1269.0 - Standard Australian Classification of Countries (SACC), 2011  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 22/08/2011   
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The theoretical and conceptual considerations for developing the structure of the classification were applied in conjunction with other considerations including:
  • the feasibility of the classification for collecting data from both statistical and administrative collections,
  • the ease of implementing the classification in statistical and administrative systems,
  • the analytical usefulness of data collected within the framework of the classification, and
  • the structural and statistical balance of the classification.

Physical and statistical balance

The classification was developed to achieve a structure that is physically and statistically balanced. This is necessary to allow the classification to fulfil its functions in a way that is useful and practical for presenting and analysing statistical data, especially from sample surveys.

Physical balance was achieved by developing a classification that at a particular level within each category has:
  • manageable numbers of sub-categories, and
  • similar numbers of sub-categories.

Statistical balance means that each major and minor group should represent a significant number of observations. But no major or minor group should represent an excessive number of observations (say, Country of Birth responses). Consequently, a classification used for the dissemination of statistics should not have categories at the same level in its hierarchy which are too different in their population size. This allows the classification to be used effectively for the cross-tabulation of aggregate data and the dissemination of data from sample surveys.

Application of the classification criteria, generally led to a balanced classification structure. However, considerations of practicality, usefulness and statistical balance were also used in developing the structure including:
  • splitting Europe into two major groups, and
  • combining the two American continents to form one major group.


Classification criteria are the principles by which categories are aggregated to form broader categories in a classification structure.

The criteria used for the SACC are:
  • the geographic proximity of countries;
  • the similarity of countries in terms of social, cultural, economic and political characteristics;
  • the desirability that groups of countries lie within a single geographic continent.

Geographic proximity

Geographic proximity is the basic criterion used to group countries in the SACC. The principle allows for the grouping of countries which may be separated by bodies of water.

Similar characteristics

Similarity in terms of social and cultural characteristics is based primarily on language spoken in a group of countries. However, other factors such as religion practised, historical links, similarity of national aspirations, and even factors such as type of food, or similarity of art, serve as indicators of cultural and social similarity.

Grouping countries to form minor groups

The lowest level of the classification consists of separately identified countries. Neighbouring countries are combined to form the minor groups of the classification structure on the basis of similar social, cultural, economic and political characteristics.

In some cases countries which do not have neighbouring borders are grouped together because of similar characteristics.

For example:
  • Spain and Portugal are included in a group with other similar southern European countries (e.g. Italy) even though the southern part of France lies between Spain and Italy.

As well as being geographically proximate, the countries of minor groups must all lie within a single geographic continent. Although the countries in a minor group are not necessarily identical in respect of any particular characteristic, the groups formed are relatively homogeneous in terms of the set of classification criteria.

While geographic proximity is the principal criterion used in grouping countries, in instances where a country could fit into more than one minor group on the basis of its location, its placement in the classification is made primarily on the basis of its characteristics and those of its neighbours.

For example:
  • Mexico, based on its location, could be included in either the group of countries comprising Northern America or the group of countries comprising Central America. It is included in Central America because of its similar social, cultural, economic and political characteristics with countries such as Honduras and Guatemala.

Where a country could fit equally into more than one minor group based on all the classification criteria, it is classified on factors such as practicality, usefulness, and statistical balance between groups.

For example:
  • Italy, based on the classification criteria, would fit comfortably in either Western Europe or Southern Europe. It is included in Southern Europe on the basis of practicality, usefulness, and statistical balance between groups.

Grouping minor groups to form major groups

Major groups were formed by aggregating minor groups. Minor groups were selected to comprise a Major group based on their geographic proximity and their similarities in social, cultural, economic and political characteristics.

In principle, major groups are formed so that they lie entirely within a single geographic continent.

This is not the case for two major groups:
  • 'North Africa and the Middle East'.
    (It lies across the boundary separating the continents of Africa and Asia.)
  • 'Americas'.
    (It includes the continents of North and South America.)

The countries of North Africa are included in a major group with the Middle East because of their social and cultural similarities. To include them in a group with Sub-Saharan countries from which they are geographically, environmentally and culturally removed would not be in harmony with the principles of the classification or useful for social and population statistics. In many economic statistics, however, the continental classification of Africa and Asia is appropriate and is adopted as an output view of the data.

In summary

The classification criteria and the way they have been applied has produced a classification structure that consists of:
  • countries grouped to form minor groups on the basis of geographic proximity and similarity in terms of cultural, social, economic and political characteristics; and
  • minor groups aggregated to form major groups on the basis of geographic proximity and a degree of similarity in their characteristics.


The classification is a hierarchy with three levels.


The third level of the classification structure consists of 255 countries including four residual ('not elsewhere classified') categories. Residual codes are explained in 'About codes'.

Minor groups

The second level of the classification structure comprises 27 minor groups. Each minor group lies wholly within the boundaries of a geographic continent.

Major groups

The first level of the classification structure comprises nine major groups, formed by aggregating geographically proximate minor groups. Major groups comprise countries which have broadly similar social, cultural, economic and political characteristics.

Most major groups lie wholly within the bounds of a single geographic continent. There are two exceptions: 'North Africa and the Middle East', and 'Americas'.