General Social Survey

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    Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)


    The 2002 General Social Survey (GSS) was the first survey of this type conducted by the ABS. The GSS is intended to be repeated every 4 years, with much of the content unchanged, to enable changes over time to be measured. There will also be a flexible component to enable the inclusion of contemporary and emerging issues in each survey cycle.

    The introduction of the GSS is one of the outcomes of the ABS Household Survey Review. In the Review, ABS undertook extensive consultation with key government users at both State and Commonwealth level, and sought input from a wider group of stakeholders. The Review found considerable interest in a general social survey and support from many users. Users are recognising that many social phenomena are inter-related and social policy is becoming less sectoral as a consequence. As a result, surveys which allow inter-relationships between different aspects of people's lives to be explored are important.

    The information collected includes details of health and disability, housing, education, labour force, transport, crime, and indicators of family and community involvement. A number of economic items (income and selected assets, liabilities and financial stress indicators), as well as demographic details, are also included. Three supplementary topics were also included in the 2002 GSS, collecting information on the extent of computer and internet access, attendance at cultural and sporting events, and participation in sport or other physical activity.


    The key objectives of the GSS are:

    • to collect data from a range of areas of social concern, to allow information to be connected in ways not generally available, for use in developing broad-based social policy; and
    • to provide national and state level estimates, recognising state/territory responsibilities in many areas of social concern.

    The GSS provides a wide range of information about the same individuals, allowing the links between different aspects of peoples' lives to be examined. Little is known as to what extent individuals' relative standing in one area of social concern may be mirrored in other areas, and by including a range of variables and areas of social concern in the one vehicle the GSS makes it possible to measure the extent of multiple social disadvantage across these areas of social concern. Further, the GSS obtains strategic information about the factors that determine outcomes such as health, living standards or social cohesion through the inter-relationships between different aspects of peoples' lives. For example:

    • the social context of crime victimisation;
    • the relationship between the growing use of information technology and other areas of peoples' lives;
    • the relationship of 'non-standard' (or precarious) employment with a range of social determinants and outcomes;
    • the complex set of inter-relationships between individuals and their environments that influences health and well-being outcomes,such as financial stress and financial security;
    • the material living standards that families achieve from the range of human and economic resources at their disposal; and
    • the relationships between the strength of peoples' social networks and other areas of well-being.

    The GSS also:

    • provides overlap between question sets in the GSS and the more detailed Special Supplementary Surveys (SSSs) conducted by the ABS, to enable connections to be made;
    • provides a foundation for, and a link with, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey;
    • regularly provide a general picture of the social characteristics of Australia's adult population;
    • compare the circumstances of a wide range of population groups; and
    • measure changes over time.

    While still relevant to the broad social concerns underlying the GSS, the main purpose of the supplementary topics in the 2002 GSS is to provide specific detailed information to policy makers.


    The survey includes all usual residents aged 18 years and over living in private dwellings. Visitors to private dwellings are excluded, as are persons in institutions (such as hospitals and nursing homes) and special dwellings (such as hotels and boarding houses).

    The following persons living in Australia, but not usually considered part of the resident population, are excluded from the scope of the survey:

    • non-Australian diplomatic staff and non-Australian members of their households;
    • members of non-Australian defence forces stationed in Australia and their dependents; and
    • overseas visitors whose usual place of residence is outside Australia.

    Non-Australians (other than those above) working in Australia; or in Australia as students or settlers, and their dependents, are included in the scope of the survey if they have lived, or intend to live, in Australia for a period of 12 months or more.

    The survey is conducted in urban and rural areas only. The exclusion of people living in remote and sparsely settled areas only has a minor impact on aggregate national and State level estimates. For this reason, the survey results are weighted to include persons living in these areas. In the the Northern Territory, however, persons living in remote and sparsely settled areas account for over 20% of the population, and the survey results are not weighted to include persons living in sparsely populated areas.


    Conceptual framework

    Not applicable

    Main outputs
    Most data from the GSS will be available at the person level for persons aged 18 years and over. Certain data will also be compiled in relation to income units and households.

