4160.0.55.001 - Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics, Jun 2015  
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Culture is a concept which can be used to describe particular ways of life, either for a group of people or for a period of time. UNESCO defines culture as the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, that encompasses, not only art and literature, but lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs (UNESCO, 2001).

Leisure is a concept that relates to activities undertaken by a person outside of work for enjoyment, refreshment, relaxation or diversion and includes hobbies, socialising, recreation, sports and artistic pursuits.

There are connections and overlaps between culture and leisure. Subcultures often develop around leisure activities, and leisure activities such as socialising are central to broader cultural exchange and interaction. Many activities concerned with the expression, maintenance and preservation of culture are often associated with leisure activities. However, many cultural activities are undertaken as part of work or daily life.

The multifaceted concepts of ‘culture' and 'leisure’ have been the subject of considerable debate both nationally and internationally over the years. Definitions may need to be refined in the context of different research and data collection objectives. Many analysts and policy makers working with this field of statistics have tended to develop practical ‘activity-based’ definitions of culture and leisure which focus on behaviours and practices.


Culture plays an integral role in peoples' lives. Values and actions are influenced at all levels by cultural factors, which also provide a backdrop of meaning and tradition against which individual experience can be understood.

Leisure time gives people an opportunity to recover from the pressures of work and other commitments, to bond with family and community members, to pursue their interests, and to reflect on their life direction and meaning. Many leisure activities have a positive impact on health and wellbeing by providing benefits such as relaxation, social connections and physical activity. For example, participation in sports and physical recreation activities are seen as a crucial element in strategies aimed at maintaining and improving the physical and mental health of Australians.

Culture and leisure activities assist in developing national identity and values, and forming community networks and bonds crucial to social cohesion. People can become socially connected through arts and sporting activities, and this can further develop their skills and contribute to the cultural identity of the community. Cultural and leisure activities also helps build connectedness with others through shared experiences and achievements. The participation of children in cultural and organised leisure activities can help address anti-social behaviour and support positive educational outcomes.

In a national consultation conducted by the ABS in 2011-12, Australians said that many aspects of life that increase wellbeing and make life worthwhile are not material, and are intangible. Participants in the consultation said that music, dance, art, poetry, film and the many forms of popular culture can bring depth and joy to people's lives, and clarify our values and identity as individuals and as a nation. Australians have a love of sport and the outdoors, and value the bonding, relaxation and insights that leisure time pursuits bring. People felt their connections with one another, with their pets and with nature; their sense of a higher purpose, their deeper beliefs and motivations; and their sense of identity and cultural heritage; can enrich their lives and our society as a whole (MAP 2013, ABS).

Industries associated with culture and leisure are growth industries and are important to Australia's economic wellbeing. The culture and leisure sector also contributes to economic development through facilitating creativity, innovation, and self-reflection.

Information on current conditions and trends for culture and leisure can be monitored using information on:

  • attendance at cultural venues and events
  • participation in cultural activities
  • participation in leisure activities
  • arts, cultural heritage and leisure industries including the supply, distribution and consumption of arts, cultural heritage or leisure goods
  • stocks of heritage buildings, arts and culture facilities, leisure facilities
  • cultural identity (see the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples page for a discussion on cultural identity).

Context for culture and leisure can be gained through information on gender see (see Gender), language, country of birth, ancestry (see Migrants), volunteering (see Work) and time use.


There are a range of events, pressures and drivers of change that have the potential to substantially affect wellbeing. In relation to the culture and leisure sector, some examples of these factors include:
  • the availability of 'free' time at different stages of life
  • a gradual shift away from organised culture and leisure activities as time pressures increase and lifestyles changes
  • time spent on screen-based leisure activities (e.g. watching television, playing video games, using a computer) may increase sedentary behaviour
  • the impact of income, age, health status or human functioning on opportunities to participate in culture and leisure activities
  • changes in technology may enable new forms of cultural expression (for example, visual arts may be enhanced though the use of multimedia technologies) and new platforms for distributing and consuming cultural goods
  • social and cultural norms may impact on the ability of some people to participate in certain culture and leisure activities - different concepts of leisure.


There are many ways that people, community groups, governments and other organisations can work to improve culture and leisure activities in Australia, particularly to improve an individual's participation. Some examples include actions to:
  • promote awareness of the benefits of participating in culture and leisure activities
  • plan for and develop cultural and recreation facilities and events (including emerging activities)
  • investment in cultural assets and resources
  • Increase the quality and accessibility of culture and leisure activities
  • encourage participation amongst groups of people who do not regularly participate in culture and leisure activities
  • promote activities, such as walking, as this is likely to be of benefit across all age groups
  • ensure the availability of open space and natural areas as well as active modes of transport for participation in recreational activities
  • understand how well key physical and cultural programs are working in schools and how to make them more effective
  • determine links between in-school and out-of school activities.


