6554.0 - Household Wealth and Wealth Distribution, Australia, 2011–12  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 21/08/2013   
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1 This publication presents a summary of the findings about household wealth and wealth distribution compiled from the 2011-12 Survey of Income and Housing (SIH). The survey collected detailed information about the income, assets, liabilities, and household characteristics of persons aged 15 years and over resident in private dwellings throughout Australia. Limited information was also collected on persons aged under 15 years, including the value of assets (if any). In this publication, net worth is the main measure used to describe wealth.

2 This is the fourth issue of this publication. Detailed wealth data were collected for the first time in the SIH in 2003-04, 2005-06, and in 2009-10. Comprehensive wealth data were not collected in 2007-08, however, the value of owner occupied dwellings is available.

3 The statistics in this publication present a broad overview of household wealth data. Emphasis has been given to highlighting the differing household wealth compositions and distributions revealed when mean household wealth is cross-classified by various household characteristics, such as income levels and sources, family composition of the household, geographic location and reference person characteristics.

Survey of Income and Housing

4 The SIH was conducted continuously from 1994-95 to 1997-98, and then in 1999-2000, 2000-01 and 2002-03. From 2003-04, the SIH has been conducted every two years. The 2011-12 SIH collected information from a sample of 14,569 households over the period July 2011 to June 2012.


5 Key changes to the 2011-12 SIH include:

  • a decrease in fully responding sample size from 18,071 households in 2009-10 to 14,569 households in 2011-12. The expansion in the 2009-10 sample for an extra 4,200 households outside capital cities to support housing indicator reporting was maintained. The additional sample of metropolitan households whose main source of income was a government pension, benefit and/or allowance included in the 2009-10 SIH and HES samples to improve analysis for the Pensioner and Beneficiary Living Cost Index was not maintained
  • an additional benchmark for the value of government benefit cash transfers used in 2009-10 was not required in 2011-12
  • disability questions for persons aged 15 years and over were not asked in 2011-12, but will be collected in 2013-14
  • the value of offset accounts was collected separately for the first time

Changes to the survey sample

6 The expansion in the 2009-10 sample for an extra 4,200 households was maintained in the 2011-12 SIH. This additional sample of households outside capital cities better supports Council of Australian Governments (COAG) performance indicator reporting, particularly in regard to housing affordability and home ownership measures required under COAG intergovernmental agreements.

7 The additional sample of metropolitan households whose main source of income was a government pension, benefit and/or allowance included in the 2009-10 SIH and HES samples has not been maintained in the 2011-12 sample. This main purpose of this additional sample was to support improved analysis for the Pensioner and Beneficiary Living Cost Index (PBLCI).

Income measures

8 In 2007-08 the ABS revised its standards for household income statistics following the adoption of new international standards in 2004 and review of aspects of the collection and dissemination of income data. The income estimates from 2007-08 onwards apply the new income standards, and are not directly comparable with estimates for previous cycles.

9 To the extent possible, the estimates for 2003-04 and 2005-06 shown in the time series tables in this publication also reflect the new treatments.

10 For more detail on the nature and impact of the changes on the income data see Appendix 4 of Household Income and Income Distribution, Australia, 2007-08 (cat. no. 6523.0).

Other changes

11 Errors in processing the 2009-10 income data have been corrected, resulting in an average decrease of $1 for mean equivalised disposable household income across all households. This was reflected largely in a decrease of 0.04% in the mean equivalised disposable household income of households in the second and third deciles. The income estimates for 2009-10 shown in this publication have been revised. The second edition of the 2009-10 CURF includes the revised estimates.


12 The concepts and definitions relating to statistics of income and net worth are described in the following section. Other definitions are included in the Glossary.


13 The household is the basic unit of analysis in this publication. A household consists of one or more persons, at least one of whom is at least 15 years of age. The persons in a household may or may not be related.

14 The household is adopted as the basic unit of analysis because it is assumed that sharing of the use of goods and services occurs at this level. If smaller units, say persons, are adopted, then it is difficult to know how to attribute to individual household members the use of shared items such as food, accommodation and household goods. Intra-household transfers, however, are excluded. For example, if one member of the household were to pay board to another member of the same household then this is not considered as an increase in the amount of income or housing costs of the household. If such transfers were to be included there would be double counting.


