1200.0.55.009 - Ancestry Standard, 2014, Version 2.1  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 28/08/2014   
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This document was added 04/04/2017.



The standard name of the variable is Ancestry.


Nominal definition

Ancestry describes the ethnic origin or cultural heritage to which a person identifies and/or to which a person's forebears are/were attached.

Ancestry is an attribute of the counting unit 'person'.

Operational definition

Operationally, Ancestry is defined as the ethnic origin or cultural groups which a person identifies as being his or her ancestry. For example, a respondent may indicate four ancestries because each grandparent is from a different ethnic origin or cultural background (say Italian, Greek, German, English). However, another person with the same ancestry may choose to identify as 'Australian' because one or both parents were born in Australia, or because of a cultural or national attachment to this country. Ancestry therefore involves measures of self-identification of ethnic origin or cultural group affiliation or nationality as well as of descent from one or more particular groups.


Ancestry describes the ethnic origin or cultural heritage a person identifies with or to which a person's forebears are/were attached.

It is strongly suggested that the Ancestry variable be used in conjunction with the Country of Birth variables, Indigenous Status, Religious Affiliation, and language variables in order to identify particular ethnic origin or cultural groups. The Ancestry variable provides a self assessed measure of ethnicity and cultural background, however, Ancestry in the Australian context is complex as there are many Australians with origins and heritage that do not, in practice, relate to their current ethnic identity. Ancestry data alone, therefore, is not considered a good measure of service needs or the extent to which persons from certain backgrounds are associated with advantage or disadvantage. When Ancestry data is used alone, it should only be done to represent a broad measure of cultural diversity. The major advantage of the Ancestry variable is that it is able to measure an association with an ethnic origin and cultural groups which cannot be measured by questions relating to Country of Birth or language variables. For instance the Ancestry variable assists in the identification and measurement of ethnic and cultural minorities which exist or originate within particular countries, ethnic origins and cultural groups which form a distinct unbroken geographic block across neighbouring country borders, and ethnic and cultural groups which are located in many disparate countries across the world.

Many people in Australia identify with a number of cultural backgrounds and do not relate to a single ethnic or cultural group. These people will give multiple responses to a question on ancestry, ethnicity or cultural identity. Often the responses will indicate an identification with Australia in a national or cultural sense, but will also acknowledge continuing ties with other ethnic or cultural groups (e.g. Irish Australian, Italian Australian). This does not mean that people who identify primarily with other ethnicities, ancestries or cultures do not also regard themselves as Australian in most senses. The problem is with the terminology. "Australian" is used as the adjective to describe the culture that has developed in this country over the last two hundred years, and also to describe all members of the citizenry regardless of whether or not they regard their ethnicity, culture or ancestry as Australian.

A question on each person's Ancestry, was asked for the first time in the 1986 Census. This was the result of investigation by the 1986 Population Census Ethnicity Committee on the need for data on ethnicity other than language, country of birth or country of birth of parents. The question was designed to identify the respondent's origin rather than a subjective perception of their ethnic background. Even so, some subjectivity was involved because of the range of possible interpretations of the term "ancestry".