General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia methodology

This is not the latest release View the latest release
Reference period



Includes all usual residents in Australia aged 15 and over.

Geographical coverage

Data was collected from approximately 3,500 households around Australia. Data was not collected from people who live in very remote parts of Australia.


Data was collected in the 2019 General Social Survey.

Collection method

Households were able to complete the survey online or via a face-to-face interview.

History of changes

The survey was previously conducted once every four years, with the last survey in 2014. The survey is now run annually.

About this survey

The General Social Survey (GSS) provides data on the social characteristics, wellbeing and social experiences of people in Australia. 

Its key benefit is that it provides information on the multi-dimensional nature of relative advantage and disadvantage across the population. 

This survey is used by government, academics, and community organisations to help inform social policy research for areas of social concern. The focus is on the relationships between characteristics, rather than in-depth information about a particular field. It provides data on numerous topics known to influence social outcomes, complementing specialised surveys that collect data on topics in greater depth.

GSS explores people's opportunities to participate fully in society, and asks Australians how they feel about aspects of their lives. Key topics include:

  • Life satisfaction
  • Personal stressors
  • Involvement in social, community support, and civic and political groups
  • Family and community support
  • Cultural tolerance and discrimination
  • Trust
  • Financial stress
  • Voluntary work.

GSS provides data on a range of important populations of interest, including:

  • people with a mental health condition
  • people with a long term health condition
  • people with disability
  • recent migrants and temporary residents, and other migrants
  • people who have experienced homelessness
  • people with different sexual orientations.

This survey is one of the main ABS data sources to measure volunteering and related topics.

GSS can also be used to examine change over time for selected data items.

How the data is collected


The scope of the survey includes:

  • all usual residents in Australia aged 15 years and over living in private dwellings
  • both urban and rural areas in all states and territories, except for very remote parts of Australia and discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

 The survey excluded the following people:

  • visitors to private dwellings
  • overseas visitors who have not been working or studying in Australia for 12 months or more, or do not intend to do so
  • members of non-Australian defence forces stationed in Australia and their dependants
  • non-Australian diplomats, diplomatic staff and members of their households 
  • people who usually live in non-private dwellings, such as hotels, motels, hostels, hospitals, nursing homes and short-stay caravan park (people in long-stay caravan parks, manufactured home estates and marinas are in scope)
  • people in Very Remote areas
  • discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The exclusion of persons living in Very Remote areas and discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is unlikely to impact on national estimates, and will only have a minor impact on any aggregate estimates that are produced for individual states and territories, except the Northern Territory where the excluded population accounts for around 21% of persons.

Sample design

The General Social Survey (GSS) will be enumerated over a four year period from 2019 to 2022. The target sample size is 14,000 fully responding records over this four year period. Previously, the GSS was enumerated once every four years (2002, 2006, 2010, 2014).

One person aged 15 years or over was randomly selected in each household to complete the GSS questionnaire. If the randomly selected person was aged 15 - 17 years old, parental consent was sought for the interview to proceed.

The sample was designed to target low socio-economic areas (as was done in the 2014 survey). In order to meet the survey aim of exploring the relative outcomes of people more vulnerable to socio-economic disadvantage, people in these areas had a higher probability of being selected in the sample. Households were randomly selected from each selected area to participate in the survey.

Response rates

There were 3,535 fully responding households in the survey, a response rate of 81.5%. Of these, 1,512 were self completed by the household online and 2,023 were completed face-to-face with an ABS interviewer.

Fully responding  
Non response  
 Non Response59813.7
 Part Response441.1

Some survey respondents were unable or unwilling to provide a response to certain data items. The records for these people were retained in the sample and the missing values were recorded as 'Not stated' or 'Don't know'. No imputation was undertaken for these missing values.

Collection method

The GSS was collected over a 3 month period from 29th April to 20th July 2019. Households had the option of either completing the survey online, or via a face-to-face interview.

All households selected in the sample initially received a letter in the post with instructions for completing the survey online. Two reminder letters were sent to households, and any household that did not complete the survey online within five weeks from the initial letter were followed up by an ABS interviewer.

The GSS survey has two parts:

  • Household Form, which can be completed by any responsible adult in the household who is aged 18 years or over. The Household Form collects basic demographic information about all usual residents of the household, including those aged under 15 years.
  • Individual Questionnaire, which is completed by one randomly selected person in the household aged 15 years or over. The random selection is automatically performed by the survey instrument upon completion of the Household Form.


Prompt cards

How the data is processed

Estimation methods

As only a sample of people in Australia were surveyed, their results needed to be converted into estimates for the whole population. This was done with a process called weighting.

  • Each person or household was given a number (known as a weight) to reflect how many people or households they represented in the whole population.
  • A person or household’s initial weight was based on their probability of being selected in the sample. For example, if the probability of being selected in the survey was one in 45, then the person would have an initial weight of 45 (that is, they would represent 45 people).

