1249.0 - Australian Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups (ASCCEG), 2011  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 16/08/2011   
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ASCCEG is primarily a classification for collecting statistical data within the Australian context. The theoretical and conceptual considerations for developing ASCCEG were constrained by the need to reflect Australia's cultural and ethnic diversity including:

  • the practical usefulness of the classification for collecting ancestry data from both statistical and administrative sources in Australia
  • the analytical usefulness of data collected within the framework of the classification
  • the number of Australians identifying with cultural and ethnic groups within each category at each level of the classification and
  • the identification of groups which could be significant for policy setting and service delivery purposes.

The effect of these constraints on the classification has been that:
  • some cultural and ethnic groups which are significant in a world context are not separately identified in the structure
  • some broad groups are limited in the number of narrow groups they subsume
  • cultural and ethnic groups which are not separately identified are included in the most appropriate residual, not elsewhere classified (nec), category.

Consequently, the range of cultural and ethnic groups separately identified in the classification is suitable and appropriate for the presentation of statistics about cultural and ethnic diversity in Australia. However, the coverage, balance and robustness of the classification structure is such that it can also accommodate changes to Australia's cultural and ethnic composition, and can be used to facilitate comparisons with cultural and ethnic data from other countries.


The classification criteria are the principles by which the base level units of the classification are formed into classification categories which may be aggregated to form broader or higher-level categories in the classification structure. Ordinarily one of the principles of a classification development is that the categories should be mutually exclusive. That is, the categories should be distinct and should not overlap. Adhering to this principal in relation to cultural and ethnic groups can be problematic as the criteria for identification with a particular group can be quite varied.

The classification is not intended to classify people, but rather to classify all claims of association with a cultural or ethnic group.

Two classification criteria are used in ASCCEG to form the various levels of categories of the classification:

  • The geographic proximity of cultural and ethnic groups in terms of the location in which they originated or developed. This refers to the geographic area of the world in which a cultural or ethnic group first became, or was first recognised as, a distinct entity.
  • The similarity of cultural and ethnic groups in terms of social and cultural characteristics. These include the characteristics as previously noted in the Borrie Report with the primary elements of similarity used to aggregate groups being languages spoken and religion practised. Other factors of similarity include family and social customs, historical links and national aspirations. Factors such as food, music and art traditions may also serve as indicators of cultural and social similarity

The classification criteria were applied in a straight-forward manner to produce the ASCCEG structure. However, some classificatory decisions are worthy of note.

The cultural identities of the peoples of Australia are recognised within ASCCEG. It would be inconsistent and impractical in a classification designed to collect data within the Australian context to not have 'Australian Peoples' and 'Australian' included in the classification. Australia has been inhabited by the Indigenous people for over 40,000 years and it is fitting that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples be recognised with appropriate categories in the narrow group 'Australian Peoples' and since European settlement, over 200 years ago, a distinct Australian cultural identity has emerged prompting the inclusion of 'Australian' in that narrow group.

Jewish has been included in Broad Group 4, North African and Middle Eastern. It is acknowledged that many Jewish people in Australia might not have ties with the Middle East and might consider classification within one of the the European broad groups as more correct. However, following consultation with representatives of the Jewish community it was thought best to adhere to the classification criteria and include 'Jewish' in 'North African and Middle Eastern' as this is where the Jewish culture originated.

Cultural and Ethnic Group 3308 'Russian' has been classified as European on the grounds of cultural similarity with other European cultural and ethnic groups even though much of Russia lies in geographic Asia. As a general rule, cultural and ethnic groups which originated and are located in Russia have been classified to Europe as well. It is acknowledged, however, that this is not necessarily the best solution for all cultural and ethnic minorities east of the Urals, many of whom are more culturally Asian than European. The principle that has been adopted for the classification of groups in Russia, east of the Urals, is that those which speak Altaic or Iranic languages are classified to Narrow Group 72 Central Asian, while those which speak Ugro-Finnic languages are classified to Narrow Group 33 Eastern European.

Many people may relate to more than one cultural or ethnic group and so will give a multiple response to a question on ancestry, ethnicity or cultural identity. If meaningful and useful data is to be collected, the classification must have the capacity to code each element of a multiple response. Often a response will indicate an identification with a country in a national or cultural sense, and will also acknowledge continuing ties with other ethnic or cultural groups. Such responses include: Irish Australian, Italian Australian. Data collection models are developed to capture these multiple responses, recognising that data is being collected to classify a respondent's identification with a particular cultural and ethnic group.

The classification criteria and the way they have been applied has produced a classification structure that can be described in conventional terms:

  • cultural and ethnic entities grouped to form narrow groups on the basis of geographic proximity and similarity in terms of cultural and social characteristics and
  • narrow groups aggregated to form broad groups on the basis of geographic proximity and a degree of similarity in terms of their characteristics.

Consequently the identified cultural and ethnic groups form the base level units of the classification.

In most cases, the middle level of the classification structure (narrow groups) are an aggregation of cultural and ethnic groups based on one or both of the criteria listed above and include groups originating in a number of different countries. Geographically proximate cultural and ethnic groups are combined to form the narrow groups of the classification on the basis of a similarity of social and cultural characteristics.

At the first and most general level of the classification structure, broad groups are formed by combining geographically proximate narrow groups. The aggregation of narrow groups was undertaken, as far as possible, so that the broad groups formed consist of narrow groups which have a degree of similarity in terms of social and cultural characteristics. This creates distinct and geographically coherent groups comprised of cultural and ethnic entities which are, generally speaking, similar in terms of their characteristics.


ASCCEG has a three level hierarchical structure.

The third, and most detailed level, of the classification, consists of the base level units which are the identified cultural and ethnic groups. The classification consists of 275 cultural and ethnic groups. Some groups are residual categories, or 'not elsewhere classified' (nec) categories, which contain entities not listed separately in the classification.

The second level of the classification consists of 28 narrow groups of cultural and ethnic entities which are similar in terms of the classification criteria.

The first and most general level of the classification consists of 9 broad groups which are formed by aggregating geographically proximate narrow groups and therefore consist of cultural and ethnic entities which are broadly similar in terms of social and cultural characteristics. No changes were made to the first level of the classification as a result of the review.