4159.0 - General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia, 2002  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 21/01/2004   
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This publication presents a range of characteristics of households and persons resident in private dwellings in Australia, compiled from the 2002 General Social Survey (GSS).


Many aspects of life are important to human wellbeing. Among these are health, family relationships and engagement with wider social networks, educational opportunities and outcomes, employment and other work, financial resources, a place to live, personal safety and security, and access to transport. In 2002 the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) conducted a new multi-topic social survey that ranged across all of these aspects of life. This General Social Survey (GSS) was conducted throughout Australia from March to July 2002 and summary results are presented in this publication. It is planned to repeat the survey at four-yearly intervals.

The aims of the GSS are to:

  • present data on a range of social dimensions of the Australian community at a single point in time
  • by collecting data on a range of topics from the same individual, enable analysis of the interrelationship of social circumstances and outcomes, including the exploration of multiple advantage and disadvantage
  • provide a base for comparing social circumstances and outcomes over time and across population groups

The 2002 GSS collected information from 15,500 people aged 18 years and over across all states and territories of Australia. Information was collected about both the individuals being interviewed and about the households in which they lived. Only a small number of topics could be included in the survey under each of the social dimensions being explored, but the information collected will enable research links to be made to more detailed data from other ABS surveys focused on particular social dimensions.

The publication also provides information to assist users in interpreting and using the results of the survey, including descriptions of the survey design and methodology and notes on the quality of estimates and their comparability with data from other ABS surveys. Information on other products and services available from the survey, including detailed tabulations by state and territory, is also provided.

The GSS will provide a rich source of data for analysis of the wellbeing of Australians. As well as assisting researchers in accessing and using GSS data, ABS is conducting a multivariate analysis project using GSS data. Publication of the results of this analysis are planned for early 2004.

The statistics in this publication draw on information provided freely by individuals. Their continued cooperation is very much appreciated; without it, the wide range of population and social 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.

Finally, the ABS welcomes comments on the usefulness of this publication and related products. Comments should be sent to the Director, Living Conditions Section.


Among the many, often inter-related, aspects of life that are important to human wellbeing are good health, good family relationships and engagements with wider social networks, good educational opportunities and outcomes, suitable employment, a decent income and freedom from financial stress, a decent and affordable place to live, feeling safe and secure, and having access to suitable transport. There is increasing recognition that many social phenomena are inter-related and social policy is becoming less sectoral as a consequence. The 2002 General Social Survey (GSS) is a new multi-dimensional social survey that ranges across all of these aspects of life to enable analysis of the interrelationship of social circumstances and outcomes, including the exploration of multiple disadvantage.

The following commentary highlights some of the insights that can be obtained from the 2002 GSS, looking at various aspects of wellbeing and how they might be related to each other.

Social attachment
Relationships and networks are at the core of society and are essential to individual wellbeing. People are linked together with family and friends, and in wider communities characterised by shared interests, sympathies or living circumstances. Individuals may also form looser networks with people encountered through various activities and life situations. A person's networks may be concentrated in a local area, or more dispersed and sustained by travel and communications systems. There is a growing exploration of the ways in which social attachment may contribute to positive outcomes for individuals in areas such as health and employment, and for communities in broader opportunities for participation and in safer environments.

Of the 14,503,000 people aged 18 years or over covered in the 2002 GSS, most (95%) reported having contact in the previous week (either in person or via telephone, mail or e-mail) with family or friends with whom they did not live and 93% reported they would be able to ask people outside of their household for small favours, such as looking after pets, collecting mail, watering gardens, minding a child for a brief period, or borrowing equipment (table 1).

The proportion of people reporting contact with family and friends in the last week was similar for both men and women and there was little variation across age groups. Of those people who had contact with family or friends in the last week, 88% did so in person, while an even greater proportion (95%) had contact via telephone, mail or e-mail. Less than one percent of people had no contact with family or friends in the last month.

