Re-imagining Household Income, Housing, Wealth and Expenditure Data

The ABS is re-imagining how we can deliver more frequent and insightful data on the economic circumstances of households, to better serve users and the community. This includes data on income, expenditure, housing, and wealth. The data collected for this purpose informs how we measure inflation, economic growth, inequality and a range of issues.

As an example, the below graphic shows how the household income distribution has changed since the end of the 1990s recession up to the 2019-20 publication. Middle income households earn more on average, and the distribution of income is flatter.

Household income in 2019-20 dollars before tax (% of households)

This type of analysis is possible due to the available data from past surveys. In re-imagining this collection we aim to ensure that we are able to continue this work. 

Data file used in the above graphic

Past surveys

The following surveys were used to collect this data:

Data from the 2019-20 SIH are now available in these publications:

In early 2023, we will release results from the additional 2020-21 SIH, which was conducted to measure the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on household finances.

Results from the 2015-16 HES, the last HES , are available in: Household Expenditure Survey: Summary of Results

Why are we re-imagining?

Our role as an organisation is to inform important policy decisions by providing information that is timely, detailed, coherent, and cost-effective (for both Government and respondents). To continue to achieve this, we seek to:

  • increase responsiveness
  • improve value for money
  • maximise the respondent experience.

In line with these goals, this project aims to modernise the methods used to collect data on household finances, and make use of existing data sources, to:

  • reduce cognitive and time burden on households completing our surveys
  • provide information in a timelier manner
  • enhance our resilience in times of crisis
  • reduce data collection and processing costs.

How are we re-imagining?

This project commenced in July 2021. It initially focused on HES and then expanded to include SIH. The investigations have included:

  • survey re-design
  • use of administrative data
  • alternative big data sources, such as bank data.

We have been working with data users to learn more about their data needs and are co-designing a new survey with users including the Treasury, Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), and the Department of Social Services (DSS).

Phase 1 of the co-design process, which focused on understanding users’ critical data requirements, is now complete. A summary report will be published on the ABS website soon.

The following publications summarise insights from earlier rounds of consultation, focussing on the use of HES among all data users:

Development of the Living Costs in Australia Survey (LCAS)

From 2023-24, a new streamlined, digital first, survey will be launched. Currently titled the Living Costs in Australia Survey (LCAS), this new data collection will replace the SIH and HES.

We have a short-list of administrative data sources to replace or supplement survey data in 2023-24. These include data on:

  • government payments
  • formal childcare payments
  • superannuation balances and contributions
  • previous financial year unincorporated business income
  • student debts.

The focus of survey re-design for LCAS includes:

  • improving question flow and sequencing
  • optimising the questionnaire to support self-completion
  • sample design to maximise coverage across populations
  • reducing time and burden to complete the survey
  • identifying where alternative data sources can replace question modules.

If you are interested in sharing your perspective on this project, or would like regular updates as part of the Network of Household Economics Statistics Newsletter, please send an email to:

New data developments

The ABS is working to leverage big data sources to gain new insights into household finances. Some examples are:

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