4159.0.55.002 - General Social Survey: User Guide, Australia, 2010  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 07/12/2011   
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Contents >> Survey content >> Survey Definitions and Concepts


The GSS is designed to collect information for a core set of topics in each cycle, to allow analysis of changes over time, and a cyclical component to collect additional information on emerging of important topics of social concern. Approximately 80% of the content of the 2006 GSS was repeated in the 2010 GSS. Most of the differences in content between the surveys were in the cyclical component of the GSS.

The cyclical component of the 2010 GSS included more detailed indicators of social inclusion such as experience of homelessness, financial stress and resilience, social deprivation and social disorder. The cyclical component also included items related to overall life satisfaction, category of visa held by Australian immigrants, access to service providers and reasons did not undertake study or training. Some of these topics may be included in the next cycle of the GSS, but possibly in less detail. A detailed voluntary work module was included as part of the cyclical component of the 2006 GSS, but in 2010 only summary indicators were collected for this topic to allow broad comparisons over time.

The following sections detail some of the new or changed topics in the 2010 GSS. Refer also to the content comparison table between the 2010 and 2006 GSS cycles.

Social capital

The ABS has adopted the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) definition of social capital: "networks, together with shared norms, values and understandings which facilitate cooperation within or among groups". This definition is emerging as a common basis for international comparability.

The ABS Social Capital Framework conceptualises social capital as a resource, drawing on, and feeding back into, other types of resources. Social capital resources are presented as attributes of networks, organised as network qualities, structure, transactions and broad types (bonding, bridging and linking). Potential network participants (such as families, friends, organisations/groups) are indicated by network composition.

Network qualities include norms, such as trust, reciprocity and inclusiveness, and common purposes, for networks or groups, such as social, civic and economic participation. Structure refers to size, frequency of interaction, density and openness, power relationships and transience/mobility. Network transactions are those interactions which at the same time invest in and maintain relationships and draw resources from them, such as sharing knowledge and sharing support.

Network types are a higher level classification. In the ABS framework, 'bonding' refers to relationships between similar kinds of people or groups; 'bridging' to connections where members have less in common, or even differences; and 'linking' to vertical relationships with sources of influence or authority which assist with access to financial and other resources. Further details relating to the conceptualisation of Social Capital can be found in Measuring Social Capital: An Australian Framework and Indicators, 2004 (cat. no. 1378.0).

In the 2010 GSS, social capital forms a large part of the survey content. Data items relating to social capital from the 2010 GSS include:

  • support for children and other relatives in other households
  • support in time of crisis
  • levels of trust in people and institutions
  • whether feels able to have a say on important issues
  • diversity of people's social networks
  • active involvement in groups
  • contact with family and friends
  • close friendships
  • provision of unpaid assistance
  • civic and community activities
  • linking relationships to people in organisations of influence

Voluntary work

The 2010 GSS collected broad indicators on voluntary work participation, types of organisations volunteered for and expenses associated with volunteering.

Data available on voluntary work from the 2010 GSS include:
  • whether did unpaid voluntary work for an organisation in last 12 months
  • type of organisation volunteered for
  • frequency of voluntary activity
  • expenses related to voluntary work
  • whether reimbursement was available

Related data collected in the social capital component includes whether the selected respondent had been involved in organised activities or done voluntary work as a child, and whether their parents had volunteered. Please refer to the data item list on the ABS web site www.abs.gov.au for a full list of the voluntary work data items.

Some questions included in the module determine whether all or some of the respondent's voluntary work was done to take part in the work for the dole program or community work under mutual obligation, work experience or unpaid work trials, community service orders, student placement, and emergency work during industrial disputes. These questions allow voluntary work data to exclude persons directed to volunteer.

CURF users should note that the voluntary work items on the basic and expanded CURFs exclude those respondents whose only voluntary work was a result of a direction to volunteer.

Acceptance of other cultures

A new question has been included in the 2010 GSS that is designed to gauge community acceptance of diverse cultures. The question asks the respondent the extent to which they agree or disagree with the following statement that 'It is a good thing for a society to be made up of people from different cultures.'

Support for family members living outside the household

The questions and items relating to this topic are unchanged from 2006. Information is collected in relation to support provided by households for children (aged 0-17 years and/or 18-24 years) living outside the household. Where respondents are in a couple relationship, the support provided by selected persons to their own children is collected separately from support provided by their partner.

A similar approach is used for the provision of support to other relatives outside the household by selected persons or by their partner.