15 In this publication, most of the income and wealth distribution measures are calculated with respect to households, rather than persons. Such measures are sometimes known as household weighted estimates. Equivalised measures are generally based on numbers of people rather than numbers of households. This is to ensure that people in large households are given as much weight in the distribution as people in small households.


16 Household income consists of all current receipts, whether monetary or in kind, that are received by the household or by individual members of the household, and which are available for, or intended to support, current consumption.

17 Income includes receipts from:
  • wages and salaries and other receipts from employment (whether from an employer or own incorporated enterprise), including income provided as part of salary sacrifice and/or salary package arrangements
  • profit/loss from own unincorporated business (including partnerships)
  • net investment income (interest, rent, dividends, royalties)
  • government pensions and allowances
  • private transfers (e.g. superannuation, regular workers' compensation, income from annuities, child support, and financial support received from family members not living in the same household).

18 Receipts of family tax benefit are treated as income, regardless of whether they are received fortnightly or as a lump sum. The aged persons' savings bonus and self-funded retirees' supplementary bonus, paid as part of the introduction of The New Tax System in 2000-01 are regarded as capital transfers as they were designed to help retired people maintain the value of their savings and investments following the introduction of the GST. However, the one-off payment to older Australians paid in 2000-01, 2005-06 and 2007-08, the one-off payment to families paid since 2003-04, and the one-off payments to carers paid since 2003-04, are included as income as they were primarily a supplement to existing income support payments. The maternity payment introduced in July 2004, now referred to as the Baby Bonus, and the paid parental leave payment are also included as income.

19 The one-off clean energy advance payment paid in May 2012 and June 2012 is also included as income. This one-off payment was paid to pensioners, other income support recipients, families receiving Family Tax Benefit payments and Senior Supplement recipients, provided they met eligibility requirements.

20 Also included as income is the one-off Education Tax Refund that was paid to eligible families in June 2012. This one-off payment was made payable to families receiving Family Tax Benefit Part A, plus young people in school receiving Youth Allowance and some other income support and veterans' payments, providing they met the age and education requirements.

Gross income

21 Gross income is the sum of the income from all sources before income tax and the Medicare levy have been deducted. Prior to 2005-06 family tax benefit paid through the tax system or as a lump sum was excluded from gross income for practical reasons but deducted in deriving disposable income. Since 2005-06 these payments have been included in gross income.

Disposable income

22 Disposable income better represents the economic resources available to meet the needs of households. It is derived by deducting estimates of personal income tax and the Medicare levy from gross income. Medicare levy surcharge was also calculated and deducted from gross income while calculating disposable income (as it was for the first time in 2007-08).

23 Income tax is estimated for all households using taxation criteria for 2011-12 and the income and other characteristics of household members reported in the survey.

24 Prior to 2005-06 the derivation of disposable income also included the addition of family tax benefit paid through the tax system or as a lump sum by Centrelink since for practical reasons it was not included in the gross income estimates.

Equivalised disposable income

25 In most tables in this publication, gross household income (as described in the previous paragraphs) is presented along with estimates of net worth. However, when using income as an approximate means of ranking households according to their relative standards of living (as in tables 1, 10 and 11), it is more appropriate to use equivalised disposable household income.

26 Equivalised disposable household income is calculated by adjusting disposable household income by the application of an equivalence scale. This adjustment reflects the requirement for a larger household to have a higher level of income to achieve the same standard of living as a smaller household. Where disposable income is negative, equivalised disposable income is set to zero.

27 When household income is adjusted according to an equivalence scale, the equivalised income can be viewed as an indicator of the economic resources available to a standardised household. For a lone person household, it is equal to income received. For a household comprising more than one person, equivalised income is an indicator of the household income that would be required by a lone person household in order to enjoy the same level of economic wellbeing as the household in question.

28 For more information on the use of equivalence scales, see Appendix 3 in Household Income and Income Distribution, Australia, 2011 -12 (cat. no. 6523.0).

