4159.0 - General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia, 2006  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 22/05/2007   
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1 This publication presents summary results on a range of social dimensions for people aged 18 years and over, compiled from the 2006 General Social Survey (GSS). The survey collected information about personal and household characteristics for people aged 18 years and over resident in private dwellings, throughout non-remote areas of Australia, from March to July 2006.

2 The 2006 GSS collected data on a range of social dimensions from the same individual to enable analysis of the interrelationships in social circumstances and outcomes, including the exploration of multiple advantage and disadvantage experienced by that individual. The 2006 GSS is the second in the series, with the first GSS conducted in 2002. It is planned to repeat the survey at regular intervals (currently four-yearly). Each cycle of the GSS collects comparable information for the core dimensions to allow for analysis of changes over time. A flexible component is also included to collect additional information on emerging or important topics of social concern. The flexible component of the 2006 GSS included topics relating to social capital, voluntary work and category of visa held by Australian immigrants.


3 The 2006 GSS collected information about:

  • demographic characteristics
  • health and disability
  • housing
  • education
  • employment
  • income
  • financial stress
  • assets and liabilities
  • information technology
  • transport
  • family and community involvement
  • crime and feelings of safety
  • attendance at culture and leisure venues
  • sports attendance and participation
  • social networks and social participation
  • voluntary work
  • visa category

4 A full list of the data items from the 2006 GSS is contained in the General Social Survey: User Guide (cat. no. 4159.0.55.002).


5 Only people who were usual residents of private dwellings in Australia were covered by the survey. Private dwellings are houses, flats, home units and any other structures used as private places of residence at the time of the survey. People usually resident in non-private dwellings such as hotels, motels, hostels, hospitals and short-stay caravan parks were not included in the survey. Usual residents are those who usually live in a particular dwelling and regard it as their own or main home. Visitors to private dwellings are not included in the interview for that dwelling. However, if they are a usual resident of another dwelling that is in the scope of the survey they have a chance of being selected in the survey or, if not selected, they will be represented by similar persons who are selected in the survey. At 30 June 2006, there were 376,000 people aged 18 years and over living in non-private dwellings throughout Australia. The exclusion of these people (2% of the population) is unlikely to impact on the estimates included in this publication.

6 The GSS was conducted in both urban and rural areas in all states and territories, except for very remote parts of Australia. Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory have very remote areas. With the exception of the Northern Territory, the population living in very remote areas represents only a small proportion of the total population (approximately 2%). For this, and other practical reasons, no adjustment was made to state population benchmarks (population benchmarks are discussed below) when deriving survey results. This exclusion is unlikely to impact on national estimates, and will only have a minor impact on any aggregate estimates that are produced for individual states and territories, except the Northern Territory where the excluded population accounts for over 20% of persons.

7 Only persons aged 18 years and over were included in the survey. The Australian population at 30 June 2006, after the exclusion of people living in non-private dwellings and very remote areas of Australia, was 20,051,650, of which 15,307,000 were aged 18 years and over.

8 The following non-residents were excluded from resident population estimates used to benchmark the survey results, and were not interviewed:

  • diplomatic personnel of overseas governments
  • members of non-Australian defence forces (and their dependants) stationed in Australia
  • persons whose usual place of residence was outside Australia.


9 The GSS was designed to provide reliable estimates at the national level and for each state and territory. The sample was therefore spread across the states and territories in order to produce estimates that have a relative standard error (RSE) of no greater than 10% for characteristics that are relatively common in the national population, say that at least 10% of the population would possess.

10 Dwellings included in the survey in each state and territory were selected at random using a multi-stage area sample. This sample included only private dwellings from the geographic areas covered by the survey. The initial sample for the survey consisted of approximately 17,700 private dwellings. This number was reduced to approximately 15,500 dwellings due to the loss of households which had no residents in scope for the survey and where dwellings proved to be vacant, under construction or derelict. Of the eligible dwellings, 86.5% responded fully (or adequately) which yielded a total sample from the survey of 13,375 dwellings.

