4159.0.55.002 - General Social Survey: User Guide, Australia, 2010  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 07/12/2011   
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Ability to raise $2,000 within a week for something important

A person's perception of whether they or other members of the household could obtain $2,000 for something important within a week.

Acceptance of other cultures

The extent to which respondents agree or disagree with the statement that 'It is a good thing for a society to be made up of people from different cultures.'

Access to motor vehicle(s) to drive

Access that a person has to any motor vehicle to drive. Such motor vehicles include vehicle(s) which they wholly or jointly own, vehicle(s) belonging to another member of the household, and company or government vehicle(s) which they have access to for personal use.


The age of a person on their last birthday.


A person of any age who is a natural, adopted, step, or foster son or daughter of a couple or lone parent, usually resident in the same household, and who does not have a child or partner of his/her own usually resident in the household.

Consumer debt

Debt or liabilities usually associated with the purchase of consumables, such as clothing, electrical goods or cars, incurred by way of credit or store card and which are not completely paid off, car or personal loans, interest free purchases and hire purchase agreements.

Investment loans, lines of credit, overdue bills for telephone/electricity etc., outstanding fines or Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS)/Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) debts are excluded.

Contact with family or friends living outside the household

Refers to face to face contact, or other types of contact such as telephone, mail and email, which a person has had with family or friends who do not live with them.


Two people in a registered or de facto marriage, who usually live in the same household. See also one family households.

Dependent child/ren/Dependants

All persons aged under 15 years; and people aged 15-24 years who are full-time students, have a parent in the household and do not have a partner or child of their own in the household.

Difficulty accessing services

Barriers people experience when accessing particular services. Respondents were asked whether they had experienced difficulty accessing any of the following services:

  • Banks or other financial institutions
  • Commonwealth income support, health and related services
  • Disability Services
  • Dentists
  • Doctors
  • Employment Services
  • Hospitals
  • Legal services
  • Mental Health Services
  • Telecommunication Services
  • Other service.

Disability or long-term health condition

A disability or long-term health condition exists if a limitation, restriction, impairment, disease or disorder, had lasted, or was likely to last for at least six months, and which restricted everyday activities.

It is classified by whether or not a person has a specific limitation or restriction. Specific limitation or restriction is further classified by whether the limitation or restriction is a limitation in core activities or a schooling/employment restriction only.

There are four levels of core activity limitation (profound, severe, moderate, and mild) which are based on whether a person needs help, has difficulty, or uses aids or equipment with any of the core activities (self care, mobility or communication). A person's overall level of core activity limitation is determined by their highest level of limitation in these activities.

The four levels are:
  • profound - always needs help/supervision with core activities
  • severe - does not always need help with core activities
  • moderate - has difficulty with core activities
  • mild - uses aids to assist with core activities.

Persons are classified as having only a schooling/employment restriction if they have no core activity limitation and are aged 18 to 20 years and have difficulties with education, or are less than 65 years and have difficulties with employment.

Dissaving action

Any action where spending is greater than income thereby reducing already accumulated savings or leading to borrowing to finance the expenditure. Examples of dissaving actions include: reducing home loan repayments, increasing balance owed on credit cards, selling shares or other assets, taking out a personal loan etc.

Equity in dwelling

Calculated as the value of the dwelling less the amount owing on mortgages or secured loans against the dwelling.

Equivalised gross household income

Gross household income adjusted using an equivalence scale. For a lone person household it is equal to gross household income. For a household comprising more than one person, it is an indicator of the gross household income that would need to be received by a lone person household to enjoy the same level of economic well-being as the household in question. For further information see Appendix 2: Equivalised gross household income quintiles in General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia 2010 (cat. no. 4159.0) available on the ABS web site www.abs.gov.au.

Equivalised gross household income quintiles

These are groupings of 20% of the total population when ranked in ascending order according to equivalised gross household income. The population used for this purpose includes all people living in private dwellings, including children and other persons under the age of 18 years. For further information see Appendix 2: Equivalised gross household income quintiles in General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia 2010 (cat. no. 4159.0) available on the ABS web site www.abs.gov.au.


Two or more people, one of whom is at least 15 years of age, who are related by blood, marriage (registered or de facto), adoption, step or fostering, and who are usually resident in the same household. A separate family is formed by identifying the presence of a couple relationship, a parent-child relationship where only one parent is present, or other blood relationship. Some households will, therefore, contain more than one family.