    Core topics:

        Social marital status
        Registered marital status
        Family type
        Household type
        Relationship in household
        Number and age of people in household
        State or Territory of usual residence
        Capital city/balance of State
        Accessibility/Remoteness Index for Australia
        Socio-Economic Indexes For Areas (SEIFA)
        Country of birth
        Year of arrival
        Main language other than English spoken at home
        Proficiency in spoken English

        Self assessed health status
        Disability status

        Tenure type (household)
        Landlord type (household)
        Rent/mortgage payments (household)

        Highest educational attainment
        Field of study
        Full-time/part-time study for qualification
        Type of educational institution

        Labour force status
        Number of employed persons in household
        Retirement status
        Multiple job holder
        Hours usually worked
        Full time/part time status
        Status in employment
        Leave entitlements in main job
        Expected future duration in current job

      Income (personal, income unit and household)
      Main source of income (personal, income unit
      and household)
      Type of government pension/allowance
      Time on government support

      Financial stress
      Unable to borrow in an emergency (household)
      Cash flow problems (household)
      Dissaving (household)

      Assets and liabilities
      Value of home (household)
      Value of mortgage against home (household)
      Equity in home (household)
      Selected investments (household)
      Consumer debt (household)

      Information technology
      Use of a computer at home
      Frequency of internet access
      Type of internet activity
      Government services accessed via internet

      Access to motor vehicles
      Perceived level of difficulty with transport
      Travel time to work

      Family and community
      Support for children outside household
      Support for others outside household
      Contact with family/friends
      Social activities
      Ability to ask for small favours
      Support in time of crisis
      Voluntary work

      Victim of violent crime (assault)
      Victim of property crime (household)
      Feelings of safety at home

    Supplementary topics:

      Information technology

      Household use of IT at home
      Household access to technologies
      Access to a computer at home
      Access to the Internet at home
      Frequency of Internet access at home
      Intention to have Internet access at home

      Personal use of IT
      Use of a computer at home/work/other locations
      Type of computer activity
      Use of the Internet at home/work/other locations
      Type of Internet activity
      Technologies used to work from home
      Frequency of Internet access at home/work/
      other locations
      Financial services accessed via telephone

      Culture and recreation

      Culture/Leisure activities and venues
      Cultural/leisure activities or venues attended
      Frequency of attendance at specified
      cultural/leisure activity or venue

      Sporting events
      Sporting events attended
      Frequency of attendance at specified sporting

      Physical recreation activities
      Participation in physical activity for
      Capacity in which participated in each activity
      Frequency of participation in each activity


    The GSS will use standard ABS data items and classifications where appropriate. Major classifications to be used include:

    Australian Standard Classification of Education (ASCED);

    Australian Standard Classification of Occupations (ASCO);

    Standard Australian Classification of Countries (SACC); and

    Standard Australian Classification of Languages (ASCL).

    Other concepts (summary)

    Not applicable

    New South Wales
    South Australia
    Western Australia
    Northern Territory
    Part of State Metropolitan
    Part of State Extra-Metropolitan

    Comments and/or Other Regions

    The sample is drawn from urban and rural areas in all States and Territories; remote or sparsely settled areas are excluded. The sample is distributed among States/Territories in a way intended to allow the production of reliable State/Territory estimates.

    Subject to data quality considerations, data may be made available for some categories of the Accessibility and Remoteness Index for Australia (ARIA).

    4 Yearly

    Frequency comments


    Although the 2002 survey was the first GSS, some of the information collected had previously been included in a range of more specific ABS surveys. These include:

    Household Expenditure Survey;

    Survey of Income and Housing Costs;

    Australian Housing Survey;

    Survey of Disability Ageing and Carers;

    Survey of Education, Training and Information Technology;

    National Health Survey;

    Voluntary Work Survey;

    Crime and Safety Survey;

    Survey of Employment Arrangements and Superannuation;

    Labour Force Survey;

    Survey of Attendance at Selected Culture/Leisure Venues; and

    Survey of Sports Attendance.


    Data availability comments

    Results from the survey were made available in December 2003 in the form of a national level publication. The 2002 GSS Microdata has been available since 30th July 2004.

    05/01/2006 10:29 AM