Overall, there was no significant difference between men and women in terms of being able to ask others for small favours, although some variation between the sexes was evident by age, with all age groups for women reporting around 94%, except for those 75 years or over (90%) and men ranging from 91% (65-74 years) to 96% (35-44 years).

Most people (94%) reported that, in a time of crisis, they could get support from outside their household. While a similar proportion of men and women felt they had no support in time of crisis, the youngest age group for both sexes (18 to 24 year olds) were the least likely of all age groups to feel they had no support in a time of crisis. People reporting that they could get support indicated that support would come primarily from family members (88% of those who felt that they could get support) or friends (70%). Neighbours, work colleagues and various community, government and professional organisations were also reported as other potential sources of support. No significant differences were found between men and women for any of the sources of support reported (graph 1).

Dot graph 1 - Sources of support in a time of crisis by sex

For the indicators 'ability to ask for small favours' and 'support in a time of crisis', people born overseas, especially those born in other than main English-speaking countries, were more likely than those born in Australia to have lower levels of social attachment (table 11).

Family and household composition were generally not significantly associated with lower levels of contact with family and friends (table 7).

The level of social attachment, as measured by each of the indicators, increased progressively across each income distribution quintile from lowest to highest (table 8). Similarly, increasing levels of social attachment were associated with increasing levels of good health (table 14).

Support for relatives living outside the household

Support for children until they are independent is a primary responsibility for parents. With increasing numbers of parents not living with their natural children, there is an interest in their continuing relationships and the provision of support. Similarly, the ageing of the population may mean that greater numbers of people are needing assistance from their children, other relatives and friends. Wider family networks often provide financial and physical support.

The 2002 GSS collected information on support given by selected adults to relatives living in other households. The support arrangements included financial support (such as Child Support Payments, or money to meet living costs or provide pocket money), and other forms of support (such as driving the relative to places or lending them a car). The GSS asked people in a couple relationship whether they or their partner had children living in another household and whether or not they or their partner provided support for those children. These selected persons were also asked whether they provided support for other relatives not living with them. Where the GSS selected person did not have a partner living with them, they were asked whether they themselves had children living elsewhere and whether or not they provided support and whether they had provided support to other relatives outside the household. Where other adults, apart from partners, were present in the household no information was collected regarding any support they may have provided to children or other relatives.

Support for children under 15 years of age living outside the household

There where 283,000 people with a partner present in their household who reported that either they or their partner had children aged under 15 years living in another household. This represented 3% of all couples. Of these couples, 90% were providing some form of support to the children aged under 15 years living elsewhere. There were 226,000 people who were not living with a partner who had children aged under 15 years living elsewhere, of whom 93% were providing support. The majority of people without partners present and with children of this age living away from them were men living alone. These men provided higher levels of support than their female counterparts (graph 2).

Dot graph 2 - Proportion of parents providing support for children aged 0–14 years living outside the household, By sex of the provider

One of the key forms of financial support provided to absent children in this age group is Child Support Payments. Child support can be paid by mutual agreement or may be imposed by a court order or following an application to the Child Support Agency. Child support is generally only paid for children under 18 years of age. Of those people reporting on behalf of themselves or their partners 218,000 (77%) reported making Child Support Payments for children under 15 years of age. A further 172,000 (76%) people not living with a partner were making child support payments for children aged 15 years or under. Of this group 52% were men living alone. In contrast, only 3% of this group were women living alone.

There were 459,000 people who reported receiving Child Support Payments (for children of all ages) as part of their household income, of whom 30,000 reported both paying out and receiving Child Support Payments.

Amongst other forms of support for children under 15 years of age living outside the household, the most common were providing or paying for clothing, driving them places, providing an allowance or pocket money and paying educational expenses (graph 3).


Support for children aged 15-24 living outside the household

The age group 15-24 years is the period when children generally move from being dependent on their parents to living independently. While some children not residing with both natural parents may be living in the care of other families, many are living on their own, in group households or starting their own families. During this time, however, the continuation of material support from parents is often important in helping them establish their independence. Of those persons with a partner present 1,236,000 (representing 13% of all couples) reported that they or their partners had children in this age group living away from them. Of these couples, 58% provided some form of support. A further 351,000 people not living with a partner reported having children of this age group living elsewhere. Support for their children was provided by 57% of these people, 47% of whom were male and 53% were female.


