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.

Release date and time

Introduction

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)

Long-term health conditions is a new topic for the 2021 Census. Stakeholders expressed a need to have data on people with selected long-term health conditions at lower geographic levels and for smaller population groups.

This question presents a list of long-term health conditions from which the respondent can select one or many. The listed health conditions were determined in consultation with key stakeholders based on conditions that are most prevalent in Australia, identified data priorities and consistency with existing ABS health collections.

There is high demand for data on long-term health conditions at the local level for health service planning, to monitor change under the National Health Reform Agreement, and various other reporting frameworks and local level initiatives. The ABS National Health Survey provides high quality estimates on the numbers of health conditions at the national level. This Census question will provide estimates at finer geographies and sub-populations that will enable users to:

  • inform health policy
  • plan for local health and community services
  • target programs and resources to assist in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease
  • combine health information with other Census information including demographics and cultural diversity information
  • report on frameworks and initiatives at the local level.

This question was extensively tested with respondents and performed well. Qualitative testing demonstrated little sensitivity or concerns with answering this question.

This question seeks information on if a person has a long-term health condition.
Question 28 asks:
Has the person been told by a doctor or nurse that they have any of these long-term health conditions?
Response categories are:
• 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)
• No long-term health condition

This is a new question for the 2021 Census.

Service with the Australian Defence Force (new question)

Stakeholders identified veterans as a vulnerable group with potential to experience homelessness and to have specific health and care needs.

A range of published health studies show that veterans have distinct characteristics and health needs (e.g. muscular, skeletal, mental health and access to services) that require special consideration due to their military training, service and deployments. Recent public attention has also focused on well-being issues, such as employment outcomes post-separation, homelessness and the challenges faced by families of veterans.

While records exist for current Australian Defence Force service, they are not maintained for previous service and limited historical data on service personnel is available. Census data will provide information to enable better delivery of services and support for veterans. Information from the Census will enable government, non-government groups and medical providers to target the supply of health and financial support services to geographic areas where it is most needed.

The topic will consist of a single question with a closed set of response options covering regular and reserve service. The question will only apply to people aged 15 years and over and has the option for more than one response.

This question was tested with a broad range of respondents, including people who are currently serving or have previously served in the Australian Defence Force. The question performed well and was easily understood. There were no sensitivities associated with answering the question. Quantitative testing confirmed that the question is likely to provide accurate data.

This question seeks information on if a person has ever served in the Australian Defence Force.
Question 53 asks:
Has the person ever served in the Australian Defence Force?
Response categories are:
• No
Regular Service
• Yes, current service
• Yes, previous service
Reserve Service
• Yes, current service
• Yes, previous service

This is a new question for the 2021 Census.

Population

Questions about the age and sex of the population are essential in assisting the ABS to meet its legislative requirement to estimate the size, age and sex profile of the population across Australia. Many critical decisions are made by governments, businesses and local community groups that depend on knowing the sex and age of the population located in each part of Australia.

Alongside this information, the ABS requests names to help people answer the right question for each person in the household, and to help process the form correctly. Females are also asked a question about the number of children given birth to. This helps better understand fertility levels in Australia’s population.

TopicsHousehold paper form question(s)2021 Census outcomes
Sex7, 59Retain existing topic with changes to response options
Name6, 59Retain existing topic without change
Date of birth and age8, 59Retain existing topic without change
Number of children given birth to37Retain existing topic without change
 

Sex

Sex is a critical statistical variable of national and international importance and is used in generating population estimates which are then used as the basis for a wide range of reporting and analysis. A question on sex has been included in every Australian Census since the first national Census in 1911.

The term ‘sex’ is defined as referring to a person’s biological characteristics. A person may have male characteristics, female characteristics, or a variation in sex characteristics which may also be described as intersex. It is possible for a person to have a variation that means neither the male or female categories apply, and this may include having a legal status that is neither male nor female.

