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4704.0 - The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, Oct 2010  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 17/02/2011  Final
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Contents >> Housing circumstances >> Housing and health: overcrowding


HOUSING CIRCUMSTANCES: OVERCROWDING
This article is part of a comprehensive series released as The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

KEY MESSAGES
  • In 2008, 25% of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over (adults) were living in overcrowded housing.
  • Rates of overcrowding increased with remoteness, affecting 13% of adults in major cities, 20% in regional areas and 48% of those in remote areas.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults living in owned housing (including housing being purchased) experienced the lowest rates of overcrowding (13%).
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults living in overcrowded housing were slightly more likely to experience high levels of psychological distress (33%) than those who did not (28%).

Overcrowding places pressure on the household infrastructure that supports health, such as sewerage pipes and washing machines. In addition to direct health effects, household overcrowding can have a negative impact on family relationships and can contribute to poor educational outcomes and family violence (Endnote 1).

This topic presents results from the 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) which provides the most recent data for overcrowding. NATSISS overcrowding data is based on the Canadian National Occupancy Standard for housing appropriateness, an internationally accepted measure of housing utilisation that is sensitive to both household size and composition. Using this measure, households that require at least one additional bedroom are considered to experience some degree of overcrowding. The Canadian approach is being used by the ABS as a measure of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander housing utilisation until improved measures are developed (see discussion below).

In 2008, approximately 26,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander households (13% of households) and 81,500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over (25% of adults) were living in overcrowded conditions. Rates of overcrowding have not changed since the previous survey, affecting around one-quarter of adults in both 2002 and 2008 (26% and 25% respectively).

Overcrowding rates vary with remoteness, partly reflecting housing options available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in different parts of Australia. In 2008, overcrowding was lowest in major cities, affecting 13% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults. In regional areas, 20% of adults were affected, while in remote areas 48% of adults were affected by overcrowding.

There were also differences in overcrowding according to housing tenure type. In 2008, 13% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults living in housing that was owned (or being purchased) experienced overcrowding, while rates were higher for rented housing (30%). Half of those renting from Indigenous or community housing organisations in 2008 lived in overcrowded housing (50%).


2.1 OVERCROWDING BY TENURE TYPE, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over—2008

no.
%

Home owner(a)
12 849
13.4
Renter
Private and other(b)
19 438
20.0
State/Territory housing authority(b)
23 598
31.0
Indigenous housing organisation(b)
24 833
49.5
Total renter
67 985
30.3
All persons(c)
81 525
24.9

(a) Includes participants of rent/buy schemes.
(b) 2008 NATSISS landlord type data should be used with caution, see Endnote 2 for more detail.
(c) Includes persons in households of other tenure types.
Source: 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey. These estimates are also available for download in the Housing Circumstances datacube.

Overcrowding was associated with household income, with people with lower household income more likely to live in overcrowded households (graph 2.2). In 2008, nearly one-third (30%) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults with an equivalised gross household income in the lowest income quintile were living in housing that needed at least one extra bedroom, compared with 8% of adults with household income in the highest two quintiles.


2.2 OVERCROWDING BY EQUIVALISED GROSS HOUSEHOLD INCOME, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over—2008
chart: Overcrowding by equivalised gross household income, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over, 2008
Source: 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey.
These estimates are also available for download in the Housing Circumstances datacube.


The degree of overcrowding varied with remoteness. In major cities, 10% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults lived in households needing one extra bedroom, and 3% needed two or more bedrooms to adequately house all occupants. In regional areas, 12% of adults lived in households needing one extra bedroom and 8% needed two or more. In remote areas, 16% of adults lived in households that required one extra bedroom, 11% needed two extra, 8% three extra, and 14% needed four or more additional bedrooms to adequately house all occupants.

The most recent information on overcrowding for the non-Indigenous population is available from the 2007–08 Survey of Income and Housing. The results show that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults were six times as likely as non-Indigenous adults to live in dwellings that required additional bedrooms (25% compared with 4%).


OVERCROWDING AND HEALTH

In 2008, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults living in an overcrowded household were slightly more likely to have high levels of psychological distress (33%) than those who did not (28%). However, self-assessed health status was not associated with overcrowding.


IMPROVING MEASURES OF ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER HOUSING UTILISATION

There are many ways in which housing utilisation can be measured, however not all measures are relevant in all contexts. The Canadian overcrowding measure is commonly used in Australia, including as a measure for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander housing utilisation, however the perception and reality of whether overcrowding is experienced will be influenced by structural and cultural considerations (Endnote 3). For example, a household that is notionally overcrowded on a measure looking at the number of persons per bedroom may be equipped with sufficient resources to comfortably house all occupants, such as extra bathrooms and food preparation areas. Climate may also have an influence on overcrowding — certain climatic conditions may encourage higher bedroom occupancies, for example in tropical climates where air conditioning may be installed in certain rooms of a building. Further research into the housing requirements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is needed to inform the development of housing utilisation measures that are specific to the needs and desires of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.


ENDNOTES

1. SCRGSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision) 2009, ‘Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2009’, Productivity Commission, Canberra <www.pc.gov.au>.

2. Due to changes in collection methodology across NATSISS surveys, NATSISS 2008 landlord type estimates (for renters) may overestimate 'Private and other renters' and underestimate 'State and Territory housing authority' and 'Indigenous Housing Organisation/Community housing'. Estimates should be used with caution, particularly when examining changes over time.

3. Biddle, N. 2008. ‘The Scale and Composition of Indigenous Housing Need, 2001–06’, CAEPR Working Paper no. 47/2008, < http://caepr.anu.edu.au/>.




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