The person and household level weights are then calibrated to align with independent estimates of the in scope population, referred to as ‘benchmarks’. The benchmarks used additional information about the population to ensure that:

  • people or households in the sample represented people or households that were similar to them
  • the survey estimates reflected the distribution of the whole population, not the sample.

As the GSS sample is selected to target low socio-economic areas, the initial weights were calibrated to benchmarks using the 2016 SEIFA Index of Relative Socio-economic Advantage and Disadvantage (IRSAD). These weights were then calibrated to the estimated resident population (ERP) at June 2019. The Australian population at June 2019 aged 15 years and over was 19,993,872 (after exclusion of people living in non-private dwellings, very remote areas of Australia and discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities).

The majority of estimates shown in this publication are based on benchmarked person weights. The estimates in Tables 13 and 14, however, are based on benchmarked household weights.

How the data is released

Release strategy

GSS 2019 presents national estimates, along with selected indicators by state and territory (Table 15).

The sample design of approximately 3,500 fully responding households is not sufficient to enable detailed analysis of state and territory estimates in 2019.

It is anticipated that the release of GSS 2020 data in 2021 will enable national and selected state and territory comparisons from 2019 to 2020.

It is also anticipated that detailed state and territory estimates will be available after the full sample has been collected at the end of the four year enumeration period.


Most of the data cubes (spreadsheets) in this release contain national level estimates. There is also one table containing state and territory estimates. The data cubes present tables of estimates and proportions, and their associated measures of error. A data item list is also available.

Custom tables

Customised statistical tables to meet individual requirements can be produced on request. These are subject to confidentiality and sampling variability constraints which may limit what can be provided. Enquiries on the information available and the cost of these services should be made to the National Information and Referral Service on 1300 135 070. 

Common uses for this data

This survey is used by government, academics, and community organisations to help inform social policy research for areas of social concern. The focus is on the relationships between characteristics, rather than in-depth information about a particular field. It provides data on numerous topics known to influence social outcomes, complementing specialised surveys that collect data on topics in greater depth.

GSS can also be used to examine change over time for selected data items.


The Census and Statistics Act 1905 authorises the ABS to collect statistical information, and requires that information is not published in a way that could identify a particular person or organisation. The ABS must make sure that information about individual respondents cannot be derived from published data.

To minimise the risk of identifying individuals in aggregate statistics, a technique called perturbation is used to randomly adjust cell values. Perturbation involves small random adjustment of the statistics which have a negligible impact on the underlying pattern. This is considered the most satisfactory technique for avoiding the release of identifiable data while maximising the range of information that can be released. After perturbation, a given published cell value will be consistent across all tables. However, adding up cell values in Data Cubes to derive a total may give a slightly different result to the published totals. The introduction of perturbation in publications ensures that these statistics are consistent with statistics released via services such as TableBuilder.

History of changes

GSS 2019 was the fifth in the series. Previously, the GSS was conducted in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014. Compared to 2014, the following changes were introduced for the 2019 survey:

  • Introduction of an annual collection of data, where the target sample of 14,000 households is collected over a four year enumeration period from 2019 to 2022. 
  • Introduction of a computer assisted web interview (or online form). Of the 3,535 fully responding households who completed the survey in 2019, 1,512 were self completed by the household online. The remaining 2,023 were completed face-to-face with an ABS interviewer.
  • Reduced questionnaire. The 2014 survey collected detailed information on voluntary work, whereas a shortened voluntary work module was collected in 2019. Other topics that were collected in 2014 but not in 2019 include housing mobility, journey to work, feelings of safety, social disorder, sports participation, attendance at cultural venues, personal use of computers and internet and the detailed access to services module (a shortened access to services module was collected in 2019). 

Caveat on using and interpreting GSS 2019 Voluntary work data

GSS 2019 outputs Informal volunteering for the first time, in addition to continuing the time series of Unpaid voluntary work through an organisation. While these data items together present a more complete picture of voluntary work undertaken in Australia, care should be taken when using and interpreting these figures, for the reasons shown below. 

Different reference periods

Informal volunteering and Unpaid voluntary work through an organisation had different reference periods. Informal volunteering was reported for the four weeks preceding the survey, while Unpaid voluntary work through an organisation was reported for the 12 months preceding the survey. GSS 2019 was collected over a 3 month period from 29 April to 20 July 2019. It is beyond the scope of this publication to investigate possible seasonal effects on Informal volunteering. It is therefore unknown if combining this figure with the annual figure for Unpaid voluntary work through an organisation would result in an accurate overall Voluntary work figure.

People who undertook both types of Voluntary work

The user is advised that combining total estimates or proportions of: (a) people who undertook Unpaid voluntary work through an organisation and (b) people who undertook Informal volunteering, would result in an overestimate of volunteers. This is because some people undertook both types of voluntary work. 

A breakdown of the number of people who did both types of voluntary work is not available in the GSS 2019 publication.

