Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey methodology

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Reference period
March 2021



This publication presents results from the Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey. This is the eighth monthly survey, conducted throughout Australia between 12 and 21 March 2021.

This series is designed to provide insight into how the social and economic situation is changing for Australian households, with focus placed on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on lifestyle and wellbeing. It follows on from the previous series of eight fortnightly surveys between 1 April to 10 July 2020 which captured the experiences of Australian households during the first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia.

The results for all past publications can be accessed by selecting ‘View all releases’ in the header of this publication.

This publication forms part of a suite of additional products that the ABS produced to measure the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Australian economy and society.

For more information refer to the Measuring the impacts of COVID-19 update.

Sample/Panel design and estimation

For the first monthly survey in August 2020, a sample of over 4,900 private dwellings was selected to obtain responses from 1,561 fully responding dwellings. This defined the longitudinal panel for the subsequent surveys up until the October 2020 cycle.

In the November 2020 cycle, the sample was increased, with over 8,400 private dwellings selected to obtain responses from 3,400 fully responding dwellings. The fully responding count consists of 1,369 dwellings continuing on from the first cycle in August 2020, and 2,031 dwellings from the increased November 2020 sample. The increased sample of 3,400 defined the longitudinal panel for the subsequent surveys up until the February 2021 cycle.

The panel from August 2020 completed their last cycle in February 2021. In March 2021 a sample of around 9,500 private dwellings was selected to target a total sample of 4,146 fully responding dwellings. The fully responding count achieved consists of 1,676 dwellings continuing on from the November 2020 cycle, and 2,246 new participants, bringing the total panel to 3,922 people.

The person (aged 18 years or over) who completed household details became the person selected for the panel. Their participation in the survey is voluntary and respondents can opt out at any point.

The panel selection methodology was a random sample. The coverage of selections included all Australian geographies (excluding very remote locations) to ensure national estimates could be produced.

The panel data was weight adjusted using the ABS Estimated Residential Population (ERP) projections as at August 2020. Benchmarks comprised of Age, Sex, and Geographic variables. In addition, adjustments were made based on the number of persons living in the household and the education level of the selected person.

Due to the anticipated changes in non-responding households across the survey cycles, each survey sample will be re-weighted in order to maintain consistent full population estimates across the surveys.

Data collection

Information was gathered via online forms or telephone interviews. Interviews were conducted with any responsible person aged 18 years and over who was a usual resident of the selected household.

Some topics have been repeated in both the fortnightly and monthly surveys. The monthly iterations of the survey gathered information via online forms and telephone interviews. Previous fortnightly iterations of the survey were collected via the telephone only. Where relevant, comparisons are made based on the weighted representative data for both surveys. The change in survey methodology means that comparison of results for the topics repeated across the survey iterations should be treated with caution.

The topics in the March 2021 survey include:

  • use of public transport
  • voluntary work and unpaid help
  • emotional and mental wellbeing
  • health precautions
  • sources of health information
  • stimulus payments
  • job status.

The scope of the survey was people aged 18 years and over in private dwellings across Australia (excluding very remote areas).

Household living arrangements

The survey collected information from respondents about the household living arrangements of all people within the household. The categories are not comparable to those found in classifications related to Family or Household composition.

For the purpose of this survey, people who live in the household full-time or part-time, whether they are related or not, are included. Dependants who are 18 years or older are regarded as adults, and visitors to the household are excluded.

Each category refers to private dwellings containing:

  • Lone person - a person 18 years or older who lives in the household on their own.
  • Family with children - a household with one or more children (under the age of 18 years) usually resident in the same household. The family may include any number of other related or unrelated individuals usually resident in the household.
  • Family without children – a family based on two persons who are spouses or partners, who are usually resident in the same household and have no children under 18 years usually resident in the same household. The family may include any number of other related or unrelated individuals usually resident in the household.

There were households consisting of two or more unrelated people where all persons are aged 18 years or over, however the numbers were too small to publish.