As Child Support Payments are provided predominantly for children aged under 18 years, the proportions of people providing child support for children aged 15-24 years living outside the household (7% for those with partners and 16% for those without a partner present) were lower than the corresponding proportions for younger children. More common types of financial support for children aged 15-24 years were: money to pay bills or debt, money for big cost items, paying for education expenses and money for food or to help pay rent and housing costs. Driving the children places and lending them a car were also common forms of support (Graph 5).


Support for other relatives living outside the household

Approximately 2,849,000 people reporting on behalf of themselves and their partners (31% of couples) were providing some form of support to relatives, other than children aged up to 24 years, living outside the household. A further 1,052,000 people reporting for themselves only were also providing such support. Approximately one-third of respondents in both the 45-54 and 55-64 year age groups reported the provision of support by either themselves or, if living in a couple relationship, their partner. This compared to 19% of respondents aged 18-24 years and 17% of those aged 75 or over (table 1).
Transport was the most common form of assistance to other relatives, by driving them places or letting them borrow a car (graph 6). The most common form of financial support was to give money to pay bills or meet debt.


Community support

Many people provide support to the wider community by voluntary work through organisations. In the 2002 GSS, just over one-third of Australians reported undertaking some form of voluntary work in the previous 12 months (table 1). The rate of volunteering differed little between the sexes, but did differ with age, life cycle and location. People aged 35-44 years reported the highest rate of volunteering (42%). People in a couple relationship and with dependent children were more likely (42% of such persons) to volunteer than lone parents with children (30%). Volunteer rates were noticeably lower in the major cities (32%) than elsewhere (42%).

Crime and safety

Feelings of safety

The feelings people have of safety or lack of safety when alone at home often relate to their: perceptions of crime levels in their vicinity; previous experience as a victim of assault or household break-in; relationships with people living nearby; sense of their own strength and capacity to be in control; and their level of trust in their local community.

A large majority (82%) of people felt safe or very safe at home alone after dark. In contrast, 8% felt unsafe or very unsafe. The rest either were never at home alone after dark (2%) or felt neither safe nor unsafe (8%). Men were more likely (91%) to feel safe/very safe than women (72%). While men 75 years of age or over were the males least likely to feel safe/very safe (85%), among females, this age group was the most likely to feel safe/very safe (79%).

Across the states and territories, the highest rates reported for feeling unsafe/very unsafe at home alone after dark were in Western Australia (11%), and the Northern Territory and South Australia (both 10%).

Line graph 7 - Feels very unsafe/unsafe at home alone after dark. By age and sex

The GSS showed that among those people more likely to feel unsafe at home alone after dark were those living in major cities, those living in rented accommodation, those not in the labour force and those living in low income households.

Crime victimisation

The level of crime is an indicator of community wellbeing that is of ongoing interest to both governments looking for solutions and to people trying to manage the daily circumstances of their lives. Readers should note, however, that the reported level of crime victimisation can differ depending on the way the information is collected. In particular, the results from the GSS differ from the results from the ABS's National Crime and Safety Survey. Further details comparing GSS findings with other crime victimisation data sources can be found in the Explanatory Notes of this publication and in the Information Paper: Measuring Crime Victimisation, Australia: The Impact of Different Collection Methodologies (cat. no. 4522.0.55.001).

The GSS collected information about the prevalence of the use or threat of violence against a person, and break-ins to homes, garages or sheds. For all persons aged 18 years or over, 9% (1,312,000 people) reported being victims of physical or threatened violence in the last 12 months, while 12% (1,662,000 people) reported being victims of actual or attempted break-ins during the same period.