Caveat on using and interpreting Severity of Disability

There is a conceptual difference between the 2014 and 2019 GSS in the way the Severity of Disability item was derived. In 2014, the long term health condition module was used in conjunction with the disability module to derive the item 'No disability or no long term health condition'. In 2019, only the disability module was used to derive the item 'No disability'. Conceptually, this means that this particular category for Severity of Disability should not be compared between the 2014 and 2019 iterations.

Questionnaire changes from 2014 to 2019

The following table summarises any significant changes that were made to the questions for data items in Tables 1 and 14.

Questionnaire changes from 2014 to 2019


Show all

Reliability of estimates

Two types of error are possible in estimates based on a sample survey: 

  • non-sampling error    
  • sampling error

Non-sampling error

Non-sampling error is caused by factors other than those related to sample selection.  It is any factor that results in the data values not accurately reflecting the true value of the population.

It can occur at any stage throughout the survey process. Examples include:

  • selected people that do not respond (e.g. refusals, non-contact)
  • questions being misunderstood 
  • responses being incorrectly recorded 
  • errors in coding or processing the survey data

Sampling error

Sampling error is the expected difference that can occur between the published estimates and the value that would have been produced if the whole population had been surveyed. Sampling error is the result of random variation and can be estimated using measures of variance in the data.

Standard error

One measure of sampling error is the standard error (SE). There are about two chances in three that an estimate will differ by less than one SE from the figure that would have been obtained if  the whole population had been included. There are about 19 chances in 20 that an estimate will differ by less than two SEs.

Relative standard error

The relative standard error (RSE) is a useful measure of sampling error. It is the SE expressed as a percentage of the estimate:

\(R S E \%=\left(\frac{S E}{e s t i m a t e}\right) \times 100\)

Only estimates with RSEs less than 25% are considered reliable for most purposes. Estimates with larger RSEs, between 25% and less than 50% have been included in the publication, but are flagged to indicate they are subject to high SEs. These should be used with caution. Estimates with RSEs of 50% or more have also been flagged and are considered unreliable for most purposes. RSEs for these estimates are not published.

Margin of error for proportions

Another measure of sampling error is the Margin of Error (MOE). This describes the distance from the population value that the sample estimate is likely to be within and is particularly useful to understand the accuracy of proportion estimates. It is specified at a given level of confidence. Confidence levels typically used are 90%, 95% and 99%.

For example, at the 95% confidence level, the MOE indicates that there are about 19 chances in 20 that the estimate will differ by less than the specified MOE from the population value (the figure obtained if the whole population had been enumerated). The 95% MOE is calculated as 1.96 multiplied by the SE:

\(\operatorname{MOE} = S E \times 1.96\)

The RSE can also be used to directly calculate a 95% MOE by:

\(\operatorname{MOE}(y) \approx \frac{R S E(y) \times y}{100} \times 1.96\)

The MOEs in this publication are calculated at the 95% confidence level. This can easily be converted to a 90% confidence level by multiplying the MOE by:

\( {1.615\over 1.96}\)

or to a 99% confidence level by multiplying the MOE by:

\( {2.576\over 1.96}\)

Depending on how the estimate is to be used, a MOE of greater than 10% may be considered too large to inform decisions. For example, a proportion of 15% with a MOE of plus or minus 11% would mean the estimate could be anything from 4% to 26%. It is important to consider this range when using the estimates to make assertions about the population.

Confidence Intervals

A confidence interval expresses the sampling error as a range in which the population value is expected to lie at a given level of confidence. A confidence interval is calculated by taking the estimate plus or minus the MOE of that estimate. In other terms, the 95% confidence interval is the estimate +/- MOE. 

Calculating measures of error

Proportions or percentages formed from the ratio of two estimates are also subject to sampling errors. The size of the error depends on the accuracy of both the numerator and the denominator. A formula to approximate the RSE of a proportion is given below. This formula is only valid when the numerator (x) is a subset of the denominator (y):

\(\operatorname{RSE}\left(\frac{x}{y}\right) \approx\sqrt{[R S E(x)]^{2}-[R S E(y)]^{2}}\)

When calculating measures of error, it may be useful to convert RSE or MOE to SE. This allows the use of standard formulas involving the SE. The SE can be obtained from RSE or MOE using the following formulas:

\(SE = \frac{{RSE\% \times estimate}}{{100}}\)

\(SE = \frac{{MOE}}{{1.96}}\)

Comparison of estimates

The difference between two survey estimates (counts or percentages) can also be calculated from published estimates. Such an estimate is also subject to sampling error. The sampling error of the difference between two estimates depends on their SEs and the relationship (correlation) between them. An approximate SE of the difference between two estimates (x - y) may be calculated by the following formula:

\(S E(x-y) \approx \sqrt{[S E(x)]^{2}+[S E(y)]^{2}}\)

While this formula will only be exact for differences between unrelated characteristics or sub-populations, it provides a reasonable approximation for the differences likely to be of interest in this publication. 

