Household Expenditure Survey

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    Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)

    The Household Expenditure Survey (HES) collects detailed information about the expenditure, income and household characteristics of a sample of households resident in private dwellings throughout Australia. From 2003-04 information on household net worth is also collected. Average weekly expenditure on over 600 goods and services can be obtained from the survey and cross classified with household income, household net worth, household characteristics and broad geographical areas (state, capital city/rest of state). The general objectives for conducting the HES are to:

    • identify the net levels and patterns of expenditure of Australian private households on a comprehensive range of goods and services purchased for private use;
    • determine how these levels and patterns vary according to income levels and other characteristics of households, such as size and composition, location and principal sources of cash income.

    More specifically the HES is used to update the weighting pattern of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to ensure it adequately reflects the spending habits of the Australian population. The CPI is an indicator of the rate of change in prices paid by consumers for the goods and services they buy.

    The HES provides data that assists in measuring the economic well-being of the population and provides information on the command over economic resources of individuals and households. This enables assessment of levels of economic inequality, the effectiveness of the social support system and the mechanisms by which the system of government taxes and benefits redistributes income between different types of households. Some internal ABS users of HES data are CPI and National Accounts. External users of HES data include government departments (local, state and federal), market research organisations, wholesalers, retailers and educational institutions.



    The survey collects information from usual residents of private dwellings in urban and rural areas of Australia, covering about 98% 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.

    The survey also 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 or Indigenous Communities - this has only a minor impact on aggregate estimates except in the Northern Territory where such households account for about 23% of the population.


    Information is collected only from usual residents. Usual residents are residents who regard the dwelling as their own or main home. Others present are considered to be visitors and are not asked to participate in the survey.


    Conceptual framework

    The Household Expenditure Survey is largely consistent with the concepts described in the following documents:

    Final Report and Recommendations: Expert Group on Household Income Statistics (The Canberra Group)

    17th International Conference of Labour Statistician's Resolution on Household Income and Expenditure Statistics

    Main outputs

    HES output includes -


    Expenditure on over 600 items in the following broad groups: current housing costs, domestic fuel and power, food and non-alcoholic beverages, alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, clothing and footwear, household furnishings and equipment, household services and operation, medical care and health expenses, transport, recreation, personal care, miscellaneous goods and services, income tax, mortgage repayments (principal), other capital housing costs, superannuation and life insurance.

    Income and household finances:

    For households - Current weekly household cash income by the following sources: wages and salaries, own unincorporated business, superannuation, investments, other private income, government pensions and allowances; principal source of income; details of separate mortgages and loans held by the household; government benefits and income taxes; and lump sum receipts and disbursements. From 1998-99, financial stress information is also available, and from 2003-04, income in the previous financial year is also available.

    For persons - Current weekly household cash income by the following sources: wages and salaries, own unincorporated business, superannuation, investments, other private income, government pensions and allowances; principal source of income; government benefits and income taxes; lump sum receipts and disbursements. From 2003-04, income in the previous financial year is also available.

    Socio-demographic information:

    For households - State/Territory of residence, capital city/rest of state, Section of state, dwelling structure, location and other details about the dwelling, tenure type, landlord type, family composition of household, counts of various demographic groups.

    For persons - age, sex, marital status, relationship in household, country of birth, year of arrival in Australia, family type, income unit type, disability status and severity of restriction, participation in school and tertiary education, education qualifications.

    Labour Force and employment characteristics:

    For persons - Labour force status, status in employment, full-time or part-time status, hours worked in all jobs, occupation and industry in main job, whether looking for full-time or part-time work, duration of unemployment.

    The HES uses the following classifications:

    1. The Household Expenditure Classification (HEC). Expenditure data are compiled according to the HEC, a 10-digit hierarchical list classifying services, and durable and non-durable goods. This classification was used for the first time in 1998-99. Earlier surveys used the Household Expenditure Survey Commodity Code List which was a 4-digit non-hierarchical list.

    2. The Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC)

    3. The Standard Australian Classification of Countries (SACC)

    4. The Australian Standard Classification of Occupations (ASCO)

    In addition, the HES largely conforms with the standard classifications, as documented in the Directory of Concepts and Standards for Social, Labour and Demographic Statistics, for the following items: Source of Income, Principal Source of Income, Year of arrival, Marital Status, Labour Force Status, Hours Worked, Dwelling Structure, Tenure Type, Household Type.

    Other concepts (summary)
    Expenditure - Expenditure is primarily recorded using an acquisitions approach. Only expenditure on goods and services used for private purposes is recorded, and expenditure is recorded net of refunds and trade-ins.
    Income - Income data relates to usual cash income. Receipts which are not recurring and usually regular or are not cash flows are excluded from the HES.

