2021 Census topics and data release plan

Presents the final topics included in the 2021 Census and the plans of how and when this information will be released.



The 2021 Census of Population and Housing will be held on 10 August 2021 and will provide an opportunity for Australians to tell us about themselves and help make a difference for their community. The Census is the largest statistical collection undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Together with a significant program of surveys, longitudinal studies and research using data from administrative transactions with government, including data safely linked from a range of sources, the Census contributes rich and valuable information about Australians.

Census data is used by individuals and organisations in public, not for profit and private sectors to make decisions that better target investments, create jobs, plan for services, expand service provision and much more. Data collected in the Census underpins decisions on allocating billions of dollars of Commonwealth Government funding to states, territories and local governments. It is critical to setting federal, state and territory electoral boundaries and informs decisions about schools, childcare centres, roads, healthcare facilities, senior centres and other critical infrastructure.

The value of the Australian Census to the economy is immense. In 2019 an independent valuation conducted by Lateral Economics estimated that for every $1 invested in the Census, $6 value was generated to the Australian economy creating an annual benefit of $800m. See the Value of the Australian Census report

The Census collects information on demographic characteristics such as age and sex, types of housing, and on other topics such as education, participation in the labour force, occupations and industries, marital status, and family size. The range of topics means that any topic can be examined in conjunction with other related topics. While some of the Census topics are covered by other data sources, only the Census can provide information on a standard basis for the whole country, as well as for smaller geographic areas and small population groups.

The 2021 Census will again provide great value to the Australian community and this will be enhanced by the addition of two new topics. Following an extensive process, questions on long-term health conditions and service with the Australian Defence Force will be added to the next Census. These new topics will provide rich data to complement the other information available through the Census. Significantly, these are the first topic changes since 2006. This publication outlines the topics which will be included in the 2021 Census and describes the key changes made to 2016 Census questions.  Details on what other new topics and changes were considered can be found at: Census of Population and Housing: Topics Directions, 2021.

Data from the 2021 Census will be released in three phases from June 2022, with more depth added to the data across each release. The data release section of this publication outlines our early plans. More information will be provided in early 2022.

Topics included in the 2021 Census

The 2021 Census will contain new questions on long-term health conditions and service with the Australian Defence Force. A question on internet access in households will no longer be asked, given increased mobile internet usage on personal devices outside the home.

These are the first significant changes to the information collected in the Census since 2006. The changes allow the Census to collect data on long-term health conditions, such as heart disease, arthritis and diabetes, to inform health policy and planning for community services. Collecting information about Australian Defence Force service will provide a better understanding of the circumstances of Australia’s veteran community and support better provision of services for this group. More information about these new topics is provided in the health section and service with the Australian Defence Force section.

Changes to existing questions have been made to ensure continued relevance of the Census and improvement of the quality of the data. These include adding a non-binary option to the sex question and enhancing response options for the language and ancestry questions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

More details on changes to the Census questions are available under each topic group heading. The presentations shown are for the changes to the paper form (which is available in Downloads). Where an additional change has been made to the online Census form, this has also been highlighted.

This publication doesn’t cover the versions of the questions that are asked in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The Interviewer Household Form used in these communities will be available in the Downloads section in early 2021.

Health (new question)

Service with the Australian Defence Force (new question)


Household and families


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Cultural diversity

Disability and carers

Education and training

Income and work

Unpaid work and care



Data release plans

2021 data products

Census data products have been designed with a broad range of data users in mind. Data from the 2021 Census will be released in the same core products as previous Censuses, including through QuickStats, Community Profiles and TableBuilder. For details on the core products from the 2016 Census, see Information Paper: Census of Population and Housing – Products and Services, 2016.

While the products will have the same functionality as the 2016 Census, they will be enhanced to improve the user's access to data, including through an intuitive user interface and easy to use reference materials. More detailed information about the 2021 Census data products and services will be available in early 2022.

Topic release plan and list of topics

The ABS intends to release 2021 Census data in a staged approach as it did with the 2016 Census. It is proposed that there will be three key release phases.

  1. June 2022 – most topics will be released for almost all geographic outputs for place of usual residence and for place of enumeration on Census night.
  2. October 2022 – a smaller number of topics including employment and location-based variables will be released.
  3. Early to mid-2023 – complex topics that require additional processing such as distance to work, socio-economic indexes for areas (SEIFA) will be released.

The table below shows which Census topics will be included in each release. Each topic may have several variables associated with it.