Significance testing

When comparing estimates between surveys or between populations within a survey, it is useful to determine whether apparent differences are 'real' differences or simply the product of differences between the survey samples. 

One way to examine this is to determine whether the difference between the estimates is statistically significant. This is done by calculating the standard error of the difference between two estimates (x and y) and using that to calculate the test statistic using the formula below:

\(\left(\frac{|x-y|}{S E(x-y)}\right)\)


\(S E(y)\approx\ \frac{R S E(y) \times y}{100}\)

If the value of the statistic is greater than 1.96, we can say there is good evidence of a statistically significant difference at 95% confidence levels between the two populations with respect to that characteristic. Otherwise, it cannot be stated with confidence that there is a real difference between the populations.


Show all

Able to have a say within the community on important issues

The person's assessment of how often they feel they are able to have a say within the general community on issues that are important to them.

Able to raise $2,000 within a week for something important

A person's perception of whether they or other members of the household could obtain $2,000 for something important within a week.

Agrees it is a good thing for society to be comprised of different cultures

Designed to gauge community acceptance of diverse cultures. The question asks the respondent the extent to which they agree or disagree with the statement that 'It is a good thing for a society to be made up of people from different cultures.' The following five options were provided. The data presented in this publication includes people who said they either 'Strongly agree' or 'Agree'.

  • Strongly agree
  • Agree
  • Neither agree nor disagree
  • Disagree
  • Strongly disagree

Access to motor vehicle(s) to drive

Access that a person has to any motor vehicle to drive. Such motor vehicles include vehicle(s) which they wholly or jointly own, vehicle(s) belonging to another member of the household, and company or government vehicle(s) which they have access to for personal use.

Actual or attempted break-in

A person who had experienced a break-in or attempted break-in at any place they had lived in the last 12 months. Break-ins to homes, garages or sheds are included. However, break-ins to motor vehicles or front or rear yards are excluded. 


The age of a person on their last birthday. 

Cash flow problem

Includes experiencing one or more of the following due to a shortage of money: 

  • could not pay electricity, gas or telephone bills on time 
  • could not pay mortgage or rent payments on time 
  • could not pay for car registration or insurance on time 
  • could not pay home and/or contents insurance on time
  • could not make minimum payment on credit card 
  • pawned or sold something because of a shortage of money 
  • went without meals 
  • went without dental treatment when needed
  • were unable to heat or cool your home 
  • sought financial assistance from friends or family 
  • sought assistance from welfare or community organisations.


A person of any age who is a natural, adopted, step, or foster son or daughter of a couple or lone parent, usually resident in the same household, and who does not have a child or partner of his/her own usually resident in the household. 

Civic and political groups

Whether the person has been actively involved in a civic or political group in the last 12 months.

Examples of civic or political groups include: 

  • trade union, professional/technical association 
  • political party 
  • civic group or organisation 
  • environmental or animal welfare group 
  • human and civil rights group 
  • body corporate or tenants' association 
  • consumer organisation 
  • other civic or political organisation.

Community support groups

Whether the person has been actively involved in a community support group in the last 12 months.

Examples of community support groups include:

  • service clubs 
  • welfare organisations 
  • education and training 
  • parenting/children/youth 
  • health promotion and support 
  • emergency services 
  • international aid and development 
  • other community support groups

Consumer debt

Debt or liabilities usually associated with the purchase of consumables, such as clothing, electrical goods or cars, incurred by way of credit or store card and which are not completely paid off, car or personal loans, interest free purchases and hire purchase agreements. 

Investment loans, lines of credit, overdue bills for telephone/electricity etc., outstanding fines or Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS)/Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) debts are excluded. 


Two people in a registered or de facto marriage, who usually live in the same household. 

Current weekly household equivalised gross income

Gross household income adjusted using an equivalence scale. For a lone person household it is equal to gross household income. For a household comprising more than one person, it is an indicator of the gross household income that would be needed by a lone person household to enjoy the same level of economic well-being as the household in question. 

Current weekly household equivalised gross income quintiles

Groupings that result from ranking all households in ascending order according to their equivalised gross household income, and then dividing into five equal groups, each comprising 20% of the total population.

Dependent children

All persons aged under 15 years; and people aged 15-24 years who are full-time students, have a parent in the household and do not have a partner or child of their own in the household. 

Difficulties getting to the places needed

The person's assessment of their overall transport situation for all the places they needed to go, by car or other transport. Four options were provided: 

  • can easily get to the places needed 
  • sometimes have difficulty getting to the places needed 
  • often have difficulty getting to the places needed 
  • can't get to the places needed

A response option was also provided if they indicated that they never go out or are housebound. 

The data presented in this publication refers to people who reported they 'often have difficulty getting to the places needed' and 'can't get to the places needed'.


