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Ancestry Standard

The Ancestry standard is able to measure an association with ethnic and cultural groups which do not equate directly to countries or languages

Reference period
2014, Version 2.1
Released
28/08/2014
Next release Unknown
First release

Introduction

The development of Australia as a multicultural society and the subsequent wider interest in constructing statistical profiles of particular ethnic or cultural groups has, over the years, increased the demand for quality data relating to cultural and language diversity.

Since the time of British settlement, cultural and language diversity in Australia has been widely influenced by immigration. There is significant community interest in measuring the ethnic and cultural composition of the Australian population and in identifying the characteristics of particular migrant community groups. An important element of cultural and language diversity in Australia is the extent to which Australians retain the culture, ethnicity or language of their parents. Retention of cultural and language diversity is determined by the Country of Birth variables, in association with variables such as Indigenous Status, Religious Affiliation, Year of Arrival in Australia and language variables such as First Language Spoken, Proficiency in Spoken English and Main Language Other Than English Spoken At Home.

Indigenous Status is a separate variable measuring a specific element of ancestry, namely whether a person is of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin. However, it does not necessarily provide information on all elements of a person's ancestry.

It is strongly suggested that the Ancestry variable be used in conjunction with these variables in order to identify particular ethnic origin or cultural groups, as it provides a self assessed measure of ethnic origin and cultural background. However, Ancestry in the Australian context is complex as there are many Australians with origins and heritage that do not, in practice, relate to their current ethnic identity. Ancestry data alone, therefore, is not considered a good measure of service needs or the extent to which persons from certain backgrounds are associated with advantage or disadvantage. When Ancestry data is used alone, it should only be done to represent a broad measure of cultural diversity.

A major advantage of the Ancestry variable is that it is able to measure an association with ethnic and cultural groups which do not equate directly to countries or languages and thus cannot be readily identified using country of birth or language variables. For instance, the Ancestry variable assists in the identification and measurement of ethnic and cultural minorities which exist or originate within particular countries, ethnic and cultural groups which form a distinct unbroken geographic block across neighbouring country borders, and ethnic and cultural groups which are located in many disparate countries across the world.

The Ancestry variable was included in the 1986 Census of Population and Housing but was not included in the 1991 or 1996 Censuses. However, due to an increasing demand for these data by many groups in the community, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) included an Ancestry question in the 2001, 2006 and 2011 Censuses.

The Ancestry variable was developed by a working group comprising the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA now the Department of Immigration and Border Protection DIBP), the Multicultural Affairs Unit of the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet and the Australian Bureau of Statistics and was officially endorsed in 1999 as one of the standard set of indicators for use in measuring cultural and linguistic diversity. It is to be progressively implemented in administrative and service settings to provide data to determine, measure and monitor service needs (in terms of access and equity requirements), and to provide a measure of cultural diversity in its broader sense.

Underlying concepts

Name of variable

The standard name of the variable is Ancestry.

Definition of variable

Nominal definition

Ancestry describes the ethnic origin or cultural heritage to which a person identifies and/or to which a person's forebears are/were attached.

Ancestry is an attribute of the counting unit 'person'. 

Operational definition

Operationally, Ancestry is defined as the ethnic origin or cultural groups which a person identifies as being his or her ancestry. For example, a respondent may indicate four ancestries because each grandparent is from a different ethnic origin or cultural background (say Italian, Greek, German, English). However, another person with the same ancestry may choose to identify as 'Australian' because one or both parents were born in Australia, or because of a cultural or national attachment to this country. Ancestry therefore involves measures of self-identification of ethnic origin or cultural group affiliation or nationality as well as of descent from one or more particular groups.

Discussion of conceptual issues

Ancestry describes the ethnic origin or cultural heritage a person identifies with or to which a person's forebears are/were attached.