11 Some survey respondents provided most of the required information, but were unable or unwilling to provide a response to certain data items. The records for these persons were retained in the sample and the missing values were recorded as 'don't know or not stated'. No attempt was made to deduce or impute for these missing values. Approximately 2,100 respondents (16%) did not provide one or more required answers but were deemed to have responded adequately. Details of missing values for data items are presented in paragraph 31.


12 ABS interviewers conducted personal interviews at selected dwellings during the period March to July 2006. Interviews were conducted using a Computer Assisted Interviewing (CAI) questionnaire. CAI involves the use of a notebook computer to record, store, manipulate and transmit the data collected during interviews.

13 Much of the detail obtained from the GSS was provided by one person aged 18 years or over, randomly selected from each participating household. The random selection of this person was made once basic information had been obtained about all household members. Some financial and housing items collected in the GSS required the selected person to answer on behalf of other members of the household. In some cases, particularly where household information was not known by the selected person, a spokesperson for the household was nominated to provide household information.

14 A copy of the 2006 GSS interview questions is available in the General Social Survey: User Guide (cat. no. 4159.0.55.002).



15 Weighting is the process of adjusting results from a sample survey to infer results for the total in-scope population. To do this, a 'weight' is allocated to each sample unit i.e. a person or a household. The weight is a value which indicates how many population units are represented by the sample unit.

16 The first step in calculating weights for each person or household is to assign an initial weight, which is equal to the inverse of the probability of being selected in the survey. For example, if the probability of a person being selected in the survey was 1 in 600, then the person would have an initial weight of 600 (that is, they represent 600 people).


17 The initial weights were then calibrated to align with independent estimates of the population of interest, referred to as 'benchmarks'. Weights calibrated against population benchmarks ensure that the survey estimates conform to the independently estimated distribution of the population rather than to the distribution within the sample itself. Calibration to population benchmarks helps to compensate for over- or under-enumeration of particular categories of persons which may occur due to either the random nature of sampling or non-response.

18 The 2006 GSS was benchmarked to the estimated resident population aged 18 years and over (ERP) living in private dwellings in each state and territory, excluding the ERP living in very remote areas of Australia, at 30 June 2006. The ERP estimates for 2006 were based on results from the 2001 Census of Population and Housing. Therefore the GSS estimates do not (and are not intended to) match estimates for the total Australian resident population (which include persons and households living in non-private dwellings, such as hotels and boarding houses, and in very remote parts of Australia) obtained from other sources.


19 Survey estimates of counts of persons are obtained by summing the weights of persons or households with the characteristic of interest. Estimates for means, such as mean age of persons, are obtained by summing the weights of persons in each category (e.g. individual ages), multiplying by the value for each category, aggregating the results across categories, then dividing by the sum of the weights for all persons.

20 The majority of estimates shown in this publication are based on benchmarked person weights. The estimates of mean incomes, mortgages and rents contained in tables 5 and 17-23 are based on benchmarked household weights. Means for the number of persons and the number of employed persons in table 5 also have benchmarked household weights.


21 All sample surveys are subject to error which can be broadly categorised as either sampling error or non-sampling error. Sampling error occurs because only a small proportion of the total population is used to produce estimates that represent the whole population. Sampling error can be reliably measured as it is calculated based on the scientific methods used to design surveys. Non-sampling errors occur when survey processes work less effectively than intended. For example, some persons selected for the survey may not respond (non-response); some survey questions may not be clearly understood by the respondent; and occasionally errors can be made in processing data from the survey.

Sampling error

22 Sampling error is the difference between the published estimates, derived from a sample of persons, and the value that would have been produced if all persons in scope of the survey had been included. For more information refer to the 'Technical notes'. Sampling error is measured for this survey by relative standard errors (RSEs). In this publication estimates with RSEs of 25% to 50% are preceded by an asterisk (e.g. *3.4) to indicate that the estimate should be used with caution. Estimates with RSEs over 50% are indicated by a double asterisk (e.g.**0.6) and should be considered unreliable for most purposes.