Lowest income decile

29 While equivalised income generally provides a useful indicator of economic wellbeing, there are some circumstances which present particular difficulties. Some households report extremely low and even negative income in the survey, which places them well below the safety net of income support provided by social security pensions and allowances. Households at all income levels may underreport their incomes in the survey, including low income households. However, households can correctly report low levels of income if they incur losses in their unincorporated business or have negative returns from their other investments.

30 Studies of income and expenditure reported in HES surveys have shown that such households in the bottom income decile and with negative gross incomes tend to have expenditure levels that are comparable to those of households with higher income levels (and slightly above the average expenditures recorded for the fifth income decile). This suggests that these households have access to economic resources such as wealth, or that the instance of low or negative income is temporary, perhaps reflecting business or investment start up. Other households in the lowest income decile in past surveys had average incomes at about the level of the single pension rate, were predominantly single person households, and their main source of income was largely government pensions and allowances. However, on average, these households also had expenditures above the average of the households in the second income decile, which is not inconsistent with the use of assets to maintain a higher standard of living than implied by their incomes alone.

31 It can therefore be reasonably concluded that many of the households included in the lowest income decile are unlikely to be suffering extremely low levels of economic wellbeing. Income distribution analysis may lead to inappropriate conclusions if such households are used as the basis for assessing low levels of economic wellbeing. For this reason, tables showing statistics classified by equivalised income quintile include a supplementary category comprising the second and third income deciles, which can be used as an alternative to the lowest income quintile. (For an explanation of quintiles and deciles, see Appendix 1.)

32 Whenever a HES is conducted, analysis of households in the lowest income decile can be improved through direct observation of the expenditure and net worth of these households. An examination of the characteristics and economic circumstances of people living in households with low economic resources from 2009-10 HIES is included in the feature article in Household Wealth and Wealth Distribution, Australia, 2009-10 (cat. no. 6554.0).

33 Although expenditure data were were not collected in SIH 2011-12, analysis on people living in households with low economic resources such as low income, low wealth is provided in the feature article in Household Income and Income Distribution (cat. no. 6523.0).

Net worth

34 Net worth, often referred to as wealth, is the value of a household's assets less the value of its liabilities. Assets can take many forms including:
  • produced tangible fixed assets that are used repeatedly and for more than one year, such as dwellings and their contents, vehicles, and machinery and equipment used in businesses owned by households
  • intangible fixed assets such as computer software and artistic originals
  • business inventories of goods
  • non-produced assets such as land
  • financial assets such as bank deposits (including offset accounts), shares, superannuation account balances, and the outstanding value of loans made to other households or businesses.

35 Liabilities are primarily the value of loans outstanding including:
  • mortgages
  • investment loans
  • credit card debt
  • borrowings from other households
  • debt on other loans such as personal loans to purchase vehicles and study loans.

36 In the 2011-12 SIH, some asset and liability data were collected on a net basis rather than collecting for each component listed above. In particular, if a survey respondent owned or part owned a business, they were asked how much they would receive if they sold their share of the business and paid off any outstanding debts.

37 Outstanding loans reflect the amount owing for an asset. The equity held in an asset may increase over time as an outstanding loan amount is reduced (e.g. the value of a dwelling with relation to the loan amount outstanding on that dwelling). Where only the proportion of a loan is used for a purpose, only the proportion outstanding for this purpose is included. The proportioning of loans applies to all of the examples mentioned in this publication, particularly in the paragraphs below.

38 Value of property estimates include the value of any associated land which would be included in the sale of the dwelling if it were sold (for separate houses it includes value of land, for caravans it includes value of site if owned by the household, for farm dwellings it includes home paddock). The estimated value is reported by the household respondent.

Equivalised net worth

39 Equivalised net worth is calculated by adjusting net worth with an equivalence scale. The same equivalence scale and methodology is applied to calculate equivalised net worth as has been described for calculating equivalised disposable income in these Explanatory notes.

Relationship between net worth and income

40 The tables in this publication provides information about the net worth and income of households, but it would be misleading to assume that household net worth and household income necessarily have a positive relationship. Higher income households may have higher wealth as wealthier households have more assets to earn income and higher income households also have a higher ability to save.

