4720.0 - National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey: Users' Guide, 2008  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 26/02/2010   
   Page tools: Print Print Page Print all pages in this productPrint All



The 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) provides information on the demographic and geographic characteristics of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This chapter provides an overview of the characteristics of:

A comprehensive list of the data items from the survey has been released in spreadsheet format on the ABS website.

The survey collected basic demographic information from one usually resident household member aged 18 years or over (ARA) for each person in a selected household. This information included:
  • age;
  • sex;
  • relationship in household;
  • whether anyone aged 15-24 years was a full-time student; and
  • Indigenous status.

A person was identified as Indigenous if they were:
  • Aboriginal;
  • Torres Strait Islander; or
  • both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.


A household is defined as one or more persons, at least one of whom is aged 15 years and over, usually resident in the same private dwelling. In the 2008 NATSISS, only households with at least one Indigenous person were regarded as in scope of the survey. More information on scope and coverage is provided in the Survey design chapter.

The household demographic information collected from the ARA formed the basis for a number of household characteristics, including:

Social marital status

Social marital status is the relationship status of an individual with reference to another person who is usually resident in the household. A marriage exists when two people live together as husband and wife, or partners, regardless of whether the marriage is formalised through registration. Social marital status was determined, for people aged 15 years and over, from the relationship in household information as follows:
  • married - living with another person in a couple relationship (includes de facto or registered marriages and same sex partnerships); or
  • not married - not living with another person in a couple relationship.

Relationship in household

Relationship in household describes the relationship of each person in a family or, where a person is not part of a family, their relationship to the ARA. The detailed output categories are provided in the data item list.

Family composition of household

The family composition of household was determined for all persons who usually lived in, and the relationships between the persons within, the household. These included:
  • couple family with dependent children only;
  • couple family with dependent children and other persons;
  • one parent family with dependent children only;
  • one parent family with dependent children and other persons;
  • couple only;
  • other one family households;
  • multiple family households with dependent children;
  • multiple family households with no dependent children;
  • lone person household; and
  • group household.

Family type

Family type enables the differentiation of families based on the presence or absence of couple relationships, parent-child relationships, child dependency relationships, or other familial relationships. The 'family type' of a particular family is defined through assessment of certain relationships that exist between a family reference person and each other member of that family. Family type is allocated based on whether the types of relationships described below are present or not, in the following order of precedence:
  • couple relationship - a registered or de facto marriage;
  • parent-child relationship - a relationship between two persons usually resident in the same household. The child is attached to the parent through a natural, adoptive, step, foster or child dependency relationship (see below for more information);
  • child dependency relationship - all children under the age of 15 years (whether related or unrelated to the family reference person) and those natural, adopted, step or foster children who are full-time students aged 15-24 years;
  • other relationships - all people related by blood or by marriage who are not covered by the above described relationships.

The detailed output categories are provided in the data item list.

Household type

Households are allocated a household type based on the following:
  • the number of families identified in a household and whether unrelated household members are present in a family household; and
  • in a non-family household, whether the number of household members is greater than one.

The detailed output categories are provided in the data item list.

Household composition

Household composition ascertains whether all people within a household were identified as Indigenous or not.

Number of persons in household

A number of items provide counts of the number of (Indigenous) persons, including children/dependants, within a household. More detailed information on these items is provided in the data item list.

Other household information

The ARA, or another person nominated by them as a household spokesperson, answered some additional questions on behalf of other household members, including financial stress, household income, rent/mortgage payments, tenure type, number of bedrooms, household facilities and maintenance. These topics are covered in the following chapters:


Geographic characteristics are classified through a hierarchical system of geographical areas under the Australian Standard Geographical Classification (cat. no. 1216.0). Each geographical area consists of a number of interrelated structures. For the 2008 NATSISS, the location of the selected household was used to determine several geographic characteristics, including:

State or territory of usual residence

States and territories are the largest units in the geographical classification. State/territory units are political entities with fixed boundaries. This survey recognised the following units:
  • New South Wales (NSW);
  • Victoria (Vic);
  • Queensland (QLD);
  • South Australia (SA);
  • Western Australia (WA);
  • Tasmania (Tas);
  • Northern Territory (NT); and
  • Australian Capital Territory (ACT).