The 2021 Census paper form and online form both include three response options: male; female; and non-binary sex. The online form also includes an optional write in response when non-binary sex is selected.

The intent of adding a third response option to the sex question is to improve the ability for the whole population to be able to answer the question accurately. The requirement for change comes from the Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender, which were established by the Attorney General’s Department to complement changes to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

Testing was performed on proposed changes to the sex question with a broad range of respondents, including groups with lower levels of English proficiency. This testing demonstrated that including a third response option would have little impact on the quality of the male and female estimates and was generally accepted by respondents.

For data releases, the ABS will continue to report sex with the binary options of male and female in most outputs. Analysis of non-binary sex responses will be reported in a feature article.

This question seeks information on the sex of a person.
Question 7 asks:
Is the person:
The response categories are:
• Male
• Female
• Non-binary sex

Other topics in population

Questions on name, date of birth, age, and number of children given birth to are unchanged. The questions are available on the household form in the Downloads section. Further information from the ABS topic review process can be found here: Population.

Household and families

Information about people in a household and their relationship to each other provides a picture of the composition of Australian families. This is used for planning support services and infrastructure, such as educational institutions, hospitals and social services. It is also useful for understanding the adequacy and availability of housing.

Information about household and family relationships and marital status helps establish whether there is a family unit living in a household and the structure of that family unit (for example, a couple family with dependent children or a single parent family). We can also identify whether there are unrelated individuals living in the household (a group household) or where there is more than one family living in the dwelling. This provides insight into the different service needs of extended family structures or shared houses.

Not everyone who usually lives in a household will be there on Census night. To generate accurate estimates of the usual population in an area, questions are asked about people who are temporarily away.

TopicsHousehold paper form question(s)2021 Census outcomes
Household and family relationships9, 59Retain existing topic without change
Registered marital status10Retain existing topic without change
Persons temporarily absent on Census night59Retain existing topic without change
 

Census questions on household and family relationships, registered marital status and persons temporarily absent on Census night are unchanged. The questions are available on the household form in the Downloads section. Further information from the ABS topic review process can be found here: Households and Families.

Location

The Census provides information for small geographic areas and small population groups across the country. 

This information is used to:

  • provide a count of people living and working in geographic areas
  • measure geographic movements of people between Censuses which helps governments, businesses and communities determine and plan for future growth in different areas
  • plan for emergency response and improvement of infrastructure.
TopicsHousehold paper form question(s)2021 Census outcomes
Usual residence at Census time12Retain existing topic with minor instructional text changes
Address on Census night1Retain existing topic without change
Internal migration (address one year ago)13Retain existing topic without change
Internal migration (address five years ago)14Retain existing topic without change
Address of workplace attended48Retain existing topic without change
 

Usual residence at Census time

Where an individual does not have a current usual address, they are instructed to write ‘none’ rather than an address. This information helps estimate the number of people ’couch surfing’ or temporarily staying in another household. Instructional text was added to aid people without a fixed or return address by including examples ‘due to family conflict’ or ‘eviction’.

The addition of a ‘No usual residence’ response option was ruled out due to concern that it would risk data quality.

This question seeks information on where a person usually lives.
Question 12 asks:
Where does the person usually live?
The response categories are:
• Same as in Question 1
• Elsewhere in Australia (please specify address) (free text boxes provided for address)
• Other country

Examples of 'due to family conflict' or 'eviction' have been added to the instructional text to assist people without a fixed or return address to write NONE in the suburb/locality box.

Other topics in location

Questions on address on Census night, internal migration and address of workplace attended are unchanged. The questions are available on the household form in the Downloads section. Further information from the ABS topic review process can be found here: Location.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

The Census provides important data for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is a key source of information for communities, businesses and government and is used to support decision making on education, employment, health, infrastructure and community programs. Information from the Census is used to:

  • estimate and project Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population and, together with information on death rates, provide a measure of Indigenous life expectancy
  • plan what services are needed
  • better understand Indigenous health status (when combined with the health question)
  • guide the allocation of government funding and planning both nationally and for targeted services and programs
  • strengthen business cases to secure financial support
  • reflect changes within the community such as increases in educational attainment.

