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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Total Personal Income (weekly) (INCP)

This variable records the total income (in ranges) a person usually receives each week. It is applicable to all persons aged 15 years or older.

How this variable is created

Income data is captured automatically from mark box responses on the form so the risk of processing error is minimal. For Total Personal Income (weekly), respondents are asked to only mark one response. In 4.9% of pre-processed data, respondents provided more than one response. In these cases responses are accepted in the order they appear on the form and the extra responses are rejected. An image of this question is provided below.

Income ranges are designed to be an even split or even distribution, which is why they change over time with wages/salary growth. They are adjusted each Census to reflect real-world increases in wages and are based on 2013-2014 Survey of Income and Housing (SIH) where person income is collected in actual dollar amounts.

Variable history

Questions on income were first included in the Census in 1933 and have been asked in each Census since 1976. In 2006, this variable was referred to as 'Individual Income (weekly)'. Income ranges were updated in 2016.

Non-response rate

Item non-response rates are a measure of how many people did not respond to a particular question as a proportion of the total number of people the question was applicable to. In this instance the response is left as not stated.

The majority of item non-response is attributable to the people who did not respond to the Census at all. Refer to item non-response rates for more information. The second and smaller contributor to item non-response is when people return a Census form but may not answer a particular question(s). For more information, refer to Understanding Census data quality.

The non-response rate for this variable was 9.0% compared to 7.9% in 2011.

Data usage notes

Even though the Census and other ABS surveys, such as the Survey of Income and Housing (cat. no. 6553.0) and Estimates of Personal Income for Small Areas, 2011-2015 (cat. no. 6524.0.55.002) collect similar data relating to personal income, they are not directly comparable. This is due to differences in scope, collection methodology, the time period the collection relates to, and conceptual differences. It is therefore likely that data from each of these collections will deliver different outcomes making it important for data users to understand the key conceptual differences between each collection in order to most appropriately use it.

The key differences between these collections are outlined in the table below.

Key differences between income data from the Census, Estimates of Personal Income for Small Areas, and the Survey of Income and Housing

CensusEstimates of Personal Income for Small Areas (EoPI)Survey of Income and Housing (SIH)

Reference period9 August 20162010/11 – 2014/15 Financial Years2013-2014 financial year

Scope of collectionAll people aged 15 years and over (approximately 20 million people)People who have earned income and have been recorded by the ATO (approximately 13 million records per year)A sample of 14,162 households

Collection methodologyPeople are asked to self-report their income by marking a check box against a pre-defined income range.Administrative data. Records income to the dollar value.Interview based

Conceptual differencesCensus asks people to include all the income they receive when answering the income question.

As the collection is self-reported, it relies on people answering the question (some people do not state an income) and reporting accurately (for example, some people may not consider government pensions or superannuation a source of income, and some people may not report small amounts (e.g. $1-$149))

Income not reported to the ATO is not captured in Estimates of Personal Income for Small Areas and the scope of the ATO statistics exclude Government pensions, benefits or allowances.

Low income earners, for example those receiving Government pensions and allowances, or those who earned below the tax free threshold (which rose from $6,000 to $18,200 in 2012-13), may not be present in the data, as they may not be required to lodge personal tax forms. Other individuals may not lodge a tax return even if required.
The Survey of Income and Housing has a series of detailed questions asked of every person 15 years and older in the household. This draws out more detail than the Census does about the types and sources of income each person receives. It is likely therefore to better capture small weekly incomes (between $1 and $149 a week) and better identify income from Government payments/supplements, amounts from investments, lump sums, financial assistance from family members outside the household, as well as interest from bank accounts.

While the Census asks for usual income, the Survey of Income and Housing collects actual and usual income.

ProducedEvery 5 yearsEvery financial yearEvery 2 years

Negative income in the Census includes people who own their own business and report negative income due to losses or negative gearing of rentals.

Deriving household and family income

Individual Income data is used to derive the following household and family income variables. This is done by summing each person's income within a dwelling or a family by applying a median value (derived using data from the Survey of Income and Housing) to each of the ranges.

  • Total Household Income (weekly)
  • Total Household Income as Stated (weekly)
  • Equivalised Total Household Income (weekly)
  • Household Income Derivation Indicator
  • Total Family Income (weekly)
  • Total Family Income as Stated (weekly)
  • Family Income Derivation Indicator

Further information

A definition of Total Personal Income (weekly) is available in the 2016 Census Dictionary.
For further explanatory notes to the other ATO supplied Income data sources see, Estimate of Personal Income for Small Areas, 2011-2015
For further information about the concepts, definitions, methodology and estimation procedures used in SIH, please refer to Survey of Income and Housing, User Guide.
For an analysis of the issues associated with collecting income data via a Census, including comparisons with other data sources, refer to Census Paper 03/04 - Income, 2001. This analysis was conducted on the 2001 Census data.

Household form questions image

Question 33 as it appeared on the 2016 Census Household Paper Form:

Image: 2016 Household Paper Form - Question 33. What is the total of all income the person usually receives?
A text only version of the Online Census is available from the Downloads tab.