LANDLORD TYPE BY INDIGENOUS STATUS(a) - 1994 and 2002

Indigenous
Non-Indigenous
1994
2002
2002
Total
Remote
Non-remote
Total
Total
%
%
%
%
%

Owner without a mortgage
10.9
4.0
12.4
10.0
38.5
Owner with a mortgage
10.6
4.6
21.0
16.5
34.6
Renter
State or Territory Housing Authority
33.3
12.6
24.4
21.2
3.8
Indigenous Housing Organisation/Community housing
18.7
64.3
9.3
24.5
0.6
Total renters
71.5
85.3
63.7
69.6
24.3
Total (b)
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

(a) Persons aged 18 years or over.
(b) Total includes some categories which are not shown separately.

Source: ABS 2002 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey and ABS 2002 General Social Survey.
..household facilities

Access to many household facilities tends to be taken for granted. Generally, across the total Indigenous population, the level of access to most household facilities is very high. There are, however, certain facilities that are not as readily available to Indigenous people, particularly those living in remote areas. In 2002, almost one in seven Indigenous people (14%) in remote areas lived in dwellings that did not have a working refrigerator, and the same proportion of people did not have a working stove, oven or other cooking facility. A higher proportion of Indigenous peoples in remote areas than in non-remote areas were living in dwellings that had sewerage facilities that did not work (6% compared with 0.5%). Nationally, 11% of the Indigenous population aged 18 years and over lived in dwellings without a working washing machine (23% in remote areas) and 29% lived in dwellings that did not have a working telephone (57% in remote areas).

People without household facilities(a) - 2002
Graph: People without household facilities(a) - 2002



ENDNOTES

1 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2004, Experimental Estimates and Projections, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, cat. no. 3238.0, ABS, Canberra.

2
Australian Bureau of Statistics 2003, The Health and Welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, cat. no. 4704.0, ABS, Canberra.

3 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2004, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, 2002, cat. no. 4714.0, ABS, Canberra.

4
Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Committee 2002, Katu Kalpa- Report on the inquiry into the effectiveness of education and training programs for Indigenous Australians, <http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/eet_ctte/completed_inquiries/1999-02/indiged/report/contents.htm>, accessed 15 June 2005.

5
Australian Bureau of Statistics 1994, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey - detailed findings, 1994, cat. no. 4190.0, ABS, Canberra.

6
Department of Family and Community Services 2001, Building a better future: Indigenous housing to 2010, <http://www.facs.gov.au/internet/facsinternet.nsf/indigenous/indigenous_housing_2010.htm>, accessed 15 July 2005.


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