1249.0 - Australian Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups (ASCCEG), 2011  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 16/08/2011   
   Page tools: Print Print Page Print all pages in this productPrint All



The Australian Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups (ASCCEG) is the Australian statistical standard for classifying ancestry data within the Australian population. ASCCEG has been developed based on the geographic area in which a group originated, developed or settled noting, similarity of groups in terms of social and cultural characteristics. ASCCEG is intended for use in the collection, aggregation and dissemination of data relating to the cultural diversity of the Australian population.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) developed ASCCEG to satisfy wide community interest in the ethnic and cultural composition of the Australian population and the characteristics of particular migrant community groups. The classification is intended to provide a standard to meet a growing statistical, administrative and service delivery need for data relating to these interests. The adoption of ASCCEG by statistical, administrative and service delivery agencies improved the comparability and compatibility of data on ethnicity from diverse sources.

First edition of ASCCEG 2000

The first edition of ASCCEG was developed by means of:

  • extensive research of Australian and overseas literature,
  • consultation with stakeholders including:
    • academics
    • ethnic and community groups and
    • agencies which provide and use cultural diversity data
  • analysis of existing data relating to the cultural and ethnic profile of Australia (primarily data from the 1996 Census of Population and Housing) and
  • use of principles and techniques relating to the development of statistical classifications.

The number of members of particular cultural and ethnic groups in Australia was treated as a significant factor in developing the hierarchical structure of the classification, to ensure that the current ethnic profile of Australia is appropriately reflected. Cultural and ethnic groups for which available data indicate small numbers in Australia are not separately identified in the classification structure but are included in appropriate residual categories.

The ABS produced ASCCEG in line with its commitment to provide leadership in the development and promotion of statistical data standards. The ABS uses ASCCEG in its own statistical work, including classifying responses to the question on Ancestry in the Census of Population and Housing, and actively promotes its use by other government agencies, private organisations, community groups, and individuals collecting, analysing, or using information relating to cultural and ethnic groups.

The identification of cultural and ethnic groups in the classification, and the way in which they are grouped, does not imply the expression of any opinion on the part of the ABS concerning the recognition of any group by governments, organisations or individuals, or the status accorded them. Nor does it imply the expression of an opinion concerning the relative merit or importance of particular cultural and ethnic groups or the people who belong to them.

Second edition of ASCCEG 2005

The Second Edition (2005 revision) of the classification expanded the number of cultural and ethnic groups identified at the base four digit level from 189 groups to 231. There were no structural changes at the broad group or narrow group levels.

Second edition (Revision 1) of ASCCEG 2011

Examination of the 2006 Census data and information from stakeholders and external sources indicated that some aspects of the classification required additions, removals or changes to improve its accuracy and applicability. As a result a minor review of ASCCEG was undertaken. To maintain ASCCEG's relevance and usability, and to provide a more comprehensive representation of cultural and ethnic groups in Australia, the 2011 minor review has added one narrow group and expanded the classification at the base four digit level from 231 to 275 cultural and ethnic groups. There have been no structural changes at the broad group level. (see: What has changed)


ASCCEG is designed to be used for the classification of information relating to topics such as ancestry, ethnic identity, and cultural diversity. Although these topics have elements of difference, it is considered that the concept common to them all, and underpinning the classification, is ethnicity. Because the words 'ethnicity' and 'ethnic' are associated with many different meanings it is useful to provide some definitional context.

The Macquarie Dictionary (On Line Edition 2011) provides the following Australian context:
1. relating to or peculiar to a human population or group, especially one with a common ancestry, language, etc.
2. relating to the origin, classification, characteristics, etc., of such groups
3. of or relating to members of the Australian community who are migrants or the descendants of migrants and whose first language is not English
4. recognisable as coming from an identifiable culture.

For the purposes of ASCCEG 'ethnicity' refers to the shared identity or similarity of a group of people on the basis of one or more factors, which were enunciated by the 1986 Population Census Ethnicity Committee (ABS Cat. No. 2172.0), chaired by the late Professor W.D. Borrie CBE, in The Measurement of Ethnicity in the Australian Census of Population and Housing report to the Australian Statistician (the Borrie Report) published in April 1984. "The Committee considered that the most enlightening attempt to define an ethnic group is that contained in a United Kingdom Law Lords statement." (Reported in Patterns of Prejudice, Vol 17, No. 2, 1983). The Law Lords noted that the key factor is that the group regards itself and is regarded by others, as a distinct community by virtue of certain characteristics not all of which have to be present in the case of each ethnic group.

Among the distinguishing characteristics that may be involved were cited:

        • a long shared history, the memory of which is kept alive
        • a cultural tradition, including family and social customs, sometimes religiously based
        • a common geographic origin
        • a common language (but not necessarily limited to that group)
        • a common literature (written or oral)
        • a common religion
        • being a minority (often with a sense of being oppressed)
        • being racially conspicuous.

    Since publication, of the Borrie Report, the multicultural nature of Australian society has further developed; however, the approach to the definition of ethnicity in the Borrie Report is still relevant and serves the purposes of ASCCEG.

    The approach of defining ethnic or cultural groups in terms of one or more relevant characteristics allows the notion of ethnicity to be viewed in broad sub-concepts. The Borrie Report describes these as a self perceived group identification approach and an approach that is more historically determined. In ASCCEG, ethnicity is based on the self perceived group identification approach for a number of reasons:

    • Self perceived group identification measures the extent to which individuals associate with particular cultural or ethnic groups. A measure of active association produces data which is more useful in terms of policy and service delivery needs. An historically determined approach would produce data which relates individuals to groups with which they no longer have a particular affinity and with which they may have little social, cultural or economic similarity.
    • The method used to collect information on ethnicity or ancestry in the ABS and other organisations is self-perception based on a self assessed response to a direct question. No attempt is made to historically determine the origins of individuals. It is important for the concept underpinning the classification and the categories of the classification to be in harmony with this approach.
    • The use of self-perception results in the need to include a number of categories in the classification that equate to national cultural identities. In particular, the self perceived group identification approach allows the response 'Australian' and thus allows for the category 'Australian' in the classification. It also allows the meaningful classification of many other nationally oriented responses in statistical and administrative collections that would otherwise be unusable. A number of users indicated that the usefulness of the classification would be impaired if it did not allow for the concept of an 'Australian' ethnicity.

    Considering ethnicity as a multi dimensional concept based on a number of distinguishing characteristics using a self-perception approach allows for a practical and useful classification attuned to generally accepted notions of what constitutes ethnicity and cultural identity. This approach supports the collection and use of data in statistical, administrative and service delivery settings.


    The scope of ASCCEG is all cultural and ethnic groups in the world as defined above. In practice, only those cultural and ethnic groups with significant numbers of persons resident in Australia, are separately identified in the classification. However, all cultural and ethnic groups in the world are covered, those not separately identified being included in the most appropriate residual (not elsewhere classified) category of the classification. The code structure of the classification also allows the identification and addition of cultural and ethnic groups not presently separately identified, if such a need arises.