Non-sampling error

23 One of the main sources of non-sampling error is non-response by persons selected in the survey. Non-response can affect the reliability of results and can introduce bias. The magnitude of any bias depends upon the level of non-response and the extent of the difference between the characteristics of those people who responded to the survey and those who did not.

24 To reduce the level and impact of non-response, the following methods were adopted in this survey:

  • face-to-face interviews with respondents
  • the use of interviewers who could speak languages other than English where necessary
  • follow-up of respondents if there was initially no response, ensuring the weighted file is representative of the population by aligning the estimates with population benchmarks.

25 Of the dwellings selected in the 2006 GSS, 13.5% did not respond fully or adequately. As the non-response to the GSS was low, the impact of non-response bias is considered to be negligible.

26 Every effort was made to minimise other non-sampling error by careful design and testing of questionnaires, intensive training and supervision of interviewers, and extensive editing and quality control procedures at all stages of data processing.

27 An advantage of the CAI technology used in conducting interviews for this survey is that it potentially reduces non-sampling errors by enabling edits to be applied as the data are being collected. The interviewer is alerted immediately if information entered into the computer is either outside the permitted range for that question, or contradictory to information previously recorded during the interview. These edits allow the interviewer to query respondents and resolve issues during the interview. CAI sequencing of questions is also automated such that respondents are asked only relevant questions and only in the appropriate sequence, eliminating interviewer sequencing errors.


28 The estimates in this publication are based on information collected from March to July 2006, and due to seasonal effects they may not be fully representative of other time periods in the year. For example, the GSS asked standard ABS questions on labour force status to determine whether a person was employed. Employment is subject to seasonal variation through the year. Therefore, the GSS results for employment could have differed if the GSS had been conducted over the whole year or in a different part of the year.


29 Care has been taken to ensure that the results of this survey are as accurate as possible. All interviews were conducted by trained ABS officers. Extensive reference material was developed for use in the field enumeration and intensive training was provided to interviewers in both classroom and on-the-job environments. There remain, however, other factors which may have affected the reliability of results, and for which no specific adjustments can be made. The following factors should be considered when interpreting these estimates:

  • Information recorded in this survey is essentially 'as reported' by respondents, and hence may differ from information available from other sources or collected using different methodologies. Responses may be affected by imperfect recall or individual interpretation of survey questions.
  • Some respondents may have provided responses that they felt were expected, rather than those that accurately reflected their own situation. Every effort has been made to minimise such bias through the development and use of culturally appropriate survey methodology.

30 Further information on the interpretation of results is contained in the General Social Survey: User Guide (cat. no. 4159.0.55.002).

31 For a number of GSS data items, some respondents were unwilling or unable to provide the required information. No imputation was undertaken for this missing information. Where responses for a particular data item were missing for a person or household they were recorded in a 'not known or not stated' category for that data item. These 'not known or not stated' categories are not shown in the publication tables. However, the person or household has been included in the total for most data items. The exception is the equivalised gross household income data item where it was more appropriate to calculate percentages excluding the missing values. Below is a table showing the number and proportion of missing values for key GSS data items.


Data item
Estimated number of persons ('000)
Percentage (%)

Landlord type
Weekly mortgage payments
Weekly rent payments
Personal gross weekly income
1 324.6
Equivalised household gross weekly income
2 332.9
Principal source of personal income
1 912.6
Principal source of household income(a)
Whether government support has been main source of income in last 2 years
Time spent on government support as main source of income in last 2 years
Type(s) of cash flow problem(s) (and Number of different types of cash flow problems in last 12 months)
Types of dissaving actions taken in last 12 months (and Number of different types of dissaving actions taken in the last 12 months)
Value of dwelling
Equity in dwelling
Type(s) of selected assets
Type of consumer debt
Type(s) of personal stressors experienced in last 12 months

- nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)
(a) Also see paragraph 32

32 For persons or households reporting nil or negative total income, the principal source of income has been classified as 'undefined'. An estimated 490,000 persons (3%) live in households where the principal source of income was 'undefined'.