 

TopicsHousehold paper form question(s)2021 Census outcomes
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status11, 59Retain existing topic without change
 

Other topics in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

The question on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status is unchanged and is available on the household form in the Downloads section. Further information from the ABS topic review process can be found here: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Changes will be made to existing topics on the main language spoken at home and ancestry to be more relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. These changes are described in the Cultural Diversity section.

Cultural diversity

Questions in the Census about citizenship, country of birth, ancestry and language provide insights into the nature of our society and supports policy development and service delivery. Combined, these topics tell a story of the cultural diversity of the people who call Australia home, both those arrived from overseas and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The information is used to:

  • plan for English language programs and translation/interpreter services through knowing which languages are spoken and how well they are spoken
  • understand the need for and location of religious based schools, hospitals, community services and homes for the elderly.

 

TopicsHousehold paper form question(s)2021 Census outcomes
Country of birth16Retain existing topic with minor change to order of response categories
Country of birth of parents18, 19Retain existing topic with minor instructional text changes
Main language other than English used at home20Retain existing topic with minor instructional text and question wording changes
Ancestry22Retain existing topic with minor change to order of response categories and instructional text
Religious affiliation23Retain existing topic with minor change to order of response categories
Australian citizenship15Retain existing topic without change
Year of arrival in Australia17Retain existing topic without change
Proficiency in spoken English21Retain existing topic without change
 

Country of birth

Country of birth information is used to:

  • maintain accuracy of the estimated resident population by birthplace series
  • target assistance to migrants by Government and non-government agencies
  • examine characteristics of first-generation Australians.

The response categories order has been changed to reflect the most common answers from the 2016 Census.

This question seeks information on which country a person was born in.
Question 16 asks:
In which country was the person born?
The response categories are:
• Australia (Go to 18)
• England
• New Zealand
• India
• Philippines
• Vietnam
• Italy
• Other (please specify) (free text field)

The response categories order has been changed to reflect the most common answers from the 2016 Census.

Country of birth of parents

This topic asks separate questions on where a person’s mother and father were born. Stakeholders recommended using non-gendered language such as parent 1 and parent 2. However, further engagement with data users revealed that it is important to distinguish between the male and female parent.

Instructions have been added to these questions to provide guidance on situations where the birth parent is unknown and there is a second parent or the person has same-sex parents.

This question seeks information on which country the person's father was born in.
Question 18 asks:
In which country was the person’s father born?
The response categories are:
• Australia
• Other (please specify) (free text field)

Instruction has been added: If the person does not know their birth father and has a second parent, please include the country of birth for the second parent here.
Instruction has been added: If the person has same-sex parents, include the country of birth of one of the two parents here.
This question seeks information on which country the person's mother was born in.
Question 19 asks:
In which country was the person’s mother born?
The response categories are:
• Australia
• Other (please specify) (free text field)

Instruction has been added: If the person does not know their birth mother and has a second parent, please include the country of birth for the second parent here.
Instruction has been added: If the person has same-sex parents, include the country of birth of one of the two parents here.

Main language other than English used at home

Several changes were tested on this topic to be more inclusive of respondents.

The question has been modified to include the term ‘use’ rather than ‘speak’ to better accommodate members of the community who use sign language. This change was tested extensively with respondents from a variety of culturally diverse communities and the wording was well understood. Specific instructions about the use of sign languages have been added.

This question is now more relevant for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. An enhancement to the online form presents a check box for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander language for those respondents who identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander in the Indigenous status question (question 11). To improve the data collected on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, the person will also have the option of providing a specific language if they wish. As in previous years, the paper form instructions advise the respondent to write their language in the ‘please specify’ option.