41 However, household net worth is also dependent on other characteristics such as life cycle effects, family composition, etc. The differences in the distribution of wealth and income partly reflect the common pattern of wealth being accumulated during a person's working life, and then being utilised during retirement. Some households with relatively low wealth have relatively high income, especially if they are younger households. Conversely older households may have accumulated relatively high net worth over their lifetimes, but have relatively low income in their retirement.

Relationship between net worth from SIH and from the Australian System of National Accounts

42 This publication contains estimates of the wealth of Australian households compiled from data collected in the SIH. The Australian System of National Accounts (ASNA) also provide estimates of the net worth of the household sector. Appendix 4 compares wealth data from the two data sets and describes and quantifies some of the major scope, definitional and methodological differences between the two.



43 The survey collects information by personal interview from usual residents of private dwellings in urban and rural areas of Australia (excluding very remote areas), covering about 97% of the people living in Australia. Private dwellings are houses, flats, home units, caravans, garages, tents and other structures that were used as places of residence at the time of interview. Long-stay caravan parks are also included. These are distinct from non-private dwellings which include hotels, boarding schools, boarding houses and institutions. Residents of non-private dwellings are excluded.

44 Usual residents excludes:
  • households which contain members of non-Australian defence forces stationed in Australia
  • households which contain diplomatic personnel of overseas governments
  • households in collection districts defined as very remote - this has only a minor impact on aggregate estimates except in the Northern Territory where such households account for about 23% of the population.

Data collection

45 Information for each household was collected using:
  • a household level computer assisted interview questionnaire which collected information on household characteristics, and some assets and liabilities
  • an individual level computer assisted interview questionnaire which collected information on income, some assets and liabilities, child care costs, and other personal characteristics from each usual resident aged 15 years and over.

46 Sample copies of the above documents are included in the Survey of Income and Housing, User Guide, Australia, 2011-12 (cat. no. 6553.0), expected to be released in August 2013.

Sample design

47 The sample was designed to produce reliable estimates for broad aggregates for households resident in private dwellings aggregated for Australia, for each state and for the capital cities in each state and territory. More detailed estimates should be used with caution, especially for Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory (see Appendix 2).

48 For the 2011-12 SIH, dwellings were selected through a stratified, multistage cluster design from the private dwelling framework of the ABS Population Survey Master Sample. Selections were distributed across a twelve month enumeration period so that the survey results are representative of income patterns across the year.

Non-responding households

49 Of the selected dwellings there were 18,298 households in the scope of the survey. Of these, 3,729 did not respond at all to the questionnaire, or did not respond adequately. Of these 3,729 households, 49% were not able to be contacted during the survey enumeration and 32% were contacted but either refused to respond or were not able to respond. The remainder of these households included:
  • households affected by death or illness of a household member
  • households in which the significant person(s) in the household did not respond because they had language problems a language barrier? or refused to participate.
  • households in which the significant person(s) did not respond to key questions.

Partial response and imputation

50 Some households did not supply all the required information but supplied sufficient information to be retained in the sample. Such partial response occurs when:
  • income or other data in a questionnaire are missing from one or more non-significant person's records because they are unable or unwilling to provide the data
  • all key questions are answered by the significant person(s) but other data are missing
  • not every person aged 15 years or over residing in the household respondents but the significant person(s) provide answers to all key questions.

51 In the first two cases, the data provided are retained and the missing data are imputed by replacing each missing value with a value reported by another person (referred to as the donor).

52 For the third type of partial response, the data for the persons who did respond are retained, and data for each missing person are provided by imputing data values equivalent to those of a fully responding person (the donor).

53 Donor records are selected by finding fully responding persons with matching information on various characteristics (such as state, sex, age, labour force status and income) as the person with missing information. As far as possible, the imputed information is an appropriate proxy for the information that is missing. Depending on which values are to be imputed, donors are randomly chosen from the pool of individual records with complete information for the block of questions where the missing information occurs.

54 The final sample includes 5,441 households which had at least one imputed value in income or child care expenses. For 32.4% of these households only a single value was missing, and most of these were for income from superannuation, or interest and investments.