Family composition of household

Classifies households into three broad groupings based on the number of families present (one family, multiple family and non-family). One family households are further disaggregated according to the type of family (such as couple family or one-parent family) and according to whether or not dependent children are present. Non-family households are disaggregated into lone person households and group households.

Feelings of safety

How safe a person feels in various circumstances (i.e. when home alone during the day, when home alone after dark, or when walking alone through their local area after dark) was reported on a five point scale, from very safe to very unsafe. If the respondent indicated that they were never home alone or never walked alone after dark this response was recorded.

Financial exclusion

The extent to which a person is excluded from mainstream banking and financial services, for example being denied an application for a credit card.

Financial stress

Three measures aimed at identifying households that may have been constrained in their activities because of shortage of money. The measures are the ability to raise 'emergency money', whether had cash flow problems and whether had taken dissaving actions. One person in the household was asked to provide these assessments of the household's financial situation.

Financial resilience

This includes actions taken to improve a person's ability to control their current financial situation or manage in a situation involving a major loss of income. Actions covered included: paying off more than the minimum required on loans or credit cards; following a budget; obtaining financial advice or making additional contributions to superannuation.

Gross household income

All current receipts that are usually or regularly received by the household or by individual members of the household, and which are available for, or intended to support, current consumption. This includes receipts from wages and salaries (including salary sacrificed income), profit or loss from own unincorporated business (including partnerships), net investment income (e.g. interest, rent, dividends), government pensions and allowances, and private transfers (e.g. superannuation, workers' compensation, income from annuities, child support and financial support from family members not living in the same household). Gross household income is the sum of the income from all these sources before income tax, the Medicare levy and the Medicare levy surcharge are deducted.

Government pensions and allowances

Income support payments from government to persons under social security and related government programs. Included are pensions and allowances received by aged, disabled, unemployed and sick persons, families and children, veterans or their survivors, and study allowances for students. All overseas pensions and benefits are included. Family Tax Benefit, and Child Disability Assistance Payment paid to recipients of Carer Allowance are also included in government pensions and allowances.

Government support

Cash support from the government in the form of pensions, benefits or allowances. See Government pensions and allowances.

Highest year of school completed

The highest level of primary or secondary education which a person has completed, irrespective of the type of institution or location where that education was undertaken.

Healthcare delays

Ever delayed seeking medical attention or buying prescribed medicines for own health because of cost.


A person living alone or a group of related or unrelated people who usually live in the same private dwelling.

Household tenure type

The nature of a household's legal right to occupy the dwelling in which they usually reside. Households are grouped into one of four broad tenure categories:
  • owner without a mortgage - the dwelling is owned by a resident of the household and there are no outstanding mortgages or loans secured against the dwelling.
  • owner with a mortgage - a household where an outstanding mortgage or loan amount secured against the dwelling, for the purposes of housing, is greater than zero.
  • renter - a household who pays rent to reside in the dwelling. Renters are further classified into broad types according to whom rent is paid. See also Landlord type.
  • other tenure - includes households which are participants of a life tenure scheme, participants in a rent/buy (or shared equity) scheme, living rent-free, or are in a tenure arrangement not included elsewhere (e.g. house-sitting, payment in kind for a specific service).

Index of relative socio-economic disadvantage

One of five of the Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFAs) compiled by the ABS following each population census. Each of the indexes summarise different aspects of the socio-economic status of the people living in those areas; the index of relative socio-economic disadvantage includes attributes such as low income, low educational attainment, high unemployment and jobs in relatively unskilled occupations. The index refers to population of the area (the Census Collector's District) in which a person lives, not to the socio-economic situation of the particular individual. The index used in this publication was compiled following the 2006 Census. For further information about the SEIFAs see Information Paper: Census of Population and Housing - An Introduction to Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas, Australia (cat. no. 2039.0).

Informal social activities

Refers to recreational activities undertaken with others which have not been organised by an organisation or group with a formal structure. The most common examples are where family and/or friends come together to enjoy themselves.

Jobless households

A jobless household is one in which no usual resident of the household aged 15 years or over is currently employed.

Labour force status

Refers to the situation of respondents in relation to the labour force at the time of the survey. Categories are:
  • employed - had a job or business, or undertook work without pay in a family business in the week prior to the survey, including being absent from a job or business they had.
  • full-time - persons who usually work 35 hours or more per week.
  • part-time - persons who usually work at least one hour, but less than 35 hours, per week.
  • unemployed - not employed and actively looked for work in the four weeks prior to the survey and available to start work in the week prior to the survey
  • not in the labour force.
  • retired from work - persons over the age of 44 years who were no longer working and did not intend to work in the future.
  • other - other persons who were neither employed nor unemployed. Such persons may have never worked and never intend to work, persons keeping house (unpaid), voluntarily inactive and permanently unable to work.