The types of support provided for children living outside the household and for other relatives outside the household is also collected in some detail.

Whether work allows for family and community responsibilities

Three questions are included in the GSS to gauge whether a respondent believes that their work allows for family and community responsibilities to be fulfilled: whether respondents have family or community responsibilities; whether their workplace has conditions which allow them to meet their family or community responsibilities; and if so, the regularity of being able to use these conditions. These questions have not been asked in other ABS surveys.

Two output items are available for this topic:
  • Whether work allows for family/community responsibilities
  • Work conditions allowing for family/community responsibilities

Housing mobility

A mobility module collects information on the number of times moved, details on previous dwelling, and reasons for last move. Using this information, users will be able to obtain an understanding of the relationship between mobility, and economic and social circumstances. Users will also be able to examine the various social capital data items by mobility.

The questions used in 2010 were largely unchanged from the 2006 GSS with the exception that response categories in 2010 were updated to separately identify responses that were previously collected in the 'Other - specify' category.

Social inclusion

Current international research and policy directions have been reflected in the Australian Governments' Social Inclusion Agenda and its priorities. The GSS Reference Group identified a need for more data about multiple-disadvantage and the relationship with social inclusion to assist with monitoring and managing changes in the social well-being of Australians.

Additional data items in the 2010 GSS relating to the social inclusion topic include:
  • accessing service providers
  • experience of homelessness
  • social disorder
  • overall life satisfaction
  • ability to afford prescription medication or see a doctor/GP
  • acceptance of different cultures

Experience of homelessness

Homelessness is significant for both the individuals who either experience homelessness or are directly affected by it, and for society more widely. Homelessness is strongly associated with reduced opportunities for people who are, or have experienced being, homeless to engage with others or to participate in activities such as employment or education. These reduced opportunities may be only temporary, or they may continue to affect people even after the period of homelessness has ended.

There are many complex issues in measuring homeless, as outlined in the recently released ABS Discussion Paper: Methodological Review of Counting the Homeless 2006 (cat. no. 2050.0.55.001) and the ABS Position Paper - ABS Review of Counting the Homeless Methodology, Aug 2011 (cat. no. 2050.0.55.002). The GSS provides information on people who have been homeless in the past but who are now usual residents of private dwellings. As the GSS only enumerates usual residents of private dwellings, it will not include: people currently living in shelters; people sleeping rough; people 'couch surfing' (staying temporarily with other households); nor people staying in boarding houses. It may include some people staying in Transitional Housing Management (THM) properties, if the adult staying there at the time of the survey considered that it was their usual residence at that time (THMs have been included in researcher estimates of the homeless).

The GSS asked people about episodes in their lives where they had been without a permanent place to live, about the reasons for those circumstances and about their use of services in relation to periods of homelessness. Data available on experience of homelessness includes:
  • all situations ever experienced because did not have a permanent place to live
  • all reasons for ever being without a permanent place to live
  • whether selected person has ever experienced homelessness
  • number of times experienced homelessness
  • time since last without a permanent place to live
  • all reasons for most recent experience without a permanent place to live
  • length of time of most recent experience without a permanent place to live
  • whether sought assistance from service organisation(s) during most recent experience without a permanent place to live
  • type of services contacted during most recent experience of homelessness
  • all reasons didn't seek assistance from an organisation during most recent experience without a permanent place to live
  • whether service organisation(s) were/was of assistance during most recent experience without a permanent place to live

Difficulty accessing services

This module has been substantially revised as a result of problems reported by Interviewers in 2006. The main issue related to the difficulty respondents had in identifying whether a service was provided by the Government, private sector or non-profit organisation. As a result of this data quality issue, sector is no longer collected in relation to service providers.

The module collects information about barriers people experience when accessing particular services. Accessing services may be particularly difficult for specific groups of people such as those:
  • who are socially disadvantaged and for whom the cost of service or its location may be a problem;
  • whose first language is not English and who may therefore have difficulty in finding out about, or using, services; or
  • who, through disability, find it difficult to access services that are designed primarily with able bodied people in mind.

This information is seen as important in assessing the effectiveness of the delivery of a wide range of services to the community. If people who need services are experiencing difficulties, then this will detract substantially from the effectiveness of the programs and services and result in wastage of financial resources as well as unmet need.

Data items relating to difficulty accessing service providers include:
  • services people reported having difficulty accessing
  • all difficulties experienced when accessing services
  • main difficulty experienced when accessing services

Healthcare delays

The aim of these questions is to determine whether or not people have ever delayed seeing a GP or other health professional, or buying prescribed medicines because they could not afford it. These questions along with other items in the survey work together to build a picture of social deprivation.