A disability exists if a limitation, restriction, impairment, disease or disorder, had lasted, or was likely to last for at least six months, and which restricted everyday activities.

It is classified by whether or not a person has a specific limitation or restriction. Specific limitation or restriction is further classified by whether the limitation or restriction is a limitation in core activities or a schooling/employment restriction only. 

There are four levels of core activity limitation (profound, severe, moderate and mild) which are based on whether a person needs help, has difficulty, or uses aids or equipment with any of the core activities (self care, mobility or communication). A person's overall level of core activity limitation is determined by their highest level of limitation in these activities. 

The four levels are: 

  • profound - always needs help/supervision with core activities 
  • severe - does not always need help with core activities 
  • moderate - has difficulty with core activities 
  • mild - uses aids to assist with core activities.

Persons are classified as having only a schooling/employment restriction if they have no core activity limitation and are aged 15 to 20 years and have difficulties with education, or are aged 15 years and over and have difficulties with employment.


Discrimination may happen when people are treated unfairly because they are seen as being different from others. People who had experienced discrimination were asked whether they thought it was because of any of the following: 

  • their ethnic/cultural background or appearance 
  • their gender
  • their sexual orientation 
  • their age 
  • a disability or health issue 
  • their marital or family status
  • their political or religious beliefs
  • their occupation

Dissaving action

Any action where spending is greater than income, thereby reducing already accumulated savings or leading to borrowing to finance the expenditure. Examples of dissaving actions include any of the following actions because money was needed for basic living expenses:

  • reducing home loan repayments 
  • drawing on savings or term deposits 
  • increasing balance owed on credit cards by $1,000 or more 
  • entering into a loan agreement with family or friends 
  • taking out a personal loan
  • selling household goods or jewellery
  • selling shares or other assets

Employment restriction

An employment restriction is determined for persons with one or more disabilities if, because of their disability, they have any difficulties with employment such as: 

  • type of job they can do 
  • number of hours they can work 
  • finding suitable work 
  • needing time off work 
  • permanently unable to work
  • other related difficulties


Persons aged 15 years and over who, during the week before the interview: 

  • worked one hour or more for pay, profit, commission or payment in kind in a job or business, or on a farm (includes employees, employers and own account workers) 
  • worked one hour or more, without pay, in a family business or on a family farm 
  • had a job, business or farm but was not at work because of holidays, sickness or other reason.

Employed full-time

Employed persons who usually worked 35 hours or more a week (in all jobs) and those who, although usually working less than 35 hours a week, worked 35 hours or more during the reference week.

Employed part-time

Employed persons who usually worked less than 35 hours a week (in all jobs) and either did so during the reference week, or were not at work in the reference week.

Equity in dwelling

Calculated as the value of the dwelling less the amount owing on mortgages or secured loans against the dwelling. 

Ex household

See Non-household members.

Face to face contact with family or friends

Face to face contact with family or friends who they do not live with in the last three months. 'At least once a week' includes people who reported seeing their family or friends 'Everyday' or 'At least once a week' over the last three months.


Two or more persons, one of whom is at least 15 years of age, who are related by blood, marriage (registered or de facto), adoption, step or fostering, and who usually live in the same household. A separate family is formed for each married couple, or for each set of parent-child relationships where only one parent is present. Some households will, therefore, contain more than one family.

Family composition of household

Classifies households based on the number and type of families present.

Field of study

Describes the field of study for a person's current qualification or the highest completed non-school qualification.

Financial exclusion

The extent to which a person is excluded from mainstream banking and financial services, for example being denied an application for a credit card.

Financial resilience

This includes actions taken to improve a person's ability to control their current financial situation or manage in a situation involving a major loss of income. Actions covered included: following a budget; saving regularly; paying off more than the minimum required on loans or credit cards; obtaining financial advice or making voluntary contributions to superannuation.

Financial stress

Three measures aimed at identifying households that may have been constrained in their activities because of shortage of money. The measures are the ability to raise 'emergency money', whether had cash flow problems and whether had taken dissaving actions. One person in the household was asked to provide these assessments of the entire household's financial situation.

Fully engaged in employment or study

Includes persons engaged in full-time study, full-time employment and those undertaking a combination of full-time study & full-time employment or part-time study & part-time employment.

Government support

Cash support from the government in the form of pensions, benefits or allowances.

Gross household income

Income from all sources that are usually or regularly received by the household or by individual members of the household , whether monetary or in kind, before income tax, the Medicare levy and the Medicare levy surcharge are deducted.

Highest year of school completed

The highest level of primary or secondary education which a person has completed, irrespective of the type of institution or location where that education was undertaken. 


See Permanent place to live.


One or more persons usually resident in the same private dwelling.

Informal volunteering

The provision of unpaid work/support to non-household members, excluding that provided only to family members living outside the household. 

See Unpaid work/support to non-household members for inclusions.

The reference period was the four weeks preceding the survey.

