The Australian Census

The Census is the most comprehensive snapshot of the country and tells the story of how we are changing.

The last Census was on Tuesday 10 August 2021. Planning for the next Census in 2026 is currently underway. 

Every five years, the ABS counts every person and household in Australia. We call this the Census of Population and Housing.

The Census is the most comprehensive snapshot of the country and tells the story of how we are changing. Census data tells us about the economic, social and cultural make-up of the country.

The Census collects information from people, and in this way, it's like a big survey. However, surveys only select a sample of people to participate, whereas the Census includes everybody in the population.

To complete the Census, the ABS contacts households in a few different ways. Letters and paper forms were delivered in some areas, and in other areas, visits were made to households. Households complete the Census form and submit it online or send it back in the mail.

The Census form asks questions about things such as your age, country of birth, religion, ancestry, language used at home, work and education. Only a Census can provide this information for the entire country, including small geographic areas and small population groups.

The Australian Census is governed by the Census and Statistics Act 1905.

Did you know?

In 2016, the Census included around 10 million households and over 25 million people.

For more information on why we run the Census, you can watch the video 'Why have a Census?'.

Getting to everyone

It’s important that everyone is counted in the Census to reflect the diversity of Australia. The diverse lifestyles we lead means that the ABS needs to consider how to make completing the Census as easy as possible for everyone. This includes supporting Fly in Fly out (FIFO) workers, defence personnel, shift workers, seasonal workers, people sleeping rough, remote communities, overseas travellers, grey nomads, and international students.

Given the Census is about population and housing, it’s important that we record information about the types of places people stay on Census night.

The ABS travels from hospitals to hotels to houseboats, camping grounds to caravans, ski lodges to school camps, retirement villages to residential colleges, and secure apartment buildings to share-houses.

There are a few different ways we make contact with households. Letters or paper forms are delivered in many areas, and in other areas such as some rural or remote locations, visits are made to households.

Did you know?

In 1911, our collectors visited people by foot, bicycle, and on horseback.

In 2021, our field staff generally reached people by foot or car. They travelled over 10 million kilometres to reach everybody. 

Over the years of running Censuses, reaching people sometimes means using other vehicles like boats, helicopters, and snowmobiles.

Recruiting for a Census

The Census is the largest collection of statistics the ABS undertakes, and one of the most important. Counting each person and dwelling on Census night takes a lot of planning, and many people.

In the months leading up to a Census, field staff make sure businesses and services are prepared with enough forms for people staying. We enlist the help of hotels, motels, hospitals, aged care facilities, student accommodation and many other establishments to ensure guests, patients and residents are ready for the Census.

The bulk of field staff are employed to deliver Census materials to homes, or to visit homes after Census night where we haven’t received a completed form.

Specialist field staff are also recruited to support people who are hard to reach or who may need help completing their Census.

Did you know?

For the 2021 Census, we recruited approximately 32,000 staff. This included teams to work in remote communities, to ensure people sleeping rough were counted, and to provide language assistance.

How information collected in the Census is used

Having the right numbers in the Census means the right services can be provided for communities. Census data helps inform services that improve the lives of people, families and communities. For example:

  • Royal Flying Doctor Service uses the information to make sure people in rural Australia can get the health care they need.
  • Council on the Ageing uses the information to help understand the issues affecting older Australians such as mortgage debt and renting.
  • Playgroup Australia uses the information to help plan where a playgroup would be beneficial to local families.
  • Some public libraries use the information to identify language needs in the local community to build their bilingual book collections and source language support materials.

Read more Census stories about how Census data helps your community.

You can also watch the video 'Ever wonder how Census data is used?'.

Educational resources

Educational resources are available for educators at all levels to explain the what, why and how of Census. Lesson guides assist educators to plan teaching sessions and activities they can run.

Activities will suit students learning English, culturally and linguistically diverse audiences and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students as well as anyone with an interest in the Census.

Lesson guides are divided into three themes:

  1. What is the Census?
  2. How the Census helps people
  3. How do I fill in the Census form?

Visit the Census Media Hub to access these resources.

Censuses around the world

Censuses are conducted in many countries around the world to provide population and dwelling counts.

The ABS learns from and supports international statistical organisations. These partnerships helped us in preparing to run a Census during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in turn we have shared our experiences to help our partners.

Every country runs their Census differently to reflect the information its community needs and ensure everyone is counted. You can learn about our partners by visiting their websites:

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