Final sample

55 The final sample on which estimates were based is composed of persons for which all necessary information is available. The information may have been wholly provided at the interview (fully-responding) or may have been completed through imputation for partially responding households. Of the selected dwellings, there were 18,298 in the scope of the survey, of which 14,569 (80%) were included as part of the final estimates.

56 Table



1 512
3 974
2 163
2 458
6 137
1 389
3 503
1 127
2 603
2 516
6 106
2 515
2 405
1 979
4 920
1 212
2 866
1 115
2 487
2 327
5 353
1 060
2 585
1 239
3 057
2 299
5 642
1 287
1 040
2 401
1 589
3 688
1 158
1 323
2 165
2 165
8 048
20 053
6 521
15 281
14 569
35 334

- nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)


57 Weighting is the process of adjusting results from a sample survey to infer results for the total in scope population whether that be persons or households. To do this, a 'weight' is allocated to each sample unit e.g. a person or a household. The weight is a value which indicates how many population units are represented by the sample unit. The first step in calculating weights for each unit is to assign an initial weight, which is the inverse of the probability of being selected in the survey. For example, if the probability of a household being selected in the survey was 1 in 600, then the household would have an initial weight of 600 (that is, it represents 600 households).

58 An adjustment is then made to the initial weights to ensure that seasonal variation is appropriately represented in survey estimates. After this initial adjustment, the sum of the weights of households in each quarter is in proportion to the length of the quarter (which align across the financial year with pension indexation dates rather than calendar quarters).

59 The initial weights are 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.

60 In the 2011-12 SIH, as in 2007-08 and 2009-10, all persons in each household were assigned a weight. This differs from the 2005-06 SIH where children aged 0-14 years were not given separate weights, but household counts of the number of children were benchmarked to population totals.

61 The benchmarks used in the calibration of the final weights for the 2011-12 SIH were:
  • number of persons -
      • by state or territory by age by sex
      • in five year age groups up to 80+ years for all states and territories (excluding NT)
      • in five year age groups up to 70+ years for the NT
      • by state or territory by labour force status ('Employed', 'Unemployed' and 'Not in the labour force': 'Employed' and 'Unemployed' combined for NT)
      • by state by capital city/balance of state (excluding NT and ACT which use only state)
  • numbers of households -
      • by household composition (number of adults (1,2 or 3+) and whether or not the household contains children) (excluding NT which uses only number of adults of 1+).

62 The independent person and household benchmarks are based on demography estimates of numbers of persons and households in Australia. The benchmarks are adjusted to include persons and households residing in private dwellings only and to exclude persons living in very remote areas, and therefore do not, and are not intended to, match estimates of the Australian resident population published in other ABS publications.


63 Estimates produced from the survey are usually in the form of averages (e.g. mean household net worth of couple households with dependent children), or counts (e.g. total number of households that own their dwelling). For counts of households, the estimate was obtained by summing the weights for the responding households in the required group (e.g. those owning their own dwelling). For counts of persons, the household weights were multiplied by the number of persons in the household before summing. The SIH collects data on the number of people, including children, in each household but separate records with income and most detailed data were only collected for people 15 years and older.

64 Estimates of mean net worth are obtained by multiplying the net worth of each household by the weight of the household, summing across all households and then dividing by the estimated number of households.

65 Average income values are obtained in two different ways, depending on whether mean gross household income or mean equivalised disposable household income is being derived. Estimates of mean gross household income are calculated on a household weighted basis. They are obtained by multiplying the gross income of each household by the weight of the household, summing across all households and then dividing by the estimated number of households. For example, the mean gross household income of couple households with dependent children is the weighted sum of the gross income of each such household divided by the estimated number of those households.

66 Estimates of mean equivalised disposable household income are calculated on a person weighted basis. They are obtained by multiplying the equivalised disposable income of each household by the number of people in the household (including children) and by the weight of the household, summing across all households and then dividing by the estimated number of people in the population group. For more information on differences between mean gross household income calculated on a household weighted basis and mean equivalised disposable household income calculated on a person weighted basis, see Appendix 3 in Household Income and Income Distribution, Australia, 2011-12 (cat. no. 6523.0).


