Ancestry 1st response (ANC1P)

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Census of Population and Housing: Census dictionary
Reference period


This variable indicates how a person identifies their ancestry. Respondents are able to provide up to two responses. The first ancestry provided is output into Ancestry 1st response (ANC1P).  

See also: Ancestry 2nd response (ANC2P), Ancestry multi response (ANCP)


All persons


Ancestry is coded using the Australian Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups (ASCCEG), 2019. The categories are listed in groups below. The full list is available from the Data downloads on this page. 

1 Oceanian 

2 North-West European

3 Southern and Eastern European

4 North-African and Middle Eastern

5 South-East Asian

6 North-East Asian

7 Southern and Central Asian

8 Peoples of the Americas

9 Sub-Saharan African

Supplementary codes

Number of categories: 

  • One-digit level: 12
  • Two-digit level: 41     
  • Four-digit level: 321

See Understanding supplementary codes for more information.

Question(s) from the Census form

What is the person’s ancestry?

How this variable is created

The three ancestry variables are created from responses to the ancestry question on the Census form. The allocation of ancestries to the variables ANC1P and ANC2P are administrative only and based on the order in which the responses are processed. These two ancestry variables (ANC1P and ANC2P) are combined into one variable, ANCP.

Respondents can select their ancestry by using the mark boxes, and/or the write in response boxes. The most common ancestry responses from the 2016 Census are the mark box options on the 2021 Census form, with the addition of separate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mark boxes. Most responses for ancestry are captured in the mark box responses, but overall, the following scenarios apply.

Written responses are first coded using a combination of automatic reading and coding. The remaining responses require manual coding.

  • Where respondents report more than two ancestries, only two are processed.
  • Where only one ancestry was provided, ANC2P is recorded as ‘Not applicable’.
  • Ancestry is coded using the ASCCEG. If a response is not listed in the classification, it is coded to 'Inadequately described'.

History and changes

Ancestry was first included as a question in the 1986 Census. The aim of the question was to measure the ethnic composition of the population, but it did not perform as expected for this purpose as there was a high level of subjectivity and lack of clarity about what the question meant. Consequently, ancestry was not included in either the 1991 or 1996 Censuses.

In 2001, the question was asked again with instructions to 'Provide more than one ancestry if necessary', and to consider their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents.

For the 2006 and 2011 Censuses, respondents were asked to mark the ancestries they most closely identified with and to consider their ancestry back as far as two generations (i.e. their parents and grandparents). Respondents were asked to report at least one ancestry, but no more than two ancestries.

For the 2016 Census the format of the ancestry question was revised to provide two distinct text response areas for separate written ancestry responses. This change aimed to clarify responses and improve autocoding rates.

The 2021 Census includes mark boxes for both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestries. It is expected these additional mark boxes will result in less people checking the ‘Australian’ mark box, and instead choosing to specify Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander ancestries. For people completing the Census online and who identify as an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person, the new response categories were presented at the top of the list.

For 2021, the order of the response categories has been updated based on frequency of reporting in the 2016 Census:

  • ‘Italian’ moved from 3rd position to 5th position
  • ‘German’ moved from 5th position to 6th position
  • ‘Chinese’ moved from 6th position to 4th position

As with previous Censuses, 'Australian' is placed as the last option for selection - prior to the text entry boxes for 'Other ancestry/s' - to encourage reporting of non-Australian ancestries where relevant.

For 2021, the other examples in the instructional text were updated.

For 2021, Norfolk Islander (code 1105) has been added in the updated classification to capture an ancestry reported by Norfolk Island residents following Norfolk Island’s inclusion in the Australian Census of Population and Housing for the first time in 2016.

Data use considerations

Ancestry can be related to the place a person or their parents or grandparents were born or the cultural group they most identify with. For example, a person may have been born in Australia, but they have Papua New Guinean ancestry. This helps us understand our diverse culture.

To accurately understand ancestry data, both ancestry variables (ANC1P and ANC2P) must be used. There are two ancestry variables because Census respondents are able to report up to two ancestries in their response to the question on ancestry. Respondents do not have the option of ranking their answers to the ancestry question, so where a respondent reports two ancestries, they have equal standing. The basis for allocating ancestries to the variables ANC1P and ANC2P is based on the order in which they are processed. These two ancestry variables (ANC1P and ANC2P) are combined into one variable ANCP.

The non-response rate for Ancestry 1st response (ANC1P) was 6.2% in 2021. This is a decrease from 7.0% in 2016. 


The ancestry variables provide a self-assessed measure of ethnicity and cultural background, which, when used in conjunction with the person’s and their parents' countries of birth provides a good indication of the ethnic background of first and second generation Australians. Ancestry in the Australian context is complex as there are many Australians with origins and heritage that do not, in practice, relate to their current ethnic identity.  When ancestry data is used alone, it should only be done to represent a broad measure of cultural diversity. Ancestry is particularly useful to identify distinct ethnic or cultural groups within Australia such as Maoris or Australian South Sea Islanders, and groups which are spread across countries such as Kurds. Surrogate measures of ethnicity such as country of birth or languages other than English spoken at home, alone cannot identify these groups. This information is useful in developing policies which reflect the needs of our society and for the effective delivery of services to particular ethnic communities.

Ancestry multi response - counting people or responses

When ANCP is added to a table and all the individual ancestries are summed together, a total count of responses, not people, is produced. This is because each person can provide up to two ancestries. So the total count of responses for all ancestries in Australia exceeds Australia’s total population. However, when using ANCP to look at individual ancestries, the count of responses is also the count of people. This is because respondents can only state a particular ancestry once (either as ANC1P or ANC2P).

Measurement issues

The ancestry question records all claims of association with ancestries, ethnic origins and cultures.  Whilst some people may respond according to how they may identify with a particular cultural group (subjectively), the intent of the question is to capture the cultural context in which they were raised (objectively).  Multiple responses are encouraged. Responses to the ancestry question are coded to the ASCCEG. The classification is not intended to classify people, but rather all claims of association with an ethnic origin or cultural group, i.e. one ancestry response is not equal to one person. Many people do not relate to a single ethnic origin or cultural group and will give multiple responses to a question on ancestry, ethnicity or cultural identity. The ABS has developed guidelines for the coding, storage and presentation of multiple responses to questions on ancestry, ethnicity or cultural identity data. These guidelines are included in the ASCCEG publication.

Related variables and glossary terms

  • Ancestry multi response (ANCP)
  • Ancestry 2nd response (ANC2P)
  • Ancestry one or two response indicator (ANCRP)
  • Birthplace of mother (BPFP)
  • Birthplace of father (BPMP)
  • Indigenous status (INGP)

Data downloads

Ancestry first response classification

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