Section of state

Section of state is based on the population count from the 2006 Census Collection District in which the household is located. The different sections are:
  • major urban - more than 100,000 population;
  • other urban - 1,000 to 99,999 population;
  • bounded locality - 200 to 999 population; and
  • rural balance - remainder of state/territory population.

Part of state

Each of the states and territories may be classified into two parts, or part of state, based on the household's location:
  • Capital city; or
  • Balance of state - elsewhere in the state.

Due to the small populations of the NT and ACT, these are not divided into parts. The NT is classified as 'Balance of state' and the ACT as 'Capital city'.

Remoteness area

The 2008 NATSISS includes five classes within the remoteness area structure, which when aggregated, cover the whole of Australia. The levels of remoteness are:
  • major cities;
  • inner regional;
  • outer regional;
  • remote; and
  • very remote.

For the 2008 NATSISS publications, the remoteness levels are generally presented as:
  • major cities;
  • inner/outer regional area; and
  • remote/very remote area.

Depending on the available data, these levels may be further condensed to:
  • remote - includes remote and very remote areas; and
  • non-remote - includes major cities, inner and outer regional areas.

These levels are based on the Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia (ARIA), which measures the remoteness of a point based on the physical road distance to the nearest urban centre. More information on ARIA is available from the Australian Standard Geographical Classification (cat. no. 1216.0).

Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA)

From information collected in the Census of Population and Housing, the ABS has developed a suite of indexes to allow ranking of regions/areas. The indexes provide a method for determining the level of social and economic well-being in an area, with each one summarising a different aspect of the socio-economic conditions. The 2008 NATSISS includes four measures based on the 2006 Census:
  • Index of Relative Disadvantage;
  • Index of Relative Advantage/Disadvantage;
  • Index of Economic Resources; and
  • Index of Education and Occupation.

For each index, every geographic area in Australia is given a SEIFA number which shows how relatively 'disadvantaged' that area is compared with other areas in Australia. The 2008 NATSISS provides an index number for each summary measure in deciles by Collection District. For more details on SEIFA refer to Information Paper: An Introduction to Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA), 2006 (cat. no. 2039.0).


Based on the household demographic information, Indigenous people within a household were randomly selected for a personal interview. The number of selected people differed as follows:
  • communities (and out-stations) - one Indigenous person (aged 15 years and over) and one Indigenous child (aged 0-14 years); and
  • non-community areas - up to two Indigenous people (aged 15 years and over) and up to two Indigenous children (aged 0-14 years).

More information on sample design is provided in the Survey design chapter.

Selected person characteristics for education, labour force status, income and language are covered in the following chapters:

Child proxy

Responses for selected children aged 0-14 years were provided by a proxy. This person was a usual resident of the selected household who was able to answer questions on behalf of the child. If a parent or guardian was not available, then a close relative or other household member with responsibility for the child was sought.

The relationship between the proxy and the child was classified as:
  • mother;
  • step-mother;
  • father;
  • step-father;
  • grandparent;
  • other relative; or
  • other non-related individual.

The proxy may or may not have also been the child's main carer.

Child's main carer

The child's main carer was considered to be their mother/step-mother or father/step-father, except where neither of these lived in the household with the child. If a child did not live with their parents or step-parents, the child's proxy was asked whether they looked after the child the most. If not, the child's proxy was asked to nominate who in the household looks after the child the most. The response was based on a list of people aged 12 years and over who were identified as usual residents of the household. An 'other person' who lived in the household, but was not identified in the basic household demographic information, was also able to be specified.