The response categories order has changed based on the most common answers from the 2016 Census.

This question seeks information on what language a person uses at home.
Question 20 asks:
Does the person use a language other than English at home?
Response categories are:
• No, English only (Go to 22)
• Yes, Mandarin
• Yes, Arabic
• Yes, Cantonese
• Yes, Vietnamese
• Yes, Italian
• Yes, Greek
• Yes, other language (please specify) (free text field)

Question wording was changed from 'speak a language' to 'use a language' to be inclusive for people who use sign language. The response category order has been changed to reflect the most common answers from the 2016 Census.

Ancestry

Ancestry was identified as another existing topic that could be enhanced to be more relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Response categories of ‘Aboriginal’ and ‘Torres Strait Islander’ have been added. For people completing the Census online and who identify as an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person, these new response categories will be displayed at the top of the list. 

The ‘other ancestries’ provided as examples in the instructional text have been updated. The order of the response categories has also been updated based on 2016 Census results.

This question seeks information on a person's ancestry.
Question 22 asks:
What is the person’s ancestry?
Response categories are:
• English
• Irish
• Scottish
• Chinese
• Italian
• German
• Aboriginal
• Torres Strait Islander
• Australian
• Other ancestry 1 (please specify) (free text field)
• Other ancestry 2 (please specify) (free text field)

Additional response categories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander have been included. The response category order has been changed to reflect the most common answers from the 2016 Census.

Religious affiliation

The Census collects information on religious affiliation rather than religious involvement and will continue to do so in 2021. This is consistent with international Census practice and aligns with delivery and planning needs for religious organisations.

The response order has been changed based on common answers from the 2016 Census.

Changes have been made to the ‘other’ examples given in the question instructions.

This question seeks information on a person's religion.
Question 23 asks:
What is the person’s religion?
Response categories are:
• No religion
• Catholic
• Anglican (Church of England)
• Uniting Church
• Islam
• Buddhism
• Presbyterian
• Hinduism
• Greek Orthodox
• Baptist
• Other (please specify) (free text field)

The response category order has been changed to reflect the most common answers from the 2016 Census.

Other topics in cultural diversity

Questions on Australian citizenship, year of arrival in Australia and proficiency in spoken English are unchanged. The questions are available on the household form in the Downloads section. Further information from the ABS topic review process can be found here: Cultural diversity.

Disability and carers

Census topics on a person's need for assistance and care given to others provide data on the needs of some of the most vulnerable populations across Australia.

This information is used to:

  • help service providers and governments plan what local facilities, services and support are required, such as in-home support, respite care and support to carers
  • provide an understanding of the assistance needed and support being provided by informal or unpaid carers.

 

TopicsHousehold paper form question(s)2021 Census outcomes
Need for assistance24, 25, 26, 27Retain existing topic without change
Unpaid care, help or assistance of another person due to disability, long term illness or old age56Retain existing topic without change
 

Need for assistance

Testing explored more outputs on reasons for needing assistance, and expanding the output categories for questions 24 to 26 to include the use of aids or equipment. Due to the desire from data users to maintain the time series, no changes to the response categories have been implemented.

Other topics in disability and carers

The question on providing unpaid care, help or assistance to another person remains unchanged. The questions are available on the household form in the Downloads section. Further information from the ABS topic review process can be found here: Disability and carers.

Education and training

Information on education and training are used at federal, state/territory and community levels to:

  • inform the allocation of education services, such as new schools, across Australia
  • understand the employment outcomes for people based on their level and field of education
  • understand the characteristics, such as the income of households that have members attending an educational institution.
TopicsHousehold paper form question(s)2021 Census outcomes
Attendance at an educational institution29, 30Retain existing topic with minor instructional text and response category changes
Highest non-school qualifications33, 34, 35, 36Retain existing topic with minor instructional text changes
Highest year of schooling32Retain existing topic without change
 

Attendance at an educational institution

Key users of Census data have raised concerns about the under-estimation of people attending preschool and vocational education and training. Several minor changes have been made to the instructional text and the response categories to give more clarity to these educational institution types. In addition, to emphasise that respondents should include attendance at preschool, the question wording in the online form has changed for people in the household under the age of six. The question asks ‘Is the person attending a preschool, school or other education institution?’.