Labour force status

Classifies all people aged 15 years and over into one of the following categories:

  • employed - had a job or business, or undertook work without pay in a family business in the week prior to the survey, including being absent from a job or business they had 
  • full-time - persons who usually work 35 hours or more per week 
  • part-time - persons who usually work at least one hour, but less than 35 hours, per week 
  • unemployed - not employed and actively looked for work in the four weeks prior to the survey and available to start work in the week prior to the survey 
  • not in the labour force 

Level of study

Refers to the highest level of current study or level attained by a person.

Level of highest non-school qualification

A person's level of highest non-school qualification is the highest qualification a person has attained in any area of formal study other than school study. It is categorised according to the Australian Standard Classification of Education (ASCED), 2001 Level of education classification.

Long-term health condition

A long-term health condition is a current disease or disorder that has been diagnosed by a doctor, nurse or other health professional and has lasted, or is likely to last, for six months or more. Includes conditions controlled by medication. Data are self-reported by the respondent.

Main source of household income

The source from which a household receives the greatest amount of income, both monetary and in-kind. If total income is nil or negative the main source is undefined. As there are several possible sources, the main source may account for less than 50% of total income. The household's main source of income may come from:

  • Employee income - a person's total remuneration, whether monetary or in kind, received in return for labour from an employer or from a person's own incorporated business. It comprises wages and salaries, bonuses, amounts salary sacrificed, non-cash benefits such as the use of motor vehicles and subsidised housing, and termination payments.
  • Unincorporated business income - The profit or loss that accrues to persons as owners of, or partners in, unincorporated businesses. Profit or loss consists of the value of gross output of the business after the deduction of operating expenses and depreciation. It excludes profits from capital investments of partners who do not work in these enterprises, that is, silent partners. Losses occur when operating expenses are greater than gross receipts and are treated as negative income.
  • Government pensions and allowances - Income support payments from government to persons under social security and related government programs. This includes pensions and allowances received by aged, disabled, unemployed and sick persons, families and children, veterans or their survivors, and study allowances for students. Also includes overseas pensions and benefits, although some may not be paid by overseas governments.
  • Other income - income other than wages and salaries, own unincorporated business income and government pensions and allowances. This includes income received as a result of ownership of financial assets (interest, dividends), and of non-financial assets (rent, royalties) and other current receipts from sources such as superannuation, child support, workers' compensation and scholarships.

Management of household income

Refers to the respondent's perception of their household's financial situation over the last 12 months. Households which cannot be compared to 12 months ago include households which have formed in the last 12 months (eg. a newly married or de facto couple) or households in which the number of adults (not including grown children) has changed in the last 12 months.

Margin of Error

Margin of Error describes the distance from the population value that the sample estimate is likely to be within, and is specified at a given level of confidence. For example, at the 95% confidence level the MoE indicates that there are about 19 chances in 20 that the estimate will differ by less than the specified MoE from the population value (the figure obtained if all dwellings had been enumerated). For further information see Accuracy


The sum of values divided by the number of values.


The middle value of a set of values when the values are sorted in order. 

Mental health condition

Includes people who reported they had a 'Mental health condition (including depression or anxiety)' from the list of long term health conditions. Refer to the definition of long term health conditions for further information.


A mortgage is a loan taken out using the usual residence as security. An owner with a mortgage must still owe money from such a loan.

Non-dependent children

All persons aged 15 years or over (except those aged 15-24 years who are full-time students) who have a parent in the household and do not have a partner or child of their own in the household. 

Non-household members

People living outside the selected person's household.

Non-school qualification

Non-school qualifications are awarded for educational attainments other than those of pre-primary, primary or secondary education. They include qualifications at the Postgraduate Degree level, Master Degree level, Graduate Diploma and Graduate Certificate level, Bachelor Degree level, Advanced Diploma and Diploma level, and Certificates I, II, III and IV levels. Non-school qualifications may be attained concurrently with school qualifications. 

Not in the labour force

Persons not in the categories employed or unemployed as defined.

Organisation or group

An organisation or group is any body with a formal structure. It may be as large as a national charity or as small as a local book club. Purely ad hoc, informal and temporary gatherings of people do not constitute an organisation.

Other forms of contact with family or friends

Non face-to-face contact with family or friends who they do not live with in the last three months. Includes contact by phone or video calls, text messaging, instant messaging, email or post. 'At least once a week' includes people who reported using these other types of contact 'Everyday' or 'At least once a week'.

Other households

Includes 'Multiple family households' and 'Group households'.

Other migrant

Those born overseas who arrived in Australia more than ten years ago. NZ citizens are also classified as 'Other migrants', irrespective of when they arrived in Australia

Overall life satisfaction

Overall life satisfaction is a summary measure of subjective wellbeing against a scale ranging from 0 to 10, where 0 means "not at all satisfied" and 10 means "completely satisfied". It measures a person's perceived level of life satisfaction in general and doesn't take into account specific illnesses or problems the person may have.