Whether a person has a disability has been derived from a subset of questions from the ABS's Short Disability Module. People were asked about a number of different impairments and whether these had an impact on their ability to do everyday activities. These questions are not designed to estimate prevalence but rather allow for the broad comparison of the social, health and economic characteristics of people with and without disability.

Care should be taken when interpreting data relating to disability in this survey as results showed that those people who were interviewed by telephone were more likely to have a disability than those who completed the survey online. This may be due to a mode effect.

Long-term health conditions

The survey asked if respondents had been told by a doctor or nurse if they had one or more of a selected list of long-term health conditions. Conditions included:

  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Cancer (including remission)
  • Dementia (including Alzheimer’s)
  • Diabetes (excluding gestational diabetes)
  • Heart disease (including heart attack or angina)
  • Kidney disease
  • Lung condition (including COPD or emphysema)
  • Mental health condition (including depression or anxiety)
  • Stroke
  • Any other long-term health condition(s)

Health conditions were those that had lasted, or were expected to last, six months of more. Respondents were asked to include conditions that may recur from time to time, are controlled by medication, or are in remission.

Country of birth and Tenure type

The country of birth, year of arrival and household tenure type was not collected for the new panel introduced in the March cycle. These topics will return with the April survey.

Unpaid voluntary work

Unpaid voluntary work through an organisation or group is defined in the ABS General Social Survey 2019 as "The provision of unpaid help willingly given in the form of time, service or skills, to an organisation, club, or association."

Examples of organisations or groups include:

  • organised sporting group or team
  • youth group (such as guides, scouts, a choir)
  • a charity organisation or cause
  • student government
  • religious organisation
  • school or preschool
  • other kinds of community or volunteer groups.

For unpaid voluntary work done in the last 12 months, respondents were asked to exclude any volunteering done for the following reasons, as it is being done to comply with or receive something:

  • to receive government payments
  • to comply with a court order
  • to fulfil work experience or other study-related requirements.

Unpaid voluntary work includes cases where volunteers received reimbursement from their organisation or group for expenses incurred through volunteering.

Unpaid voluntary work has been included as one of the items collected with ‘participation in activities’ in December 2020 and February 2021. The examples listed above were not included with past questions and comparison of results should be treated with caution.

Unpaid help

Unpaid help to people living outside the household is based on the concept of unpaid work or support to non-household members in the General Social Survey 2019.

Examples of unpaid help include:

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

These unpaid help questions do not include unpaid work done for one's own household or household members (such as domestic work within the respondent's own household).

If unpaid help is provided to someone not related to the helper, it can also be called informal volunteering.

Informal volunteering is a subset of unpaid help, defined in the ABS General Social Survey 2019 as "The provision of unpaid work/support to non-household members, excluding that provided only to family members living outside the household".

Further details on unpaid voluntary work, unpaid help and informal volunteering can be found in the ABS General Social Survey 2019 in the Methodology.

Emotional and mental wellbeing and psychological distress

The survey collected information on psychological distress of persons aged 18 years and over using the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10). 

The K10 questionnaire administered to respondents asked 10 questions about people’s level of nervousness, agitation, fatigue and depression. Respondents were asked how often in the last four weeks they had felt: 

  • tired out for no good reason
  • nervous
  • so nervous that nothing could calm you down
  • hopeless
  • restless or fidgety
  • so restless you could not sit still
  • depressed
  • everything was an effort
  • so sad that nothing could cheer you up
  • worthless.

Using the K10 questionnaire, a five-level response scale that corresponded to scores from 1 for ‘none of the time’ to 5 for ‘all the time’ were summed, with low scores indicating low levels of psychological distress and high scores indicating high levels of psychological distress.  

Results are presented by the categories ‘low or moderate’ psychological distress, or ‘high or very high’ psychological distress, using the cut-point scores below: 

  • Low (scores of 10-15, indicating little or no psychological distress)
  • Moderate (scores of 16-21)
  • High (scores of 22-29)
  • Very high (scores of 30-50).