Landlord type

For renters, the type of entity to whom rent is paid or with whom the tenure contract or arrangement is made.

Main English-speaking countries

Refers to the main countries from which Australia receives, or has received, significant numbers of overseas settlers who are likely to speak English. These countries comprise the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, Canada, the United States of America and South Africa.

Marital status

The marital status of couples within households. This item includes Married in a registered marriage, Married in a de facto marriage, and Not married.


The sum of values divided by the number of values.


A mortgage is a loan taken out using the usual residence as security. An owner with a mortgage must still owe money from such a loan.

Multiple family household

A household containing two or more families. Unrelated individuals may also be present.

Non-dependent child/ren

Persons aged 15 years and over who:
  • do not have a spouse or offspring of their own in the household
  • have a parent in the household
  • are not full-time students aged 15-24 years.

Non-family household

A household that consists of unrelated persons only. Non-family households are classified to one of the following categories:
  • Group household-a household consisting of two or more unrelated persons where all persons are aged 15 years and over. There are no reported couple relationships, parent-child relationships or other blood relationships in these households.
  • Lone person household-a household consisting of a person living alone.

Non-school qualifications

Non-school qualifications are awarded for educational attainments other than those of pre-primary, primary or secondary education. They include qualifications at the Post graduate degree level, Master degree level, Graduate diploma and Graduate certificate level, Bachelor degree level, Advanced diploma and Diploma level, and Certificates I, II, III and IV levels. Non-school qualifications may be attained concurrently with school qualifications.


Coded for all employed persons aged 15 years and over, using the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupation (ANZSCO), First Edition 2006 (cat. no.1220.0).

One family household

One family households are classified to one of the following categories:
  • Couple only-two persons in a registered or de facto marriage, who usually live in the same household
  • Couple family with dependent children - a household consisting of a couple with at least one dependent child. The household may also include non-dependent children, other relatives and unrelated individuals
  • One parent family with dependent children - a household comprising a lone parent with at least one dependent child. The household may also include non-dependent children, other relatives and unrelated individuals
  • Other one family households - a household comprising one couple with their non-dependent children only
  • one couple, with or without non-dependent children, plus other relatives
  • one couple, with or without non-dependent children or other relatives, plus unrelated individuals
  • a lone parent with his/her non-dependent children, with or without other relatives and unrelated individuals
  • two or more related individuals where the relationship is not a couple relationship or a parent-child relationship (e.g. two brothers).

Organisation or group

An organisation or group is any body with a formal structure. It may be as large as a national charity or as small as a local book club. Purely ad hoc, informal and temporary gatherings of people do not constitute an organisation.

Organised sport or physical recreational activities

Those sport and physical recreational activities which were organised by a club, association or other organisation. The organisation did not need to be a sporting body; for example, it may have been a work social club, church group or gymnasium.

Overall Life Satisfaction

Overall life satisfaction is a summary measure of subjective well-being against a scale ranging from delighted through to terrible. It measures a person's perceived level of life satisfaction in general and doesn't take into account specific illnesses or problems the person may have.

Participants in sport and physical recreational activities

Participants comprise those people who physically undertook a sport or physical recreational activity in the last 12 months, as well as people involved in 'non-playing roles', such as coaches, officials, umpires and administrators.

Participation rate

For any group, the number of persons who participated in the activity or event at least once in the specified reference period (usually the last 12 months), expressed as a percentage of the population of that group.

Permanent place to live

For the purposes of GSS, a permanent place to live was left up to the respondent's interpretation. However, if the respondent sought clarification it was defined as a usual address which consists of a self contained residence, i.e. the respondent had their own kitchen, bathroom and entrance and some sort of security of tenure.

Permanent visa

The permission or authority granted by Australia for foreign nationals to live in Australia permanently.

Personal stressors

Any of the following events or circumstances which the person considers have been a problem for themselves or someone close to them in the last 12 months:
  • serious accident
  • mental illness
  • serious disability
  • death of family member or close friend
  • divorce or separation
  • not able to get a job
  • involuntary loss of job
  • alcohol or drug related problems
  • gambling problem
  • abuse or violent crime
  • witness to violence
  • trouble with the police.

