2007.0 - Information Paper: Census of Population and Housing: ABS Views on Content and Procedures, 2011  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 26/10/2007   
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This question recognises the demand for information about ethnic or cultural origin, particularly for those groups which cannot be identified adequately through the existing questions on Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander origin, main language other than English spoken at home, religion or country of birth of parents. A person's ancestry, in conjunction with their country of birth and information on whether their parents were born in Australia or overseas, provides a good indication of the ethnic background of first and second generation Australians. This data is used to inform delivery of services to particular ethnic communities.


A question on each person's ancestry, (i.e. ethnic or cultural origin) was asked for the first time in the 1986 Census. This was the result of investigation by the 1986 Population Census Ethnicity Committee on the need for data on ethnicity other than language, country of birth or country of birth of parents. The question was designed to identify the respondent's origin rather than a subjective perception of their ethnic background. The aim of the question was to measure the ethnic composition of the population as a whole. Evaluation showed that it was not useful for this purpose as there was a high level of subjectivity and confusion about what the question meant, particularly for those people whose families had been in Australia for many generations. Very little use was made of the ancestry data from the 1986 Census and so ancestry was not included in either the 1991 or 1996 Censuses.

As a result of user demands, the ABS established a Census Consultative Group on Ancestry in 1995 to seek user input and to identify user requirements for these data, research international practices and develop and test questions which may provide acceptable and accurate data at a reasonable cost. Testing in the lead up to the 1996 Census indicated that the same data quality problems experienced in 1986 Census would occur. Subsequent discussions of the Consultative Group identified that the major policy issues were for those people who were either born overseas or whose parents were born overseas. For this purpose, it was determined an ancestry question in combination with a question on whether the person's parents were born in Australia or overseas would produce data of acceptable quality.

A question on ancestry was included in the 2001 Census. The restriction of the country of birth of parents question to the responses 'Australian' and 'Overseas' restricted the analysis of the data. Responses to this question for the 2006 Census were coded to the 2000-01 edition of Australian Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups (ASCCEG) (cat. no. 1249.0). Coding of ancestries for the 2011 Census will be according to the most recent edition of this classification.

An Ancestry Consultative Committee was again established in June 2003 to review the ancestry and country of birth of parents questions for the 2006 Census. The outcome was a recommendation that these questions be asked in a format similar to that used for the 2001 Census.


Data on ancestry, in conjunction with country of birth and information about whether a person's parents were born in Australia or overseas, are used:

  • to indicate the ethnic background of first and second generation Australians
  • for the effective delivery of services to particular ethnic communities.


There are no other sources of Ancestry data.


Consideration will be given to expanding the number of ancestries coded for the question in the lead-up to the 2011 Census.

The format of, and instructions for, the question will also be reviewed, including the examples given.


Response categories included in the ancestry question reflect the ancestries most commonly reported in the previous Census, except for Australian. Australian was moved to the bottom of the list of response options to encourage people to consider other ancestries they may have.

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