2900.0 - Census of Population and Housing: Understanding the Census and Census Data, Australia , 2016  
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Ancestry (ANCP, ANC1P, ANC2P)

This variable indicates how a person identifies their ancestry. Respondents are able to provide up to two ancestries; ANC1P reports the first ancestry provided, ANC2P reports the second ancestry provided, and ANCP combines the two responses into a multi-response variable.

Ancestry is applicable to all people counted in the 2016 Census.

How this variable is created

Ancestry is a variable that is created from the responses to the Ancestry question on the Census Household Form. An image of this question in the Census Household Paper Form is provided below.

Respondents were able to use either a mark box to indicate up to two commonly reported ancestry responses (out of seven options) or write a response in one or both text fields. The majority of responses for ancestry were captured automatically from mark box responses (80.2% for Ancestry 1 and 72.2% for Ancestry 2 ).

Written responses were coded using a combination of automatic reading and coding processes (18.7% for Ancestry 1 and 4.8% for Ancestry 2). The remaining responses required manual coding processes when they could not be coded or derived automatically (1.0% for Ancestry 1 and 22.9% for Ancestry 2).

In 4.4% of pre-processed data, people provided more than two ancestry responses. In these cases, responses were accepted in the order they appeared on the form and the extra response was rejected.

In cases where a respondent provided only one ancestry, Ancestry 2 was recorded as Not Applicable.

Ancestry is coded using the Australian Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups (ASCCED) 2016. If a response is not listed in the classification, it is coded to 'Inadequately Described'. In 2016, 0.2% of data for Ancestry 1 and 0.2% of data for Ancestry 2 were coded to 'Inadequately Described'.

The revision of the ancestry classification is part of a periodical review process. The latest revision resulted in two additional cultural and ethnic groups, 1512 Pitcairn and 4914 Yezidi, and several titles of cultural and ethnic groups were adjusted in order to better reflect current terminology and to correct spelling. For more information on the ancestry classification and categories, see the Australian Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups (ASCCEG), 2016.

Variable history

Ancestry was first included as a question in the 1986 Census. The aim of the question was to measure the ethnic composition of the population as a whole. Evaluation showed that it was not useful for this purpose as there was a high level of subjectivity and confusion about what the question meant, particularly for those people whose families had been in Australia for many generations. Very little use was made of the ancestry data from the 1986 Census. As a consequence, ancestry was not included in either the 1991 or 1996 Censuses.

Leading up to the 2001 Census, the ABS established a Census Consultative Group on Ancestry, with the objectives of:

  • seeking user input
  • identifying user requirements for these data
  • researching international practices
  • developing and testing questions that would provide acceptable and accurate data at a reasonable cost.

The conclusion of the Consultative Group was that major policy issues required data about those people who were born overseas themselves, or whose parents were born overseas. It was considered that an ancestry question, in combination with a question on whether the person's parents were born in Australia or overseas, would produce the desired information.

For the 2006 and 2011 Censuses, respondents were asked to mark the ancestries they most closely identified with and to consider their ancestry back as far as two generations (i.e. their parents and grandparents). Respondents were asked to report at least one ancestry, but no more than two ancestries. The instructions differed from the 2001 Census where respondents were asked to 'Provide more than one ancestry if necessary', and to consider their parents, grandparents and great grandparents.

For the 2016 Census the format of the ancestry question was revised to provide two distinct text response areas for two separate written ancestry responses. This change aimed to clarify responses and improve autocoding rates. In previous Censuses, when writing more than one ancestry in a single area, people tended to add marks such as backslashes or hyphens between them, which made the entries fail autocoding and left the intended answer unclear.

Non-response rate

Item non-response rates are a measure of how many people did not respond to a particular question as a proportion of the total number of people the question was applicable to. In this instance the response is left as not stated.

The majority of item non-response is attributable to the people who did not respond to the Census at all. The second and smaller contributor to item non-response is when people return a Census form but may not answer a particular question(s). For more information, refer to Understanding Census data quality.

The non-response rate for Ancestry was 7.0% (6.9% in 2011).

Data usage notes

The objective of the question on ancestry is to gain a better understanding of a person's ethnic background, particularly for Australians who have recently arrived. A person's ancestry, when used in conjunction with the person's birthplace, language and religion, and whether the person's parents were born in Australia or overseas, provides a good indication of the ethnic background of first and second generation Australians. Ancestry data also help to identify the distinct cultural groups within Australia, such as Maoris or Australian South Sea Islanders, and groups that are spread across countries, such as Kurds or Indians. Country of birth data alone cannot identify these groups. Identification of these groups is essential for planning and for the effective delivery of services to particular ethnic communities.


Because Ancestry is a multi-response question in the Census, responses were coded into two variables - Ancestry 1 (first response) and Ancestry 2 (second response). Depending on the number of responses given, some people are recorded with one ancestry while others have two. This means that the number of responses for a particular ancestry for a geographic area may be greater than the number of people in that area. There is no ranking of responses, so if a respondent reports two ancestries, both answers have equal standing.

Ancestry classification

The ancestry classification is based on the geographic area in which a group originated or developed, and the similarity of cultural and ethnic groups in terms of social and cultural characteristics.

The ABS developed this classification to satisfy wide community interest in the ethnic and cultural composition of the Australian population and the characteristics of particular migrant community groups. The classification is intended to provide a standard to meet a growing statistical, administrative and service delivery need for data relating to these interests.

Related variables

The measurement of the ethnic and cultural diversity of the Australian population, and the degree to which Australians retain their ethnic and cultural identity, is primarily based on the use of a number of Census variables related to a person's origin, including: Ancestry Ancestry 1, Ancestry 2, Birthplace of Female Parent, Birthplace of Male Parent , Birthplace of Parents, Country of Birth of Person, Religious Affiliation, Year of Arrival in Australia, Indigenous Status and language variables such as Language Spoken at Home and Proficiency in Spoken English.

Further information

Definitions for Ancestry, Ancestry 1 and Ancestry 2 are available in the 2016 Census Dictionary with additional information available in the Glossary.

For related information see data quality statements for Country of Birth of Person, Country of Birth of Mother, Country of Birth of Father and Language Spoken at Home.

For the first time in 2016, Norfolk Island is included in the Australian Census. Information about understanding the differences between questions on ancestry in the 2016 Census and the 2011 Norfolk Island Census can be found in this publication on the Understanding ancestry in the Norfolk Island population page.

Household form question image

Question 18 as it appeared on the 2016 Census Household Paper Form

    Image: 2016 Household Paper Form - Question 18. What is the person's ancestry?
A text only version of the online Census Household form is available from the Downloads tab.