Partially engaged in employment or study

People who were employed part-time and not studying, or in part-time study and not employed.

Permanent place to live

Refers to whether a person has ever previously been without a permanent place to live for reasons such as family/relationship breakdowns, family or domestic violence, financial problems, medical issues, alcohol or drug use or other reasons. People who were without a permanent place to live for reasons such as saving money, work related reasons; building or renovating their home; travelling/on holiday; house-sitting or having just moved back to a town or city were not included.

As the GSS only enumerates usual residents of private dwellings, it will not include people experiencing homelessness currently in shelters; sleeping rough; or in boarding houses.   However it may include people 'couch surfing' (staying temporarily with other households) or those in transitional accommodation. The GSS does not attempt to measure the prevalence of homelessness in Australia. Instead the survey seeks information about whether a person has ever experienced being without a permanent place to live at some point in their lives.

Permanent visa

The permission or authority granted by Australia for foreign nationals to live in Australia permanently. Permanent visa holders are referred to as 'Permanent residents'.

Personal stressors

Any of the following events or circumstances which the person considers have been a problem for themselves or someone close to them in the last 12 months: 

  • serious illness
  • serious accident
  • death of family member or close friend
  • mental illness
  • serious disability
  • loss of job or unable to get a job
  • discrimination
  • bullying and/or harassment
  • witness to violence
  • abuse or violent crime
  • trouble with the police
  • divorce or separation
  • alcohol or drug related problems
  • gambling problem
  • removal of children

Physical or threatened assault

A person who in the last 12 months had physical force or violence used against them or threatened in person to be used against them. Examples of physical force or violence include being pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped, hit, kicked, punched, dragged across the ground, choked, stabbed, shot, burnt, or hit deliberately by a vehicle. Includes assault that occurred while the person was at work. Excludes incidents that occurred during the course of play on a sporting field or organised sport, and incidents of sexual assault which also involved physical assault (these are counted under sexual assault).

Private dwellings

Houses, flats, home units, garages, tents and other structures used as private places of residence at the time of the survey.

Proficiency in spoken English

A self assessment by persons who speak a language other than English at home, of whether they speak English very well, well, not well or not at all. 

Recent migrants and temporary residents

Those who were born overseas and arrived in Australia in the last ten years and have stayed or are planning to stay more than 12 months. They may be Australian citizens or citizens of another country. Excludes New Zealand citizens (they are classified as 'Other migrants').


A payment made periodically by a tenant to an owner or landlord in return for lodgement. 

Schooling restriction

A schooling restriction is determined for persons aged 15 to 20 years who have one or more disabilities and, because of their disability, have any difficulties with education such as:

  • not attending school / further study due to condition 
  • need time off school / study 
  • attend special classes / school 
  • other difficulties at school

Selected person

In the GSS only one person aged 15 years or over in each dwelling was selected for the survey. This person was randomly chosen after all usual residents of the household were listed. 

Self assessed health status

The selected person's general assessment of their own health, against a five point scale from excellent through to poor. 

Service providers

  • Banks or financial institutions
  • Centrelink / Family Assistance Office
  • Hospitals
  • Medicare
  • Telecommunication services 
  • Motor Vehicle Registry
  • Housing / utility services
  • Health related services
  • Other services

Sexual orientation

Refers to whether a person identified as being straight (heterosexual); gay or lesbian; bisexual; or other sexual orientation. For the purpose of this publication, data for people who identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or another sexual orientation is combined into 'gay, lesbian or bisexual'. 

Small favours

The person's assessment of how strongly they agree or disagree with the following statement: "When I need someone to help me out, I can usually find someone".

Social groups

Whether the person has been actively involved in a social group in the last 12 months.

Examples of social groups include: 

  • sport or physical recreation group 
  • arts or heritage group 
  • religious or spiritual group or organisation 
  • craft or practical hobby group 
  • Adult education, other recreation or special interest group
  • ethnic / multicultural club 
  • social clubs providing restaurants or bars 
  • other social groups

Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA)

SEIFA is a product developed especially for those interested in the assessment of the welfare of Australian communities. The ABS has developed four indexes to allow ranking of regions/areas, providing a method of determining the level of social and economic well-being in each region.

Each of the indexes summarise different aspects of the socio-economic status of the people living in those areas. The index refers to the attributes of the area (Statistical Area Level 1) in which a person lives, not to the socio-economic situation of a particular individual. The index used in this publication was compiled following the 2016 Census. For further information about the SEIFAs, see Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) 2016.

The four indexes are: 

  • Index of relative socio-economic advantage and disadvantage: includes attributes such as households with low incomes and people with a tertiary education. 
  • Index of relative socio-economic disadvantage: includes attributes such as low income, low educational attainment, high unemployment and dwellings without motor vehicles. 
  • Index of economic resources: includes attributes such as income, housing expenditure and assets of households. 
  • Index of education and occupation: includes attributes relating to the educational and occupational characteristics of communities, like the proportion of people with a higher qualification or those employed in a skilled occupation.