This question seeks information on if a person is attending a school or education institution.
Question 29 asks:
Is the person attending a school or other education institution?
Response categories are:
• No (Go to 31)
• Yes, full-time student
• Yes, part-time student

This question includes minor instructional changes in the paper form and additional directions in the online form.
This question seeks information on the type of education institution a person is attending.
Question 30 asks:
What type of education institution is the person attending?
Response categories are:
• Preschool
Primary school
• Government
• Catholic
• Other non-government
Secondary school
• Government
• Catholic
• Other non-government
Tertiary
• Vocational education (including TAFE and private training providers)
• University or other higher education
• Other education institution

In 2021, minor changes to instructional text and response categories have been made to ensure more clarity on education institution types.

Highest non-school qualification

Information on the highest non-school qualification topic is collected over four questions. There are minor instructional changes to the main field of study question to provide guidance for people with double degrees.

This question seeks information on the main field of study for a person's highest qualification completed.
Question 35 asks:
What is the main field of study for the person’s highest qualification completed?
Response category is a free text field

Instruction has been added: If the person has two qualifications of the same level (for example, double degrees), select the qualification considered the most important to them.

A suggestion received during the consultation process was for question 36 to be amended to capture the year the qualification was completed, rather than just before or after 1998. Testing revealed people had difficulty recalling the year they completed their qualification and that there could be an impact on data quality. There is no change to this question in the 2021 Census.

Other topics in education and training

The highest year of schooling topic is unchanged. The questions are available on the household form in the Downloads section. Further information from the ABS topic review process can be found here: Education and training.

Income and work

Questions on the Census about income and work provide insight into Australian society and the performance of the economy. The information is used to:

  • provide an indication of living standards within various household types
  • highlight how many people are working or looking for work at a local level
  • plan education and other services.
 
TopicsHousehold paper form2021 Census outcomes
Income38Retain existing topic with minor changes to response categories and instructional text
Labour force status51, 52Retain existing topic without change
Status in employment39, 40, 41Retain existing topic without change
Hours worked50Retain existing topic without change
Self-employed - number of employees42Retain existing topic without change
Occupation43Retain existing topic without change
Main tasks in occupation44Retain existing topic without change
Industry of employment45, 46, 47Retain existing topic without change
 

Income

The income question is asked of all people aged 15 years and over in the household on Census night. Family and household income are then calculated by adding the individual incomes of people in a family or household. This question includes minor changes for the 2021 Census including:

  • ‘Newstart allowance’ has changed to ‘JobSeeker Payment’ in the instructional text
  • an additional income range for ‘$3,500 or more per week/$182,000 or more per year’ has been included.

A write-in response for people to enter their income was tested. Testing identified that this would have significant impacts on data quality, processing costs and burden on people completing the form. This will not be included in the 2021 Census.

This question seeks information on a person's total income.
Question 38 asks:
What is the total of all income the person usually receives?
Response categories are:
• $3,500 or more per week/$182,000 or more per year
• $3,000 to $3,499 per week/$156,000 to $181,999 per year
• $2,000 to $2,999 per week/$104,000 to 155,999 per year
• $1,750 to $1,999 per week/$91,000 to 103,999 per year
• $1,500 to $1,749 per week/$78,000 to $90,999 per year
• $1,250 to $1,499 per week/$65,000 to $77,999 per year
• $1,000 to $1,249 per week/$52,000 to $64,999 per year
• $800 to $999 per week/$41,600 to $51,999 per year
• $650 to $799 per week/$33,800 to $41,599 per year
• $500 to $649 per week/$26,000 to $33,799 per year
• $400 to $499 per week/$20,800 to $25,999 per year
• $300 to $399 per week/$15,600 to $20,799 per year
• $150 to $299 per week/$7,800 to $15,599 per year
• $1 to $149 per week/$1 to $7,799 per year
• $0 or nil income
• Negative income

For 2021 there is an additional high income bracket in the response categories. Instructional text has been changed to 'JobSeeker Payment' from 'Newstart allowance'.