If the child's main carer was not one of the selected persons in the household (aged 15 years and over) then a series of questions to collect their basic demographic information were asked, including:
  • language mainly spoken at home;
  • highest year of (primary or secondary) school completed;
  • level of highest (non-school) qualification;
  • main field of study (non-school qualification);
  • whether the (non-school) qualification was completed before 1988; and
  • self assessed health status.

More detailed information for each of these items is provided in the data item list and in the respective topics of the Users' Guide. For approximately 5% of selected children, these data items are not available as the proxy was not a parent, the child's parent did not live in the household or the proxy was not the main carer. Therefore, each of the above items includes a category that is 'not collected'.

Other demographic information available for the main carer includes their:
  • relationship to the child;
  • age;
  • sex; and
  • Indigenous status.

Activities the child did with main carer

Several items in the 2008 NATSISS provide information on informal learning activities that the selected child undertook with their main carer. The child's proxy was asked whether in the week prior to interview the child's main carer did any of the following activities with the child aged 0-14 years:
  • read from a book;
  • told a story;
  • listened to them read;
  • helped them do homework or other educational activities;
  • spent time with them using a computer;
  • watched television, a video or DVD;
  • assisted with drawing, writing or other creative activities;
  • played music, sang songs, danced or did other musical activities;
  • played a game (including board games) or did sport together indoors or outdoors;
  • took part in or attended a playgroup;
  • none of the above; or
  • don't know.

More than one response could be provided. If the response was none of the above or don't know, the child's proxy was skipped to questions in a subsequent topic.

If at least one informal learning activity was selected, the child's proxy was asked on how many days of the week the main carer spent time with the child doing the activity. A response of 1 to 7 days was possible, or they may have said they did not know. If the response was don't know, the proxy was skipped to questions in a subsequent topic.

If a number of days was provided, the child's proxy was asked about the days the main carer spent with the child and on average, how many hours each day they spent doing the selected activities. Responses were based on the following:
  • less than 1 hour per day;
  • 1 to less than 2 hours per day;
  • 2 to less than 5 hours per day;
  • 5 hours or more per day; or
  • don't know.

The proxy may have been unable to provide some of the information required due to the child being away from the household in the week prior to interview. For example, where a shared custody arrangement exists for the child and they spend time in two separate households.

Assumed parent or guardian

The 2008 NATSISS contains a new measure which broadly tries to define parent-child type relationships within a selected household. The measure provides the number of Indigenous persons who are the assumed parent or guardian of one or more Indigenous children. In some cases, the person identified as being a parent or guardian will be an actual parent of the child, but if the child does not live with their parents then the parent relationship assigned may relate to a guardian, grandparent or other relative living in the household. The population of assumed parents or guardians is limited and excludes:
  • non-Indigenous parents, guardians or carers of Indigenous children (non-Indigenous people were not in scope of the survey); and
  • Indigenous parents who are aged under 15 years (as they are defined as children within the context of the survey).

Two measures are available
  • assumed parents or guardians of Indigenous children aged 0–14 years; and
  • assumed parents or guardians of Indigenous children aged 0–17 years.

For each couple or one-parent family in the household, Indigenous parents/guardians and Indigenous children are identified as set out below. Where both an Indigenous child and an Indigenous parent/guardian are found the ASPOG flag is set against the corresponding parent/guardian record.

Assumed parents guardians of Indigenous children aged 0–14 years

Indigenous parent/guardian is:
  • Indigenous; and
  • has relationship (within the family unit) of: lone parent or same sex partner or husband/wife/partner.

Indigenous children are defined as:
  • Indigenous; and
  • aged 0–14 years.

Assumed parents guardians of Indigenous children aged 0–17 years

Indigenous parent/guardian is:
  • Indigenous; and
  • has relationship (within the family unit) of: lone parent or same sex partner or husband/wife/partner.

Indigenous children are defined as:
  • Indigenous and aged 0–14; or
  • Indigenous and aged 15–17 and has a parent/child relationship (based on ABS family and household coding) with an Indigenous parent/guardian in the same family unit.