Frequency in experiencing difficulty paying bills, financial resilience and exclusion

In 2002, GSS data users noted that the ability to adequately interpret the extent of cash flow problems was limited, as there was no indication of how often respondents experienced these problems. Interpreting the extent of hardship from these questions was also limited as some households may experience cash flow problems as a result of lifestyle choices, and while income, assets and liabilities data were available for extended analysis, the associated expenditure patterns could not be used to more fully interpret the results. It was also suggested there may be particular times of the year when households experienced financial stress. Accordingly, two extra questions were added to the Financial Stress module in 2006: the number of times respondents experienced difficulty paying bills; and whether there were any particular times of the year in which difficulties paying bills were experienced.

In 2010, the module was again expanded to include items about financial resilience and exclusion. The question about financial resilience aims to provide information about respondent behaviour in relation to their finances, and how well they are positioned to cope with financial setbacks. Financial resilience is all about a person's ability to recover quickly from financial setbacks and prevent potentially disruptive situations from becoming a crisis.

Financial exclusion determines the extent to which people are excluded from 'mainstream' banking and financial services. In the GSS respondents were asked whether they'd been excluded from the following financial products or services:
  • savings / bank account
  • credit card or store card
  • home loan
  • hire purchase / deferred payment agreement including interest free purchases
  • insurance policy (e.g. home contents and building, third party property etc.)
  • other loan

Access to education and training

Questions on access to education and training were added to the 2006 GSS, comprising four data items: reasons did not study although wanted to; main reason did not study although wanted to; reasons did not do training although wanted to; and main reason did not do training although wanted to. These items remain unchanged in 2010. Submissions from GSS Reference Group members supported collection of these data items as an indicator of social exclusion.

Social disorder

This topic is new to the GSS, and relates to respondents' attitudes and opinions about social disorder problems in the local area where they currently live at the time of the survey. The definition of 'local area' was left to the interpretation of the respondent and may include a whole town or suburb or just the streets surrounding the respondent's home.

Social disorder includes antisocial behaviour and refers to issues which may or may not be criminal offences such as public drunkenness, noisy neighbours and offensive language or behaviour. It is an important topic because if people feel unsafe in their neighbourhood this then impacts on their daily lives and they are less likely to take part in community activities, or venture out of their house.

Data items available on social disorder include:
  • all types of problems experienced in local area in last 12 months
  • main type of problem experienced in local area in last 12 months
  • degree of severity of main type of problem in local area in last 12 months
  • source of knowledge about main type of problem in local area in last 12 months
  • location(s) personally seen or experienced main type of problem in local area in last 12 months

Overall life satisfaction

"Overall life satisfaction is a summary indicator of subjective well-being. A number of circumstances may influence overall life satisfaction, such as health, education, employment, income, personality, family and social connections, civil and human rights, levels of trust and altruism, and opportunities for democratic participation". (Diener, E. (1984); Graham, C. (2008); Stutzer, A. and Frey, B.S. (2010))

Overall life satisfaction is new to the GSS and attempts to provide a measure of people’s perceived satisfaction with their lives overall. The question does not take into account specific illnesses or problems the respondent may have. Studies of subjective well-being have consistently found that the determinants of life satisfaction include good health, stable employment, income security and positive family and social relationships, all of which have an impact on social inclusion.

The question on overall life satisfaction was a single-item question asked at the beginning of the survey, ahead of and separate to satisfaction questions asked for different life domains such as health, feelings of safety and generalised trust. Therefore, the single-item question on overall life satisfaction is not an aggregate of responses to these later questions.

Visa category

A revised module has been included in the 2010 GSS that collects visa subclass number of migrants who have arrived in Australia since 1990. The revised method of collection provides more accurate information about a person's visa status. There are a range of settlement outcomes for migrants who come to Australia under different entry conditions. Factors such as English language proficiency, skills, level of education, and whether migrants have existing networks in Australia (e.g. family, employment) have an impact on the settlement outcomes for migrants.

Understanding how these outcomes and factors relate to conditions of entry or, more practically, visa category, was identified as an important ongoing data need. The 2010 GSS output will provide the opportunity to cross classify social capital variables with visa category. This information will help to illustrate the relationship of these factors with the well-being of migrants.

Data available on visa category from the 2010 GSS include:
  • Whether or not currently hold Australian citizenship
  • Visa category
  • Whether selected person was the main applicant

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