67 The estimates provided in this publication are subject to two types of error, non-sampling and sampling error.

Non-sampling error

68 Non-sampling error can occur in any collection, whether the estimates are derived from a sample or from a complete collection such as a census. Sources of non-sampling error include non-response, errors in reporting by respondents or recording of answers by interviewers and errors in coding and processing the data.

69 Non-sampling errors are difficult to quantify in any collection. However, every effort is made to reduce non-sampling error to a minimum by careful design and testing of the questionnaire, training of interviewers and data entry staff and extensive editing and quality control procedures at all stages of data processing.

70 One of the main sources of non-sampling error is non-response by persons selected in the survey. Non-response occurs when people cannot or will not cooperate or cannot be contacted. Non-response can affect the reliability of results and can introduce a 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.

71 The following methods were adopted to reduce the level and impact of non-response:
  • Primary Approach Letters (PALs) were posted to selected SIH and HES households prior to enumeration
  • document cards were provided to respondents to suggest having financial statements and similar documents handy at the time of interview to assist with accurate responses
  • face-to-face interviews with respondents
  • the use of interviewers who could speak languages other than English, where necessary
  • Proxy Interviews conducted when consent is given, with a responsible person answering on behalf of a respondent incapable of doing so themselves
  • follow-up of respondents if there was initially no response
  • imputation of missing values
  • ensuring that the weighted data is representative of the population (in terms of demographic characteristics) by aligning the estimates with population benchmarks.

Sampling error

72 The estimates are based on a sample of possible observations and are subject to sampling variability. The estimates may therefore differ from the figures that would have been produced if information had been collected for all households. A measure of the sampling error for a given estimate is provided by the standard error, which may be expressed as a percentage of the estimate (relative standard error). Further information on sampling error is provided in Appendix 2.


73 ABS publications draw extensively on information provided freely by individuals, businesses, governments and other organisations. Their continued cooperation is very much appreciated: without it, the wide range of statistics published by the ABS would not be available. Information received by the ABS is treated in strict confidence as required by the Census and Statistics Act 1905.


74 The ABS offers specialist consultancy services to assist clients with more complex statistical information needs. Clients may wish to have the unit record data analysed according to their own needs, or require tailored tables incorporating data items and populations as requested by them. Tables and other analytical outputs can be made available electronically or in printed form. However, as the level of detail or disaggregation increases with detailed requests, the number of contributors to data cells decreases. This may result in some requested information not being able to be released due to confidentiality or sampling variability constraints. All specialist consultancy services attract a service charge, and clients will be provided with a quote before information is supplied. For further information, contact ABS information consultants on 1300 135 070 from 9:00am to 4:30pm AEST Monday to Friday (International callers +61292684909).


75 A basic confidentialised unit record file (CURF) from the 2011-12 SIH will be released on CD-ROM in August 2013. A more detailed (expanded) SIH CURF will also be available through the ABS Remote Access Data Laboratory. All clients wishing to access the SIH 2011-12 basic and expanded CURFs should refer to the ABS Website <https://www.abs.gov.au> (see Services, ABS Microdata) and read the Microdata Entry Page, and other linked information, before downloading the appropriate Guide, Application and Undertaking forms and applying for access.

Australian universities

76 University clients should refer to the ABS web site <https://www.abs.gov.au>(see Services, Services for Universities). The SIH 2011-12 basic and expanded CURFs can be accessed by universities participating in the ABS/Universities Australia Agreement for research and teaching purposes.

Other clients

77 Other prospective CURF clients should contact the Microdata Access Strategies Section of the ABS at <microdata.access@abs.gov.au> or on (02) 6252 7714.


78 Users may wish to refer to the following related ABS products. All publications can be downloaded free of charge from the ABS website.
      Household Income and Income Distribution, Australia, 2011-12 (cat. no. 6523.0)
      Survey of Income and Housing, User Guide, Australia, 2011-12 (cat. no. 6553.0)
      Microdata: Survey of Income and Housing - Australia, 2011-12 (cat. no. 6541.0.30.001)
      Housing Occupancy and Costs, Australia, 2011-12 (cat. no. 4130.0)

79 Users may also wish to refer to the following non-ABS products which relate to wealth.