Men were more likely (11%) than women (7%) to be the victim of violence, with younger men (18-24 years) the most likely (21%) to have been a victim of physical or threatened violence.

Across the states and territories, the Northern Territory had the highest rates for both violence (17%) and break-ins (29%), with break-ins in Western Australia (16%) and Queensland (13%) also above the national average.

Personal stressors
Personal stressors are events or conditions that may adversely impact on an individual's life or the collective lives of families. A stressor may impact on an individual through direct experience, such as the individual suffering from a serious illness or being unable to find a job, or indirectly through a family member's illness or inability to find a job, or by the divorce or separation of parents. In some instances, the adverse impact of personal stressors may persist beyond the short term and have an ongoing impact on an individual's capacity to live a satisfying and productive life, or the capacity for a family to live as a fully functioning family unit. .

The 2002 GSS collected information on several types of stressors that people considered had been a problem to themselves, their family and close friends in the last 12 months. No information was collected on the number of instances for each type of stressful situation experienced, nor on the degree to which the person was affected. Financial stress is discussed separately in the following section.

More than half (57%) of Australians aged 18 years or over experienced at least one potentially stressful situation or event in the last 12 months. The proportion of persons affected by stressors was around 60% for persons aged 18-54 years, falling to 46% for those aged 75 years or over.


The most common types of stressors were serious illness of self or someone close (reported by 21% of the population); and death of someone close (20%). Other frequent stressors experienced by the respondent or affecting someone close to them included: the inability to get a job (14%); divorce or separation (11%); mental illness (8%); and alcohol or drug related problems (8%).


Financial stress and income

The financial stress indicators and income data collected in the GSS (see tables 31 and 32) can provide insights into the economic wellbeing of various groups in the Australian community. Some of the financial stress questions required objective answers, but the interpretation of the responses as indicators of financial stress are subjective. Other questions are inherently subjective in nature. And while some of the indicators (such as seeking assistance from welfare/community organisations) appear to be more severe than others, such as 'could not pay electricity, gas or telephone bills on time' it is difficult to rank or weight them in order to derive a single measure of intensity of financial stress.

The reporting of financial stress does not necessarily imply that a household has low income. Even some high income households reported financial stressors. Nevertheless, comparing the income characteristics of those experiencing financial stress shows that those in the lowest income quintile (the bottom 20% of people ranked by equivalised household income) were less likely than other people to be able to raise money quickly for something important, more likely to have experienced cash flow problems in the last 12 months, and more likely than people in the top income quintile to have taken a dissaving action in the past 12 months. There was also a pattern of general decline in financial stress, measured by these indicators, as age increased.

Column graph 10 - Selected financial stress indicators, By equivalised household gross weekly income

Column graph 11 - Selected financial stress indicators, By age of selected person in household

Differing household composition was associated with different proportions of people reporting financial stress. For example, of the 630,000 lone parents with dependent children, 41% reported that they could not raise $2,000 in an emergency, compared with 13% of couples with dependent children; 48% of lone parents had at least one cash flow problem (22% for couples with dependent children); and 36% of lone parents took at least one dissaving action (23% for couples with dependent children). People who had retired from work and those employed in full-time jobs were the least likely to report financial stressors.

Health and disability

The majority of Australians (84% of persons aged 18 years or over) consider themselves to be in good, very good or excellent health. The proportion of persons reporting fair or poor health generally increased with age, from 7% of those in the 18-24 and 25-34 years age groups to 38% of those aged 75 years or over.

Line graph 12 - Self-assessed health status, By age

Personal health appears to be correlated with household income. Of those persons in the lowest quintile (i.e. the bottom 20% of people ranked by their equivalised gross household incomes), 35% assessed their health as fair or poor, compared to only 6% for those in the highest quintile.
Of Australians aged 18 years or over, 40% (5,758,000 people) had a disability or long-term health condition with the rate increasing with age, from 23% of persons aged 18-24 years to 80% of persons aged 75 years or over. The proportion of people with a disability or long-term health condition involving one or more core activity limitations increased from 4% for those aged 18-24 years to 36% among those aged 75 years or over.