Previous experience of homelessness

As the GSS only enumerates usual residents of private dwellings, it will not include: people currently living in shelters; people sleeping rough; people 'couch surfing' (staying temporarily with other households); nor people staying in boarding houses. It may include some people staying in Transitional Housing Management (THM) properties, if the adult staying there at the time of the survey considered that it was their usual residence at that time (THMs have been included in researcher estimates of the homeless). The GSS does not attempt to measure the prevalence of homelessness in Australia. Instead the survey sought information about a person's previous experience of being without a permanent place to live. That is, whether a person has ever experienced being without a permanent place to live at some point in their lives.

People were defined as having had an 'experience of homelessness' if they had ever previously been without a 'permanent place to live' for reasons other than one (or more) of the following only: saving money; work related reasons; building or renovating their home; travelling/on holiday; house-sitting or having just moved back to a town or city. For the GSS, people in these circumstances were not asked further questions about their experiences without a permanent place to live. People who had ever previously been without a permanent place to live for other reasons (eg family/relationship breakdowns, financial problems, tight rental/property markets etc) were counted in the survey as having had an experience of homelessness.

Principal source of household income

The source of income from which the most positive income for the household is received. If total income is nil or negative the principal source is undefined. The household's principal source of income comes from:
  • employee income - cash income received as an employee, i.e. person who works for a public or private employer and receives remuneration in wages or salary, or is paid a retainer fee by his/her employer and works on a commission basis, or works for an employer for tips, piece rates or payment in kind; or, is a person who operates his or her own incorporated enterprise with or without hiring employees
  • unincorporated business income - the profit or loss from own unincorporated enterprise in the previous financial year. Profit or loss consists of the value of the gross output of the enterprise after the deduction of operating expenses (including depreciation). Losses occur when operating expenses are greater than gross receipts and are treated as negative income
  • government cash pensions and allowances - regular payments from government to persons under social security and related government programs. Included are pensions and allowances received by aged, disabled, unemployed and sick persons, families and children, veterans or their survivors, and study allowances for students
  • other sources of household income - income received from sources such as superannuation and annuity funds, property, interest or dividends, child support, and workers' compensation.

Proficiency in spoken English

A self assessment by persons who speak a language other than English at home, of whether they speak English very well, well, not well, or not at all.

Remoteness areas

Broad geographical regions which share common characteristics of remoteness based on the Remoteness Structure of the ABS's Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC). In this survey, Major Cities of Australia, and Inner Regional Australia from the Remoteness Structure are presented along with a residual category labelled 'Other areas'. As the GSS did not cover very remote areas of Australia, 'Other Areas', encompasses most of Outer Regional Australia, part of Remote Australia, and only a small proportion of Very Remote Australia.


A payment made periodically by a tenant to an owner or landlord in return for lodgement. See also Landlord type.

Selected assets

Any of the following type of assets:
  • over $1,000 in cash or deposited in financial institutions
  • own incorporated business
  • shares, stocks and bonds
  • investment property (i.e. land and buildings other than the dwelling in which the household resides).

Selected person

In the GSS only one adult (aged 18 years or over) in each dwelling was selected for the survey. This person was randomly chosen after all usual residents of the household were listed.

Self assessed health status

The selected person's general assessment of their own health, against a five point scale from excellent through to poor.

Small favours

Assistance which a person may seek from other people in their day to day lives.

Examples of small favours include looking after pets or watering the garden, collecting mail or checking the house, minding a child for a brief period, helping with moving or lifting objects, and borrowing equipment.

Social attachment

'Social attachment' refers to the nature and strength of relationships that people have with each other. It includes the more intimate relationships with family and friends as well as people's associations with individuals and organisations in the wider community.

Social disorder

Social disorder includes antisocial behaviour and refers to issues which may or may not be criminal offences. Respondents were asked whether any of the following issues were a problem in their local area:
  • noisy driving
  • dangerous driving
  • people being insulted, pestered, or intimidated in the street
  • public drunkenness
  • rowdy behaviour
  • offensive language or behaviour
  • people hanging around in groups
  • noisy neighbours
  • people using or dealing drugs
  • graffiti
  • intentional damage to property other than graffiti.

Support in a time of crisis

Refers to whether there is someone outside the person's household that could be asked for support in a time of crisis. Support could be in the form of emotional, physical or financial help. Potential sources of support could be family members, friends, neighbours, work colleagues and various community, government and professional organisations.

