A question on income was first asked in the 1933 Census in an attempt to assess the effects of the Depression. It has subsequently been included in all Censuses since 1976. Each person aged 15 years and over is asked to indicate the range within which their gross income from all sources lies (rather than their exact income).
Gross income includes wages, salaries, overtime, business or farm income (less operating expenses), rents received, dividends, interest, superannuation, maintenance (child support), workers' compensation, and government pensions and allowances (including all payments for family assistance, labour market assistance, youth and student support, and support for the aged, carers and people with a disability).
As income from most sources is reported before deduction of expenses incurred in the earning of the income, these incomes are always a positive figure. However, income from some sources may be negative. Income from own unincorporated enterprise and income from rental property are collected net of expenses incurred in the raising of income, so may be negative. This may result in a negative total income.
While there is a tendency for incomes to be slightly understated in the Census, the distribution is largely consistent with that obtained from the ABS income surveys. Therefore, Census income data is useful as an indicator of relative advantage or disadvantage and economic well being for small areas and small population groups. Information on income distribution is also used in planning public and private sector services such as social welfare and, particularly at the regional level, retail distribution and other commercial services.
Testing of the topic has shown that there is a general tendency for those not in the labour force to leave this question unanswered, as they consider income only applies to payments received as a result of employment. Similarly, pensioners and self funded retirees sometimes state that they receive no income as they do not regard their pension as income.
For the 2006 Census, income data will be output using the variables Individual Income (INCP), Family Income (FINF), and Household Income (HIND) as in 2001. In addition, for the 2006 Census, there are three new income variables; Family Income as Stated (FINASF), Household Income as Stated (HINASD) and Household Income - Equivalised (HIED).
There are also two variables used to derive the family and household income variables. These are Family Income Derivation Indicator (FIDF) and Household Income Derivation Indicator (HIDD).
See also Family Income (FINF), Family Income as Stated (FINASF), Household Income (HIND), Household Income as Stated (HINASD), Individual Income (INCP).