33 Occupation data are dual classified according to the ASCO - Australian Standard Classification of Occupations, Second Edition, 1997 (cat. no. 1220.0.30.001) - and the newly released ANZSCO - Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations, First Edition, 2006 (cat. no. 1220.0).

34 Country of birth data are classified according to the Standard Australian Classification of Countries (SACC), 1998 (cat. no. 1269.0).

35 Area data (Capital city, Balance of state/territory; Remoteness areas) are classified according to the Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC) (cat. no. 1216.0).


36 Selected summary results from the 2002 GSS are presented in this publication to allow comparisons over time to be made. The statistical significance of data changes between 2002 and 2006 has been investigated and results that are statistically significant are indicated in tables 1 and 40. While the scope, survey design, content, data collection and weighting procedures were largely the same in both collections, there were some differences that are noted below.

37 The GSS is designed to collect information for a core set of topics in each cycle, to allow analysis of changes over time, and a flexible component to collect additional information. Approximately 80% of the content of the 2002 GSS was repeated in the 2006 GSS. The differences in content between the surveys were in the flexible component of the GSS. The flexible component of the 2002 GSS included topics on household use of information technology, attendance at selected culture/leisure venues, sports attendance, and participation in sport and recreational physical activities. Summary indicators for these topics were also collected in the 2006 GSS to allow comparisons over time.

38 The flexible component of the 2006 GSS included more detailed indicators of family and community involvement (i.e. indicators of social network structure, types, qualities and transactions including those related to voluntary work) which along with closely related items from the 2002 GSS is sometimes referred to as being the 'social capital' component of the survey. The flexible component also included items related to topics of residential mobility, visa category, access to service providers and reasons did not undertake study or training. Some of this data may be included in the next cycle of the GSS, however in less detail.

39 The sample sizes differed between the 2006 and 2002 GSS. In 2006, the number of fully or adequately responding households achieved in the survey was 13,375 compared to approximately 15,500 for the 2002 cycle. The 2006 cycle had a smaller initial sample size (17,700 possible dwellings) compared to the 2002 initial sample size (19,500 possible dwellings). There was a reduction in achieved proportions of the initial sample sizes. This is due to higher sample loss in the 2006 cycle, because there were more households with no residents in scope for the survey or where dwellings proved to be vacant, under construction or derelict, and a higher rate of survey non-response from eligible households. These differences in the sample size for 2006 and 2002 should be considered when comparing results.

40 There was a change in question design for the 'Feelings of safety' questions. The order of the response categories was changed for 2006 so 'Very safe' was the first possible response - 'Very unsafe' was the first possible response in 2002. This methodological change has had an impact on the data, with more people reporting they feel safer in 2006. Because of the change, the 2002 and 2006 results for 'Feelings of safety at home alone after dark' are not presented in table 1.

41 The voluntary work data collected in 2006, and presented in tables 2 to 16 and table 30, excludes those persons who were compelled to do voluntary work because of employment or study commitments, for example, work for the dole. However, the voluntary work data presented in table 1 for 2002 and 2006 does not exclude these populations and therefore indicates a higher rate of voluntary involvement. For further information on voluntary work, and for comparisons over time, refer to the publication Voluntary Work, Australia (cat. no. 4441.0).

42 A full list of the data items from the 2006 GSS is contained in the General Social Survey: User Guide (cat. no. 4159.0.55.002). The data item list will contain information on the changes in content between the 2002 and 2006 collections. For published results from the 2002 GSS, refer to General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia, 2002 (cat. no. 4159.0).

Appendix 3: Comparison of Data from GSS and Other ABS Sources

43 This presents comparisons between a number of key GSS data items and similar data items from other ABS sources. Where possible results from other surveys have been adjusted to the scope and coverage of the GSS (or vice versa).


44 Below is information describing the range of data to be made available from the 2006 General Social Survey, both in published form and on request. Products available on the ABS web site are indicated accordingly.

General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia, 2006 datacubes

45 An electronic version of the tables released in this publication, in spreadsheet format, are available on the ABS web site (cat. no. 4159.0). The spreadsheet presents the proportions and related RSEs for each publication table, however the population estimate is also presented for tables 1 and 2. [The population estimates and RSEs for tables 1 and 2 are also presented in Appendices 1 and 2 of this publication.]