To gain a better understanding of culture and leisure in Australian society, look through the pages on:
  • Family and community
  • Work
  • Information and communication technology
  • Health
  • Crime, safety and justice
  • Economic wellbeing


Need some more information on culture and leisure? This section can point you in the right direction.

Cultural Ministers Council, Cultural Data Online - A website of the Cultural Ministers Council's Statistics Working Group providing access to Australian arts and cultural research reports and statistics.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics, 2009 UNESCO Framework for Cultural Statistics - This framework, developed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, addresses the need for accurate, comparable data to better measure the impact and relevance of cultural policies and initiatives by defining culture for statistics measurement purposes. It has a focus on production and transactions (including cultural tourism, sales of artifacts).

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2014, Australian Culture and Leisure Classifications, (cat. no. 4902.0) - Presents three classifications covering culture and leisure related industries, products and occupations.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006, Discussion Paper: Arts and Cultural Heritage in Australia - Key issues for an information development plan (cat. no. 4915.0.55.001) - The scope of this paper is broad as it seeks to map the wide range of likely data needs that could support informed decision making and community debate across the arts and cultural field, including cultural, social, economic, and quality of life issues.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2008, Information Paper: Arts and Cultural Heritage - An Information Development Plan, (cat. no. 4915.0.55.002) - Identifies the agreed priorities and action for information development in the area of Arts and Cultural Heritage. The paper also identifies gaps in available data and provides recommendations for addressing these data gaps.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013, Discussion Paper: Cultural and Creative Activity Satellite Accounts, (cat. no. 5271.0.55.001) - Presents the findings of a study on the feasibility of producing cultural and creative activity satellite accounts for Australia.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013, Information Paper: Cultural and Creative Activity Satellite Accounts, (cat. no. 5271.0.55.002) - Presents the ABS' position on the approach, data and investment priorities for producing cultural and creative activity satellite accounts for Australia.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010, Framework for Measuring Wellbeing: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, (cat. no. 4703.0) - This framework maps statistical information about Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, in the context of the interrelationships with their social and physical environments. Not only does it provide a means to present existing data, the framework also provides the means to identify potential data gaps.

Department of Health, 2004-2009, Cultural Respect Framework, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, Australian Health Ministers' Advisory Council. - The Cultural Respect Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health aims to influence the corporate health governance, organisational management and delivery of the Australian health care system to adjust policies and practices to be culturally respectful and thereby contribute to improved health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Department of Health, 2014, Australia's Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines - Guidelines, tips and ideas for how to be physically active.

Department of Health, 2011, National Sport and Active Recreation Policy Framework - A key objective of this framework is on increasing sports participation of particular sub-groups that are under-represented in sport and active recreation.

Australian Sports Commission, Junior Sports Framework - A resource that aims to assist all sporting organisations, to build safe, fun, quality and inclusive environments for the delivery of junior sport.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2008, Information Paper: Defining Sport and Physical Activity, A Conceptual Model, 2008, (cat. no. 4149.0.55.001) - Presents a conceptual model defining key concepts commonly used in survey research on sport and exercise.

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), Time Use Surveys - A portal to resources on time use surveys from UNECE and other agencies.

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), 2013, Guidelines for Harmonizing Time-Use Surveys - Aims to a) help statisticians and policymakers understand the importance of time-use surveys, (b) provide guidance in the design and implementation of time-use surveys, and (c) improve the international comparability of their results. The Guidelines include recommendations of preferred or best practice, based on the experience of member countries.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Balancing paid work, unpaid work and leisure - Includes data on balancing paid work, unpaid work and leisure in the context of gender equality.


The arts

The arts refers to a sphere of artistic activities (e.g. literature, radio and television, film, performing arts, visual arts and craft, design, music). The output of these activities, such as stories, paintings, music, performances and films, may be referred to as 'arts products'.

Cultural heritage

The preservation of culture through the collection and management of objects and ideas that represent ways of life of particular groups of people. The sphere of cultural heritage activities includes activities generally associated with museums, art museums, libraries and archives.


An activity involving physical exertion, skill and/or hand-eye coordination as the primary focus of the activity, with elements of competition where rules and patterns of behaviour governing the activity exist formally through organisations.

Physical recreation

An activity or experience that involves varying levels of physical exertion, prowess and/or skill, which may not be the main focus of the activity, and is voluntarily engaged in by an individual in leisure time for the purpose of mental and/or physical satisfaction.

Organised sport or physical recreation

Sport or physical recreation activities may be organised by a club or association or other organisation, such as a sporting club, social club, church group, workplace, or gymnasium. An organised activity may vary from an organised one off fun run or bush walk, through to an organised sporting competition.

Sedentary activity

Physical activity that results in almost no increase in energy expenditure, and usually involves sitting or lying down.


Australian Culture and Leisure Classifications, 2014 (cat. no. 4902.0) - The Australian Culture and Leisure Classifications (ACLC) are part of the commitment to develop national standards for culture and leisure information.


United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 2001, UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013, Measures of Australia's Progress (cat. no. 1370.0).