A very high level of psychological distress shown by the K10 may indicate a need for professional help. For more information see the National Health Survey: Users’ Guide, 2017-18

The full set of K10 questions was asked in November 2020 and a subset of six of the K10 questions was asked in August 2020, using questions from the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale - 6 (K6). While the K6 questions can be used for comparison, they do not allow for reporting of levels of psychological distress.

Stimulus payments

The Commonwealth Government is providing eligible individuals with stimulus payments during this COVID-19 pandemic. The survey only asked about payments to individuals, not business owners, and money they are currently receiving, not what they may have received in the past or are still expecting to receive. This included the $150 Coronavirus Supplement and the $1,000 or $650 JobKeeper Payment.

The survey only asked about the Coronavirus Supplement and JobKeeper Payment received by eligible individuals aged 18 years and over.

Coronavirus Supplement: A supplement of $150 per fortnight paid to income support recipients. This has been payable from 1 January 2021 to recipients of:

  • JobSeeker Payment (formerly known as Newstart Allowance)
  • Youth Allowance
  • Sickness Allowance
  • ABSTUDY (Living Allowance)
  • Austudy
  • Parenting Payment
  • Partner Allowance
  • Widow Allowance
  • Farm Household Allowance
  • Special Benefit.

The Coronavirus Supplement amount was previously $550 per fortnight and paid to eligible recipients from 27 April 2020 to 24 September 2020. From 25 September to 31 December 2020 eligible recipients were paid $250 per fortnight. The payment of $150 will be made to eligible recipients until 31 March 2021.

JobKeeper Payment: Affected employers and sole traders are able to claim either $1,000 (tier 1) or $650 (tier 2) per fortnight per employee from 4 January to 28 March 2021 if they meet eligibility requirements.

The JobKeeper Payment amount was previously $1,500 and paid to eligible recipients from 30 March 2020 to 27 September 2020. From 28 September 2020 to 3 January 2021 two tiers of payment were available to eligible recipients with payments of $1,250 (tier 1) or $750 (tier 2) per fortnight.

Eligibility requirements to receive the JobKeeper Payment can be found at the Australian Taxation Office JobKeeper Payment – Your eligible employees page.

More information on the two tiers of the JobKeeper Payment can be found at the Australian Taxation Office JobKeeper Payment – Payments rates page.

More information can be found at the Australian Taxation Office JobKeeper Payment page.

Current job status

The survey collected information about the current job status of all respondents, and changes to their job situation since the last survey. The survey was designed to provide a snapshot of the changes being experienced by Australians due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Respondents were asked simple questions about changes to their job situation, rather than the full suite of employment-related questions included in the ABS' Labour Force Survey (see the Labour Force Survey questionnaire, available from the Collection method chapter in the Labour force, Australia methodology publication). The results of this survey are, therefore, not directly comparable to Australia’s official Labour Force measures.

For more information about measuring the labour market impacts of COVID-19 please see the educational piece Measuring the Labour Market impacts of COVID-19.

Margin of error

Margin of Error (MoE) 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. MoE's presented in this publication are at the 95% confidence level. This means that there are 19 chances in 20 that the estimate will differ by less than the specified MoE from the population value (the figure obtained if all in-scope dwellings had been enumerated).


The Data Cubes, containing all tables for this publication in Excel spreadsheet format, are available with the Downloads. The spreadsheets present tables of proportions and their corresponding MoE. Totals may vary in some tables as some respondents did not provide an answer to all of the questions.


The Census and Statistics Act 1905 provides the authority for the ABS to collect statistical information, and requires that statistical output shall not be published or disseminated in a manner that is likely to enable the identification of a particular person or organisation. This requirement means that the ABS must take care and make assurances that any statistical information about individual respondents cannot be derived from published data.


The ABS would like to thank all participants for their involvement in the survey. The information collected is critical to informing the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia.

ABS surveys draw extensively on information provided by individuals, businesses, governments and other organisations. Their continued cooperation is very much appreciated and without it, the wide range of statistics published by the ABS would not be available. Information received by the ABS is treated in strict confidence as required by the Census and Statistics Act 1905.


The ABS Privacy Policy outlines how the ABS will handle any personal information that you provide to the ABS.

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