General Social Survey: User Guide

46 The GSS User Guide is released in conjunction with this summary results publication. It provides detailed information about the survey content, methodology and data interpretation. It also contains the list of GSS data items, survey questions and prompt cards. The User Guide will be available free-of-charge on the ABS web site in June 2007 (cat. no. 4159.0.55.002).

State/territory tabulations

47 Versions of the tables from this publication compiled separately for each state and territory will be available on the ABS web site in June 2007. These tables will be customised depending on the size of the sampling error. They will be released in spreadsheet format as General Social Survey: New South Wales (cat. no. 4159.1.55.001) to General Social Survey: Northern Territory (cat. no. 4159.8.55.001).


48 For users who wish to undertake more detailed analysis of the survey data, microdata from the 2006 GSS will be released in the form of two confidentialised unit record files (CURFs), the basic CURF (General Social Survey: Basic Confidentialised Unit Record File, cat. no. 4159.0.30.001) and the expanded CURF (General Social Survey: Expanded Confidentialised Unit Record File, cat. no. 4159.0.30.002). The expanded CURF will contain more detail than the basic CURF and will only be available via the Remote Access Data Laboratory (RADL), which is a secure Internet-based data query service. The basic CURF will be available via CD ROM or RADL. Technical information describing the content and use of the basic and expanded GSS CURFs will be available within the GSS User Guide.

49 Up-to-date information on the ABS RADL service, including information on pricing, 'Applications & Undertakings', and a training manual outlining obligations and responsibilities when accessing ABS microdata, is available on the ABS web site. Those wishing to access the 2006 GSS microdata should contact the ABS, referring to the contact details noted at the front of this publication.

50 The GSS basic and expanded CURFs and Technical Manual are expected to be available in June 2007. Those wishing to access GSS microdata should contact the ABS, referring to the contact details noted at the front of this publication.

Data available on request

51 Special tabulations of GSS data are available on request and for a fee. Subject to confidentiality and sampling variability constraints, tabulations can be produced from the survey incorporating data items, populations and geographic areas selected to meet individual requirements. These can be provided in printed or electronic form. Please refer to the contact details noted at the front of this publication.

Publication of supplementary topics

52 Detailed results from the Voluntary Work supplementary topic included in the GSS will be released separately in the publication Voluntary Work, Australia (cat. no. 4441.0).


53 Current publications and other products released by the ABS are available on the ABS web site. ABS publications which may be of interest are:

  • Australian Labour Market Statistics, January 2007 (cat. no. 6105.0)
  • Aspects of Social Capital, Australia, 2006 (cat. no. 4911.0).
  • Census of Population and Housing: Selected Social and Housing Characteristics, Australia, 2001 (cat. no. 2015.0)
  • Australia's Children, 1999 (cat. no. 4119.0)
  • Crime and Safety, Australia, April 2005 (cat. no. 4509.0)
  • Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings, 2003 (cat. no. 4430.0)
  • Education and Training Experience, Australia, 2005 (cat. no. 6278.0)
  • Education and Training Indicators, Australia, 2002 (cat. no. 4230.0)
  • Employment Arrangements and Superannuation, Australia, April to June 2000 (cat. no. 6361.0)
  • Household Expenditure Survey, Australia: Summary of Results, 2003-04 (cat. no. 6530.0)
  • Household Income and Income Distribution, Australia, 2003-04 (cat. no. 6523.0)
  • Information Paper: Measuring Social Capital, an Australian Framework and Indicators (cat. no. 1378.0)
  • Labour Force Status and Other Characteristics of Migrants, Australia, November 2004 (cat. no. 6250.0)
  • Migration, Australia, 2004-05 (cat. no. 3412.0)
  • National Health Survey: Summary of Results, 2004-05 (cat. no. 4364.0)
  • Older People, Australia: A Social Report, 1999 (cat. no. 4109.0)
  • Voluntary Work, Australia, 2000 (cat. no. 4441.0)