2900.0 - Census of Population and Housing: Understanding the Census and Census Data, Australia , 2016  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 08/11/2017  First Issue
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Social Marital Status (MDCP)

This variable records a person's relationship status based on their current living arrangement, in terms of whether they form a couple relationship with another person living in the same usual residence, and the nature of that relationship. This variable is applicable to all persons aged 15 years and over.

How this variable is created

Data on the relationships people have with others in the same dwelling, including de facto partnerships or social marriages, is derived from the relationship in household question on the Census Household Form, which asks for each person’s relationship to Person 1 on the form. Images of these questions are provided below.

Person 1 is the 'reference person' for 93.4% of family reference persons and 98.9% of non-family reference persons. In the remaining cases, a more appropriate person on the form is chosen during clerical coding. For example, an adult is chosen rather than a child, or in the event of multiple family households additional reference persons are chosen.

In cases where some members of a household are away from home on Census Night, members of the family nucleus (partners, parents and children) and unrelated persons who were temporarily absent on Census Night are taken into account when deriving Social Marital Status. This allows for the further identification of some partnerships.

Where relationships information is insufficient to code Social Marital Status then Registered Marital Status may be used to help establish couple relationships. Additional information such as name and usual residence may also be used during data processing to help determine these relationships. Unless a social marriage is identified for a person, they are regarded as 'not married'.

Variable history

A question on Marital Status has been asked in every Census since 1911. A separate variable recording de-facto or social marital status was first created in 1986 and has been used in every census since then.
No changes were made to the question in 2016. However, change were made to the way responses were processed. Please refer to the Data usage notes section below.

Non-response rate

Non-response rate only applies to data items that directly reflect responses to individual Census form questions. Social Marital Status does not have a non-response rate as it is a derived value created during Census processing for applicable persons. For more information, refer to Understanding Census data quality.

Data usage notes

Reporting relationships in respect of Person 1 only, can make it difficult to establish all the relationships (including partnerships) which exist in a household. In addition, across the community, a wide variety of living arrangements exists and family structures can be complex and dynamic in nature, and so the identification of all de facto partnership in the Census is partly dependent on a persons ability to describe these relationships within the constraints of the generalised questionnaire format required by a Census.

In 2011 the Social Martial Status variable provided data about how a person is married in a 'social way' (i.e. their current living status), regardless of response to the Registered Marital Status.

In 2016 the processing of Social Marital Status was changed to align with ABS family standards. A social marital status of 'Married in a registered marriage' is defined as a person who lives with another person in a couple relationship and to whom he or she is also legally married to in a registered marriage.

Further information

A definition of Social Marital Status is available in the 2016 Census Dictionary.
For information related to Social Marital Status, see data quality statement for Registered Marital Status and Relationship in Household.
For more information on ABS standards on Family, see Glossary of Family, Household and Income Unit Variables, 2014.

Household form question image

Questions 5, 6 and 53 as they appear on the 2016 Census Household Paper Form:

2016 Household Paper Form - Question 5. What is the person's relationship to Person 1/Person 2?
2016 Household Paper Form - Question 6. What is the person's present marital status?
2016 Household Paper Form - Question 53. For each person away, complete the following questions:
A text only version of the online Census Household form is available from the Downloads tab.