    These concepts are further described in Household Expenditure Survey and Survey of Income and Housing: User Guide (ABS cat. no. 6503.0).

    New South Wales
    South Australia
    Western Australia
    Northern Territory
    Statistical Division
    Statistical Subdivision
    Section of State
    Capital City Statistical Division

    Comments and/or Other Regions
    Households in collection districts defined as very remote or Indigenous Communities are excluded. Data are not releasable for all statistical divisions and subdivisions because of small sample sizes in some areas. Where it is possible to release data for statistical divisions and subdivisions, it is generally available only at the major expenditure group level. Data for individual statistical local areas cannot be released, but if clients wish to specify their own aggregations of Statistical Local Areas (instead of using the ASGC structure) data can be aggregated on that basis.

    6 Yearly

    Frequency comments
    Household Expenditure Surveys were run in 1974-75, 1975-76, 1984, 1988-89, 1993-94, 1998-99 and 2003-04. From 2003-04 it is being conducted 6 yearly, with the next survey to be in 2009-10.

    Household expenditure surveys have been conducted by the ABS in 1974-75, 1975-76, 1984, 1988-89, 1993-94, 1998-99 and 2003-04.

    The collection history in the development of HES is outlined as follows:-

    1910 - A household budget survey was conducted by the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics (CBCS).
    1913 - Another CBCS survey was conducted in which families were asked to fill in a detailed record of income and expenditure for a month.
    1917 - A Royal Commission of inquiry was appointed to inquire, by means of household budgets, into the cost of living in the State of WA. The Commonwealth Statistician, Mr. G.H. Knibbs, prepared an analysis of the results for the government of Western Australia.
    1920 - Results from the household budget inquiry of 1913 and a budget inquiry of 1920 (Hobart) were used by the Commonwealth Royal Commission into the Basic Wage.
    1936 - The Conference of Statisticians of Australia resolved the desirability of investigating the practicability of instituting a family budget inquiry at an early date.
    1938 - The National Advisory Council on Nutrition commissioned a survey of domestic food budgets in 2565 households in five State capitals.
    1939 - A Family Expenditure Inquiry was conducted in Queensland (1939-40).
    1942 - The International Labour Organisation's Year Book of Labour Statistics 1941 included a table (Table XXI) showing the distribution of the expenditures of wage earner families, as derived from "family living studies" in the 1930s, for 30 countries including the USA, Canada, UK, Japan and New Zealand.
    1944 - A Commonwealth-wide Food Consumption Survey was carried out by the Australian Institute of Anatomy, Department of Health.
    1957 - The Family Expenditure Survey was commenced in the United Kingdom. It has been conducted continuously since 1957.
    - The third edition of Conditions of Economic Progress reported the results of household expenditure studies in a large number of countries, including those from the Queensland official inquiry of 1939-40.
    1964 - The Bureau of Agricultural Economics conducted a survey of 945 households in Sydney. Results were published in Household Meat Consumption in Sydney (1967). Information was collected on expenditure on foods other than meat.
    1966 - A university-sponsored national survey of household expenditures was conducted from 1966 to 1968.
    1967 - The International Labour Office published Household Income and Expenditure Statistics: No.1, 1950-1964. The volume summarised the results of such surveys in over 60 countries between 1950 and 1964.
    -The Bureau of Agricultural Economics conducted a survey of 803 households in Melbourne. Results were published in Household Meat Consumption in Melbourne (1970). Information was collected on expenditure on foods other than meat.
    1969 - The Commonwealth Statistician received approval to conduct a feasibility study (by pilot testing) for a household expenditure survey. The Conference of Statisticians of Australia welcomed the implementation of the feasibility study, which covered the period from July 1969 to June 1970.
    1971-73 - The Commonwealth Statistician sought and received approval from the Treasurer for a full-scale household expenditure survey.
    1974-75 - The first full-scale ABS household expenditure survey began in Australia. It surveyed capital city households only. Its main use was for welfare policy.
    1975-76 - The second HES by the ABS was conducted in Australia. Its main use was for welfare policy and as a planning tool.
    1979 - The International Labour Office published Household Income and Expenditure Statistics: No.3, 1968-1976. The volume summarised the results of such surveys in over 87 countries between 1968 and 1976.
    1984 - The third full-scale HES was conducted in Australia. The dataset provided comprehensive information on household and individual income, as well as the pattern and aggregate value of expenditure. Its main use was as a basis for review of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and modelling.
    1988-89 - The HES was conducted for the fourth time all over Australia. The results of the survey formed the main basis for calculating new CPI weights introduced in 1991.
    1993-94 - The fifth HES was conducted.
    1998-99 - The sixth HES was conducted.
    2003-04 - The seventh HES was conducted (in conjunction with the Survey of Income and Housing).


    Data availability comments

    28/11/2006 01:49 PM