3414.0 - Guide to Migrant Statistical Sources, 2011 (Edition 2)  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 29/03/2011   
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General Social Survey (GSS)


The General Social Survey (GSS) was first conducted in 2002 and is intended to be repeated at regular intervals (currently four-yearly). The key objectives of the GSS are:

  • to collect data from a range of areas of social concern and allow information to be connected in ways not generally available, for use in developing broad-based social policy
  • to provide national and state level estimates, recognising state/territory responsibilities in many areas of social concern
  • to regularly provide a general picture of the social characteristics of Australia's adult population
  • to compare the circumstances of a wide range of population groups
  • to measure changes over time.

Although 2002 was the first time the GSS was conducted, some of the information collected had previously been collected in a range of more specific ABS surveys.

Topics covered by the GSS include health and disability, housing, education, labour force, transport, crime, information technology, indicators of family and community involvement, economic items such as income, selected assets, liabilities and financial stress indicators, and demographic details. Data items within these topics are capable of being cross classified with Data Items Relevant to Migrants and Ethnicity. While these topics have been collected in each iteration of the GSS, the specific data items collected for each topic may have changed between surveys.

Supplementary topics are included in the GSS to provide specific detailed information on emerging issues. These topics are subject to review for each survey cycle. In 2002, the GSS collected additional detail on computer and internet access, attendance at cultural and sporting events, and participation in sport or other physical activity. The 2006 GSS contained supplementary topics on social capital, voluntary work, visa category, mobility and access to service providers. The 2006 topics have remained on the survey for 2010, however the amount and range of detail collected has changed for some topics.

Results from the 2010 GSS are expected to be released in the second half of 2011.


  • Country of birth
  • Year of arrival
  • Age when first arrived in Australia
  • Main language other than English spoken at home
  • Proficiency in spoken English

In addition to the demographics listed above, since 2006 the GSS has collected information about the current residency status of non Australian-born people who arrived in the previous 21 years:
  • Australian citizenship status
  • Visa category
  • Whether a temporary resident before becoming a permanent resident
  • Whether main applicant on visa application

Other data items of relevance to migrants and ethnicity:
  • Geographical area of previous dwelling (if lived in current dwelling for less than 9 years)
  • Language difficulties when communicating with service providers (data item in 2006)
  • Proportion of friends of same cultural or ethnic background
  • Level of tolerance of different cultures (new data item in 2010)

Some response categories in the following data items may also be of relevance to migrants and ethnicity:
  • All reasons/main reason did not study although wanted to
  • All reasons/main reason did not do training although wanted to
  • Types of personal stressors experienced in last 12 months
  • Active involvement in social or support group in the last 12 months by type of organisation
  • All reasons/main reason not actively involved in social or support group in the last 12 months (new data items in 2010)
  • All reasons/main reason not actively involved in governance, citizenship or community groups (new data items in 2010)
  • Types of organisation did voluntary work for
  • All difficulties/main difficulty accessing service providers (2010)


A full list of data items for the 2006 GSS capable of being produced in customised tables is available from General Social Survey: User Guide, Australia (cat. no. 4159.0.55.002). The user guide also contains information on the survey design, content, processing, data quality and dissemination.

Summary data from each cycle of the GSS are available in General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia (cat. no. 4159.0). State/territory level data in spreadsheet format (cat. nos. 4159.1.55.001 to 4159.8.55.001) and Confidentialised Unit Record Files (CURFs) (cat. nos. 4159.0.30.001 and 4159.0.30.002) are also available.

Details of the data items and questions asked for the 2002 GSS are available in General Social Survey: Data Reference Package, 2002 (cat. no. 4159.0.55.001).


The Migrant Data Matrices provide a link to summary data on migrants from the General Social Survey. The data items included in each datacube are not exhaustive, but rather a selection of the data available. Care must be taken in comparing data from different collections presented in the Matrices due to differences in survey methodology, definitions and reference periods.

Additional data are also available in the publication General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia (cat. no. 4159.0).


For further information about these and related statistics, contact the National Information and Referral Service.

Phone: 1300 135 070
Fax: 1300 135 211
Post: Client Services, ABS, GPO Box 796, Sydney 2001
Email: client.services@abs.gov.au