Support for children living outside the household

Support provided by a person (or where specified by a person and their partner) to their child(ren) (under the age of 25 years) who do not live with them. Support may be provided to the other parent/carer for the child(ren), or to the child themselves. Types of support may be financial, such as child support payments, paying for educational costs, or providing pocket money or an allowance, or non-financial, such as driving them places, letting them borrow the car, or providing food or clothing.

Support for other relatives living outside the household

Any of the following types of support provided to relatives, such as elderly parents, children aged 25 years or over, or grandchildren who live outside the household:
  • give money to pay rent and/or other housing costs
  • give money to pay bills or meet debt
  • provide or pay for food
  • provide or pay for clothing
  • let them borrow the car
  • drive them places
  • pay for educational costs or textbooks
  • provide pocket money or an allowance
  • buy or give them money to buy big cost items such as a car, computer, sound system etc.

Temporary resident

A person who was born overseas, who arrived in Australia after 1989, was not an Australian citizen on arrival, was not born in New Zealand, does not hold New Zealand citizenship, and has a temporary visa.

Temporary visa

The permission or authority granted by Australia for foreign national to travel to Australia and stay up to a specified period of time. Temporary entrants for this survey include:
  • tourists
  • students
  • business people
  • people with specialist skills, such as managers, academics and medical practitioners
  • people who make a social or cultural contribution to the community, such as entertainers, media and film staff, sports people, religious workers, visiting academics and public lecturers
  • people who contribute to the development of international relations, such as participants in exchange programs and working holiday makers.

Type of visa

The visa the respondent held at the time of interview, that allowed them to stay in Australia. Visa categories included in the survey were:
  • Permanent Skilled - Skilled migrants are selected on the basis of their age, skills and their ability to quickly make a contribution to the Australian economy. Includes Independent, Australian sponsored, Employer/State sponsored and Business skills visas.
  • Permanent Family - Includes partner, child and parent visas.
  • Permanent Humanitarian - Includes humanitarian and refugee visas.
  • Permanent Other - Includes all other permanent visa categories or where the type of permanent visa could not be determined.
  • Temporary Student - Temporary student visas are granted to people studying or seeking study, training or skills development in Australia and planning to stay in Australia for 12 months or more.
  • Temporary Long-term business - Includes Temporary Business (Long stay) - standard business sponsorship visa, Educational visa and Medical practitioner visa.
  • Temporary Other - Includes tourists, working holiday makers and visitors planning to stay in Australia for 12 months or more or where the type of temporary visa could not be determined.

Transitional Housing Management

For people in crisis, this can be the most secure type of accommodation that is available. Rent is normally 25 percent of income, and includes a lease. Transitional Housing Management is the dominant model of government funded housing for homeless people in Victoria.

Transport difficulties

The person's assessment of how difficult it is for them to travel to places they may need to go to in normal circumstances. Four options were provided:
  • can easily get to the places needed
  • sometimes have difficulty getting to the places needed
  • often have difficulty getting to the places needed
  • can't get to the places needed.

If they indicated that they never go out or are housebound this response was recorded. Difficulties which may have been taken into account are traffic problems, parking and distances, as well as those difficulties not directly related to transport such as poor health or lack of finances.


To ascertain peoples feelings of trust in others, and in some major institutions, they were asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the following statements, giving a rating on a 5-point scale:
  • That most people can be trusted?
  • That your doctor can be trusted?
  • That hospitals can be trusted?
  • That police in your local areas can be trusted?
  • That police outside your local area can be trusted?

The response categories in the five point scale were: 'strongly agree', 'somewhat agree', 'neither agree nor disagree', 'somewhat disagree', and 'strongly disagree'.

The phrase 'most people' is based on the respondent's interpretation - there is no specific definition. The idea is whether people can go about their affairs confidently, expecting that others will generally deal fairly with them and act in the ways normally expected in our society.

Victim of actual or attempted break-in

A person who had experienced a break-in or attempted break-in at any place they had lived in the last 12 months. Break-ins to homes, garages or sheds are included. However, break-ins to cars or gardens are excluded.

Victim of physical or threatened violence

A person who in the last 12 months had physical force or violence used against them or threatened in person to be used against them. It includes violence or threats made by persons known to the respondent.

Voluntary work

The provision of unpaid help willingly undertaken in the form of time, service or skills, to an organisation or group, excluding work done overseas.

Some forms of unpaid work, such as student placements or work under a Community Service Order, that were not strictly voluntary have been excluded