Line graph 13 - Disability or long-term health condition, By age and sex

The proportion of people who assessed their health as good or better and had no disability or long-term health condition was highest in the 18-24 year age group (74%), falling as age increased to only 19% in the 75 years or over age group.


Lack of access to transport due to problems of affordability, safety, availability, convenience, and appropriateness of the type of transport available can act as a barrier to people's participation in the range of social, civic and economic activities of mainstream society.

Most people aged 18 years or over (84%) felt that they could easily get to the places where they needed to go; 12% felt that they sometimes had difficulty getting to such places; while 4% felt that they either could not get to places needed to go or often had difficulties in doing so.

Persons in the youngest age group (18 to 24 year olds) and the oldest age group (75 years or over) were the most likely to experience difficulties in getting access to motor vehicles or easily getting to places they needed to go.

Line graph 14 - Persons who can easily get to places needed, By age and sex

Children in jobless households

The absence of paid work in a family or household can limit financial resources which may limit participation in society, and can mean the absence of role models of employment for children to follow.

Among one family households (which account for 97% of children under 15 years of age), there were 548,000 children (14%) living in households where there was no employed adult (i.e a person aged 18 years or over). Of these children, 63% were living in one parent families.

According to the GSS there were 445,000 adults living in one family households with children under the age of 15 that had no employed adult. Over 80% of these adults reported household incomes in the bottom quintile of the income distribution (for equivalised gross household income). In contrast, only 8% of the 3,907,000 adults living in households with children under 15 and an employed adult had household incomes in the bottom quintile.

Jobless one family households with children reported much higher levels of financial stress than those with an employed household member. In these jobless households, 58% reported that the household could not raise $2,000 in a week for something important, 57% reported having at least one cash flow problem in the last 12 months, and 37% took at least one dissaving action in the previous 12 months. This situation compared to the much lower 14%, 24% and 24% respectively for households with children under 15 years but with at least one employed adult in the household. However, within those households with an employed adult, the proportion of one parent families reporting these selected financial stress indicators was much higher than for couple families.

The majority (89%) of jobless one family households with children under 15 were dependent on government cash pensions and allowances for their principal source of income, with three quarters of the selected persons in these households having been dependent on this source of income for more than half of the last two years. Most of these households were renting (69%), with 81% of one parent households renting.

Jobless one family households with children under 15 were more likely (57%) to have no consumer debt than similar households with employed adults (37%). They were less likely to have access to a motor vehicle to drive (70% compared with 94%), and more likely to have difficulty with transport sometimes at least (32% compared with 11%).

The respondents in jobless one family couple households with children were about as likely as respondents in similar households with an employed adult to have been a victim of physical or threatened violence (8%) and of a break-in (12-13%) in the last 12 months. In one parent one family households the rates of victimisation of violence were not only much higher than for couple households, but the jobless one parent household victimisation rates were higher than for one parent households with an employed adult (30% compared to 20%).

There is a marked difference in the reported health of adults in jobless households and those in households with an employed adult, with only minor differences (in most cases) between those in lone person households and those in couple only households. Of those in jobless households, 24% reported fair or poor health, compared with 7% of those in households with an employed person. Similarly, 47% of adults in jobless households reported at least one disability or long term health condition, compared with 27% in households with an employed person.

The above analysis has focussed on jobless one family households and the 548,000 children who live in them. However, in some of the one family households with jobs, there was an employed older sibling or employed other relative in the household rather than an employed parent, which may have implications both for the financial security of the children living in such households and the nature of the employment role model that they experience. There were 93,000 children in one family households of this kind, where the employed adult was not a parent of the children in that household. A further 27,000 children were also identified as living in multi-family households without an employed parent, bringing the total number of children without an employed parent in the same household to 668,000 (17%), with 58% of these children living with only one parent (with or without other adults in the household). There were approximately 59,000 children for whom data collected from the GSS did not enable the identification of the employment status of their parents.