Other topics in income and work

The labour force status, status in employment, hours worked, number of employees, occupation and main tasks and industry of employment topics are unchanged. The questions are available on the household form in the Downloads section. Further information from the ABS topic review process can be found here: Income and work.

Unpaid work and care

Questions on unpaid work and care collect information about people’s responsibilities at home such as family and community commitments. These questions are only asked of respondents aged 15 years and over. This information provides insight into how individuals and families balance unpaid work and education with other aspects of their lives.

The information is used to:

  • plan local facilities and services such as childcare and support for carers
  • measure how we contribute to society, such as an indication of social connection within communities.
TopicsHousehold paper form question(s)2021 Census outcomes
Unpaid care, help or assistance of another person due to disability, long term illness or old age56Retain existing topic without change
Unpaid work - domestic activities55Retain existing topic without change
Unpaid care of children57Retain existing topic without change
Unpaid work - voluntary work for an organisation or group54Retain existing topic without change
 

Unpaid care, help or assistance of another person due to disability, long term illness or old age

Submissions through public consultation noted that children (aged less than 15 years old) often provide care, help or assistance to another person but are excluded from reflecting this on the Census due to the age cut off applied to the question. The removal of the age restriction from this question was tested, including whether there is an impact on other data collected. Testing revealed some sensitivity with asking young people this question as well as increased operational complexity. Therefore, there is no change to the age cut off for this question.

Other topics in unpaid work and care

The unpaid work - domestic activities, unpaid work - voluntary work and unpaid care of children topics are unchanged. The questions are available on the household form in the Downloads section. Further information from the ABS topic review process can be found here: Unpaid work and care.

Housing

Information collected in the Census about housing provides an indication of the number and types of homes around Australia as well as information on ownership, renting and costs in terms of rent or mortgage payments.

Housing information is used to:

  • inform planning for community housing
  • plan for future housing needs with demographic information and other data sources
  • provide insights to the extent of overcrowding in parts of Australia
  • estimate the number of people experiencing homelessness.

Dwelling information aids in the development and maintenance of the ABS Address Register, which is critical to how the Census is conducted. This information is also used as a quality measure to ensure that everyone is included in the Census across Australia.

TopicsHousehold paper form question(s)2021 Census outcomes
Type of tenure (including ownership and rental)62Retain existing topic with minor instructional text changes
Landlord type for rented dwellings63Retain existing topic with minor instructional text change, response category wording and order
Measures of homelessness Retain existing topic with minor instructional changes - see place of usual residence topic in Location theme.
Number of bedrooms61Retain existing topic without change
Housing costs64Retain existing topic without change
Other private dwelling information (including structure, type, location, and residential status)Not applicable (this information is canvassed before the Census)Retain existing topic without change
Other non-private dwelling information (including name, address, type, number of persons resident and their residential status)Not applicableRetain existing topic without change
 

Measures of homelessness

Homelessness itself is not a characteristic that is directly collected in the Census. Estimates of the homeless population are derived from the Census using analysis based on both the characteristics observed in the Census and assumptions about the way people respond to Census questions.

Key stakeholders provided feedback that they would like to see improvement in the capture of ‘couch surfing’ (staying temporarily in other households without a usual residence), family homelessness, and transitions to and from homelessness. Minor changes were made to the usual address question under the location topic to provide instructions for respondents who are ‘couch surfing’.