First release – June 2022Second release – Oct 2022Third release – Early to mid-2023
SexInternal migration (address of usual residence 1 year ago and 5 years ago)Socio-economic indexes for areas (SEIFA)
AgeNon-school qualificationDistance to work
Registered marital statusStatus in employmentCensus Microdata
Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander originOccupationEstimates of homelessness
Usual residence at Census timePublic or private employer indicator 
Australian citizenshipWorkplace address (Journey to work) 
Country of birthIndustry of employment 
Year of arrival in AustraliaHours worked 
Country of birth of parentsMethod of travel to work 
Main language other than English spoken at home  
Proficiency in spoken English  
Religious affiliation  
Need for assistance  
Attendance at an educational institution  
Highest year of schooling completed  
Number of children given birth to  
Unpaid care, help or assistance of another person due to disability, long term illness or old age  
Unpaid work - domestic activities  
Unpaid care of children  
Unpaid work - voluntary work for an organisation or group  
Address on Census night  
Family relationship (and Social marital status)  
Number of motor vehicles garaged  
Number of bedrooms  
Tenure type  
Landlord type  
Housing costs  
Dwelling structure  
Location of private dwelling  
Type of non-private dwelling  
Residential status in non-private dwelling  
Long-term health conditions (New Topic)  
Australian Defence Force Service (New Topic)  


Geographic outputs

2021 Census data will be published using the Australian Statistical Geography Standard – Edition 3 (ASGS Ed 3). After public consultation in 2019, several changes were identified to be applied to the ASGS Ed 3 which is due for release in mid-2021. Key outcomes and details of the consultation and changes are available in the Review outcomes for the Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS), 2020.

The ASGS is a collection of geographic boundaries that are used to analyse data. The ASGS is split into two parts, ABS Structures and the Non-ABS Structures. ABS Structures are areas that the ABS design specifically for releasing statistics. Non-ABS structures are areas that have been defined and maintained by other organisations and against which the ABS is committed to providing a range of statistics (for example, Local Government Areas).

The geography outputs that will be used for the 2021 Census data are listed below.

ABS structures:

  • Mesh Block (MB)
  • Statistical Area Level 1 (SA1)
  • Statistical Area Level 2 (SA2)
  • Statistical Area Level 3 (SA3)
  • Statistical Area Level 4 (SA4)
  • State/Territory (STE)
  • Australia (AUS)
  • Greater Capital City Statistical Areas (GCCSA)
  • Urban Centre/Locality (UC/L)
  • Section of State Range (SOSR)
  • Section of State (SOS)
  • Indigenous Location (ILOC)
  • Indigenous Area (IARE)
  • Indigenous Region (IREG)
  • Significant Urban Areas (SUA)
  • Remoteness Area (RA)

 Non ABS structures:

  • Local Government Area (LGA)
  • Postal Areas (POA)
  • Commonwealth Electoral Division (CED)
  • State Electoral Division (SED)
  • Suburbs and Localities (SAL)
  • Destination Zones (DZN)
  • Australian Drainage Divisions (ADD)
  • Tourism Regions (TR)
  • Primary Health Networks (PHN)

Details on what geographies will be available for each of the data products will be released in early 2022.

For further information on ABS Statistical Geography see www.abs.gov.au/geography.

Topic review process

Public consultation with Census users

The process to determine the new topics that might be included in the 2021 Census started with stakeholder engagement and public consultation in 2018. The public consultation process resulted in approximately 450 submissions covering a range of topics. Details of the consultation process and links to relevant material can be found in the Census of Population and Housing: Consultation on Topics, 2021 publication.

Review of submissions

The review of the submissions received from public consultation resulted in the short-listing of eight potential new topics:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural identity
  • current or previous service in the Australian Defence Force
  • journey to education (including mode of transport, and name and address of educational institution)
  • long-term health conditions
  • more contemporary measures of household and family relationships, including shared care of children where parents live apart
  • non-binary sex and/or gender identity
  • sexual orientation
  • smoking status.

These eight topics were then assessed according to the:

  • strength of the data need
  • cost and feasibility of collecting the topic
  • ability of respondents to answer
  • statistical impact on the quality of Census data.

See the Census of Population and Housing: Topics Directions, 2021 publication for more details.


The ABS provided a recommendation to Government on the topics to be included in and removed from the 2021 Census. Following Government decision, subsequent tabling in the Australian Parliament of the Census and Statistics Amendment (Statistical Information) Regulations 2020 (the Regulations) finalised the process that determined the information that will be collected in the 2021 Census.

Topics not included in the 2021 Census

Of the short-listed topics identified from submissions, as discussed in the previous sections, three will be included in the 2021 Census: service with the Australian Defence Force, long-term health conditions and non-binary sex. The following topic sections present the assessment findings for the short-listed topics which won’t be included in the 2021 Census.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural identity

Mode of travel and address of educational institution

Shared care of children

Household and family relationships

Gender identity

Sexual orientation

Smoking status

Dwelling internet connection


2021 Census Household paper form

Census topics 1911-2021

Catalogue number

This content is released under ABS catalogue number 2008.0.

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