6527.0 - Household Expenditure Survey, Australia: User Guide, 1998-99  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 15/11/2001   
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Contents >> Chapter 1. Introduction

Uses of HES data
Using this publication

The 1998-99 Household Expenditure Survey (HES) collected detailed information about the expenditure, income and household characteristics of a sample of 6,893 households resident in private dwellings throughout Australia.

Information was collected during a personal interview and from diaries in which survey participants recorded all their expenditure over a two week period. Interviews were equally spread over the financial year beginning July 1998 and ending June 1999.

Previous Household Expenditure Surveys were conducted in 1974-75, 1975-76, 1984, 1988-89 and 1993-94.

The 1998-99 HES is similar to the 1993-94 survey. The main differences are:

    • while the paper diary was retained, a computer assisted interviewing (CAI) technique was used to collect data from households and individuals. This reduced the possibility of sequencing errors and enabled some issues to be clarified through a series of edits at the time of interview, resulting in higher quality of input processing;
    • the survey weighting process for the 1998-99 HES used more independent household and person estimates as benchmarks;
    • extra detail was collected, or improved collection and/or processing methods were introduced, for information on mobile phones, taxes and fees on financial institution accounts, child care, education, disability, loans, industry of employment, tenure type, landlord type, gambling and income in-kind;
    • new questions on financial stress and certain lump sum payments were included;
    • the definition of dependent children aged 15 years and over has changed. It now includes full-time students aged 15-24 years who have a parent in the household (but no partner or child of their own). In previous surveys it included full-time students aged 15-20 years who had a parent or other relative in the household (but no partner or child of their own);
    • a Household Expenditure Classification was introduced to replace the HES Commodity Code List (HESCCL) used in earlier Household Expenditure Surveys. While a different numbering system is used, the basic classification is similar to the HESCCL, with little movement across categories at the broadest level of the classification. At the detailed level, extra items have been created to cover new technologies such as digital video disk players. In addition, ‘not further defined’ items have been separated from ‘not elsewhere classified’ items. See appendix 3 for more information and concordances between the new and old classifications.

These differences are explored in more detail in chapter 5.


Uses of HES results have been many and varied. Examples of these include: updating the weighting pattern of the Consumer Price Index; conducting standard of living studies; evaluating government policy; and market research.

Updating the Consumer Price Index

HES results are used, and the survey is primarily designed, for updating the weighting pattern of the Consumer Price Index, or CPI as it is commonly known. The CPI is a measure of changes over time in the cost of a ‘basket’ of goods and services representative of household expenditure. It is often used to adjust (or assist in adjusting) payments such as social security pensions, benefits and allowances, superannuation payments, business contracts and rental agreements. HES results are used to revise the categories of goods and services included in the CPI basket as well as to adjust the relative importance, or weight, given to each.

Standard of living studies

Levels and composition of household expenditure are used to indicate standard of living. For example, households which spend more per person, or spend proportionately less on ‘necessities’, can be considered to have higher standards of living than other households. HES results have been used in studies which analyse the relative standard of living of different household types such as those on low incomes, pensioner households, lone parent families, rural households and recently arrived migrant households.

Evaluation of government policy

HES results have been used to show how different types of households are affected by government policy. Past studies have evaluated effects on different household types of social security cash pensions and allowances, income tax and indirect taxes such as sales tax. The publication The Effects of Government Benefits and Taxes on Household Income (Cat. no. 6537.0) provides data on the net effect of some government activity on household income. This study is sometimes referred to as the ‘fiscal incidence study’.

Policy changes have also been evaluated using HES data. Examples of areas in which change has been evaluated include first home buyers’ assistance and education assistance. Some care is needed in the interpretation of such studies because policy change may result in changes in household behaviour.

Market research

HES results provide information on the characteristics of households associated with expenditure on different goods and services. Researchers have used this information to better target the marketing of products.


Appropriate use and interpretation of HES results rely on a knowledge of what information was collected, how it was collected and how the information was used to produce final estimates. The User Guide covers these topics in the next three chapters: Concepts and Definitions; Survey Methodology; and Survey Design and Estimation. The fifth chapter, Data Analysis, discusses the use of HES results in selected analyses and the last chapter, Sources of Further Information, lists HES products and services available from the ABS.

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