Type of tenure and landlord

Stakeholders supported a need to measure the number and growth of housing purchased under affordable housing schemes or rented through affordable rental programs. There were also suggestions to improve the accuracy of information on the prevalence of different types of social housing (i.e. public and community housing). Testing found that capturing affordable rental options made the questions too complex and there were concerns regarding the overall quality impact.

The ‘Housing co-operative, community or church group’ response category from the 2016 Census has been changed to ‘Community housing provider’. Additional instructional text has been added for this category and the response category order changed to place this category closer to the top.

An instruction has been added to the tenure type question to better explain what shared equity schemes are.

This question seeks information on who the dwelling is being rented from.
Question 63 asks:
Who is this dwelling being rented from?
Response categories are:
• Real estate agent
• Government Housing Authority/Housing Department (Public Housing)
• Community housing provider
• Parent or other relative not in this dwelling
• Other person not in this dwelling
• Manager of a residential park (including caravan parks and manufactured home estates)
• Employer - government (including Defence Housing Australia)
• Employer - private

The response category of ‘Community housing provider’, has replaced the previous category ‘Housing co-operative, community or church group'. Additional instructional text to explain the definitions of some of the response categories has been included. The order of response categories has changed from 2016 for a more intuitive user experience.

Other topics in housing

The questions on number of bedrooms, housing costs, other non-private dwelling information are unchanged. The questions are available on the household form in the Downloads section. Further information from the ABS topic review process can be found here: Housing.

Transport

Information about where people work, how they get to work, and the number of registered motor vehicles garaged at their dwelling helps to:

  • inform planning of road infrastructure and public transportation
  • ensure public services are available where people are most likely to access them during the day
TopicsHousehold paper form question(s)2021 Census outcomes
Mode of travel to work49Retain existing topic with minor change to response categories
Number of motor vehicles60Retain existing topic with change to scope
Name and address of workplace attended45, 48Retain existing topic without change
 

Mode of travel to work

Response categories for the mode of travel to work question for 2021 have changed to include more contemporary transport methods. The response category ‘Taxi’ is expanded to include ride-share services.

This question seeks information on how a person got to work on Tuesday 10 August 2021.
Question 49 asks:
How did the person get to work on Tuesday 10 August 2021?
The response categories are:
• Train
• Bus
• Ferry
• Tram (including light rail)
• Taxi or ride-share service
• Car - as a driver
• Car - as a passenger
• Truck
• Motorcycle or motor scooter
• Bicycle
• Walked only
• Other
• Worked at home
• Did not go to work

In 2021, response category 'Taxi' has been expanded to also include ride-share services.

Number of motor vehicles

The ABS considered removing the number of motor vehicles question from the 2021 Census as there are potential administrative sources for this data. However, consultation revealed strong support to retain this question. This reflected a lack of certainty in the way that the administrative data could replicate the information gathered in the Census. This question will be retained in the 2021 Census. We will continue to work with stakeholders to investigate how administrative sources could be used to help understand motor vehicle ownership in conjunction with other demographic information collected in the Census.

The instructional text for the question has been changed to exclude heavy vehicles.

This question seeks information on how many registered motor vehicles were garaged or parked at the dwelling.
Question 60 asks:
How many registered motor vehicles owned or used by residents of this dwelling were garaged or parked at or near this dwelling on the night of Tuesday 10 August 2021?
Response categories are:
• (two digit free text field) Number of motor vehicles
• None

The instructional text has been updated to exclude heavy vehicles.

Other topics in transport

Questions on name and address of workplace attended are unchanged. The questions are available on the household form in the Downloads section. Further information from the ABS topic review process can be found here: Transport.

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  
Ancestry  
Religious affiliation  
Need for assistance  
Attendance at an educational institution  
Highest year of schooling completed  
Number of children given birth to  
Income  
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.