Statistical significance

Differences between population estimates are said to be statistically significant when it can be stated with 95% confidence that there is a real difference between the populations. For further information see Accuracy

Support in a time of crisis

Refers to whether there is someone outside the person's household who could be asked for support in a time of crisis. Support could be in the form of emotional, physical or financial help. Potential sources of support could be family members, friends, neighbours, work colleagues and various community, government and professional organisations.

Temporary resident

A person who was born overseas, who arrived in Australia in the last ten years, is not an Australian or New Zealand citizen, and has a temporary visa.

Tenure type

The nature of a household's legal right to occupy the dwelling in which they usually reside. In this publication, households are grouped into one of four broad tenure categories: 

  • owner without a mortgage - the dwelling is owned by a resident of the household and there are no outstanding mortgages or loans secured against the dwelling 
  • owner with a mortgage - a household where an outstanding mortgage or loan amount secured against the dwelling, for the purposes of housing, is greater than zero 
  • renter - a household who pays rent to reside in the dwelling.
  • other tenure - includes households which are participants of a life tenure scheme, participants in a rent/buy (or shared equity) scheme, living rent-free or are in a tenure arrangement not included elsewhere (e.g. house-sitting, payment in kind for a specific service). 


To ascertain peoples feelings of trust in others, and in some major institutions, they were asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the following statements: 

  • most people can be trusted? 
  • the healthcare system can be trusted? 
  • police can be trusted? 
  • the justice system can be trusted? 

The response categories were in a five point scale: 

  • Strongly agree
  • Somewhat agree
  • Neither agree nor disagree
  • Somewhat disagree
  • Strongly disagree

The phrase 'most people' is based on the respondent's interpretation - there is no specific definition. The idea is whether people can go about their affairs confidently, expecting that others will generally deal fairly with them and act in the ways normally expected in our society. 


Persons aged 15 years and over who were not employed during the week before the interview and: 

  • had actively looked for full-time or part-time work at any time in the four weeks up to the end of the reference week and were available for work in the reference week; or 
  • were waiting to start a new job within four weeks from the end of the reference week and could have started in the reference week if the job had been available then.

Unpaid voluntary work through an organisation

The provision of unpaid help willingly given in the form of time, service or skills, to an organisation, club, or association. The GSS excludes unpaid voluntary work through an organisation if undertaken overseas. 

The following forms of unpaid work are not strictly "willingly given" and have been excluded: 

  • taking part in Community Work under Mutual Obligation 
  • work experience or an unpaid work trial 
  • a community service order 
  • a student placement.

The reference period was the 12 months preceding the survey.

Prior to GSS 2019, this item was labelled "Voluntary work" as it was the only kind of voluntary work included in the GSS. This new label was adopted for the 2019 release to accommodate the addition of Informal volunteering within the broader category of Voluntary work. The majority of GSS voluntary work data is still only collected for Unpaid voluntary work through an organisation.

Unpaid work/support to non-household members

The provision of unpaid work, support, or help to people or the community directly, not through an organisation, club, or association. This includes:

  • domestic work, home maintenance or gardening 
  • providing transport or running errands 
  • any unpaid child care 
  • any teaching, coaching or practical advice 
  • providing any emotional support 
  • personal care/assistance
  • lobbying/advocacy
  • community assistance
  • environmental protection
  • any other help.

This item concerns unpaid work/support provided to people living outside the selected person's household. The GSS does not collect any data about unpaid domestic work or any other unpaid work undertaken for the sole benefit of the person's own household (including related and unrelated household members).

The reference period was the four weeks preceding the survey.

Voluntary work

The provision of unpaid help willingly given in the form of time, service or skills. Voluntary work must benefit the volunteer's community beyond their own family and household.

Voluntary work includes both Unpaid voluntary work through an organisation and Informal volunteering. The key difference between the two is whether the unpaid work is undertaken through an organisation. See related definitions.

See Methodology for a caveat on using and interpreting GSS 2019 Voluntary work data.


See Voluntary work.

Working conditions allowing for family/community responsibilities

Refers to whether a person has access to working conditions allowing for family or community responsibilities such as carer's leave, flexible working hours or working from home arrangements.


Show all

ABSAustralian Bureau of Statistics
ANZSCOAustralian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations
ANZSICAustralian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification
ASCEDAustralian Standard Classification of Education
ASGSAustralian Statistical Geography Standard
CAPIComputer Assisted Personal Interview
CAWIComputer Assisted Web Interview
GCCSAGreater Capital City Statistical Areas
GSSGeneral Social Survey
IRSDIndex of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage
LFSLabour Force Survey
MOEmargin of error
n.f.d.not further defined
RSErelative standard error
SACCStandard Australian Classification of Countries
SEstandard error
SEIFASocio-Economic Indexes for Areas
Back to top of the page