Recommendation

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

This topic was suggested through public consultation to increase the relevance of the Census to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and possibly increase participation in the Census. Cultural identity was described as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander group, or groups, a person identifies with or feels that they belong to. Examples of such groups were described as mob, clan, nation, or language group.

Options for questions were tested with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups. While some of the questions did test well, the terminology caused confusion among respondents, resulting in low confidence that including the question in the Census would produce quality data. Subsequent discussions with key stakeholders suggested that revising response categories for existing topics could improve the relevance of the Census to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

While a new topic on cultural identity will not be included in the 2021 Census, changes to existing topics on the main language spoken at home and ancestry have been successfully tested to be more inclusive of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (see Cultural Diversity topic section).

Mode of travel and address of educational institution

Travel for education makes up a significant portion of peak hour travel and combined with journey to work data would improve understanding of traffic flows and transport patterns. However, testing a question on the mode of travel to an education institution revealed difficulties collecting and processing this data and this topic will not be included in the 2021 Census.

Details of the educational institution attended could improve the quality of data collected on the type of educational institution attended and transport patterns. Testing revealed some challenges in collecting this data including:

  • burden of response
  • difficulty recalling the address of an educational institution
  • difficulty answering questions when an educational institution has multiple campuses
  • time and significant resources for the development, processing, and analysis of the topic.

Shared care of children

A topic of interest raised through public consultation was children who live across multiple households as part of shared care arrangements. Collection of this data would require changes to existing questions, addition of a new question and significant development of processing systems and will not be included in the 2021 Census.

Household and family relationships

Public consultation submissions indicated that more data on complex family and household structures would assist in policy development and service delivery, particularly in targeting payments and support services to vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. The complex families identified included multigenerational family households, blended families, kinship care arrangements, and LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or intersex) households.

We found that to make these changes significant development of processing systems and testing would be required with a substantial investment of resources. Due to this, no changes are to be implemented for the 2021 Census.

Gender identity

There was significant interest expressed during public consultation that the Census collect gender identity either instead of, or in addition to, sex. While sex refers to a person’s biological characteristics, gender refers to the way a person chooses to identify, and may be different to their sex at birth.

This topic was tested extensively using qualitative methods with a broad range of respondents. It generally performed well, although some respondents expressed confusion that they were being asked about their sex twice. Engagement with the community also identified that there are sensitivities associated with this topic that could pose a risk to the Census.

While stakeholders identified the value of collecting gender identity on the Census, we assessed that there was not sufficient confidence in the quality of the data that would be obtained, and will not be included in the 2021 Census.

Sexual orientation

The public consultation process identified the value of collecting information on sexual orientation on the Census. Information on this topic would be used to inform the development of policy, allocation of resources and delivery of services to people from the LGBTI community. Members from the LGBTI community often have higher levels of vulnerability including experiences of discrimination, abuse and mental health issues that require targeted support.

The topic was tested with a single question, with a pre-defined list of response options and a free text option. The question was tested extensively including with respondents who identified an orientation of lesbian, gay or bisexual. Testing revealed a range of sensitivities including privacy concerns, discomfort, or a lack of comprehension of the question. Additionally, concerns were expressed about answering this question with other members of the household.

Smoking status

Smoking is a key contributor to chronic diseases in Australia. Stakeholders indicated that data on smoking behaviours would be beneficial to plan policies and services to help people quit smoking.

The smoking status topic was tested.  There is a limited capacity to add questions to the Census and new questions are assessed based on priority. This question was assessed as being of lower priority than other proposed new topics and will not be included in the 2021 Census.

Dwelling internet connection

The 2016 Census included a question which asked whether any member of the household accessed the internet from the dwelling. Consultation suggested that with the growth in internet access outside of the home on mobile and other devices and the fast pace of technological change, the collection of data on household internet access in the Census now has less relevance.

Downloads

2021 Census Household paper form

Census topics 1911-2021

Catalogue number

This content is released under ABS catalogue number 2008.0.