It is strongly suggested that the Ancestry variable be used in conjunction with the Country of Birth variablesIndigenous StatusReligious Affiliation, and language variables in order to identify particular ethnic origin or cultural groups. The Ancestry variable provides a self assessed measure of ethnicity and cultural background, however, Ancestry in the Australian context is complex as there are many Australians with origins and heritage that do not, in practice, relate to their current ethnic identity. Ancestry data alone, therefore, is not considered a good measure of service needs or the extent to which persons from certain backgrounds are associated with advantage or disadvantage. When Ancestry data is used alone, it should only be done to represent a broad measure of cultural diversity. The major advantage of the Ancestry variable is that it is able to measure an association with an ethnic origin and cultural groups which cannot be measured by questions relating to Country of Birth or language variables. For instance the Ancestry variable assists in the identification and measurement of ethnic and cultural minorities which exist or originate within particular countries, ethnic origins and cultural groups which form a distinct unbroken geographic block across neighbouring country borders, and ethnic and cultural groups which are located in many disparate countries across the world. 

Many people in Australia identify with a number of cultural backgrounds and do not relate to a single ethnic or cultural group. These people will give multiple responses to a question on ancestry, ethnicity or cultural identity. Often the responses will indicate an identification with Australia in a national or cultural sense, but will also acknowledge continuing ties with other ethnic or cultural groups (e.g. Irish Australian, Italian Australian). This does not mean that people who identify primarily with other ethnicities, ancestries or cultures do not also regard themselves as Australian in most senses. The problem is with the terminology. "Australian" is used as the adjective to describe the culture that has developed in this country over the last two hundred years, and also to describe all members of the citizenry regardless of whether or not they regard their ethnicity, culture or ancestry as Australian.

A question on each person's Ancestry, was asked for the first time in the 1986 Census. This was the result of investigation by the 1986 Population Census Ethnicity Committee on the need for data on ethnicity other than language, country of birth or country of birth of parents. The question was designed to identify the respondent's origin rather than a subjective perception of their ethnic background. Even so, some subjectivity was involved because of the range of possible interpretations of the term "ancestry". 

Classification and coding

Classification criteria

Classification criteria are the principles by which classification categories are aggregated to form broader or higher level categories in a classification structure.

The classification criteria and the way they have been applied have produced a classification structure that can be described in conventional terms: cultural and ethnic entities grouped to form narrow groups on the basis of geographic proximity and similarity in terms of cultural and social characteristics; and narrow groups aggregated to form broad groups on the basis of geographic proximity and a degree of similarity in terms of their characteristics.

More details regarding the classification criteria are included in the Australian Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups (ASCCEG) (ABS catalogue number 1249.0).

The standard classification and code structure

The ASCCEG is to be used when collecting, aggregating and disseminating data relating to the variable Ancestry. The ASCCEG is designed to be used in the classification of information relating to ancestry. The term 'ethnicity' is used in the context of the ASCCEG, but only to describe a shared identity or similarity of a group of people on the basis of one or more factors e.g. shared history, cultural traditions, religion and/or language. In this sense, the term 'ethnicity' can, of course, be applied to all members of the Australian population. 'Australian' or 'Aboriginal' are valid descriptors of ethnicity.

The classification has a three level hierarchical structure. The third and most detailed level of the classification consists of base or third-level units which are ethnic origin or cultural groups. Included in the third-level units are a number of 'not elsewhere classified' (nec) categories, which contain ethnic origin or cultural groups that are not listed separately in the classification.

The second level of the classification comprises narrow groups of ethnic origin and cultural groups which are similar in terms of the classification criteria (geographic proximity in terms of the areas in which they originated, a long shared history, and similarity in terms of social and cultural characteristics).

The first and most general level of the classification comprises broad groups of ethnic origin and cultural groups. Broad groups are formed by aggregating geographically proximate narrow groups.

In the classification, one digit codes, two digit codes and four digit codes are assigned to the first level, second level and third level categories of the classification respectively. The first digit identifies the broad group in which each cultural and ethnic origin group or Narrow Group is contained. The first two digits taken together identify the narrow group in which each base level cultural and ethnic group is contained. The four digit codes represent each of the base level cultural and ethnic origin groups. For example, the code 2 represents the Broad Group North-West European; the code 21 represents the Narrow Group British which is included within North-West European; and the code 2101 represents English which is included in the Narrow Group British. 

The following example demonstrates the code scheme for the narrow groups and cultural and ethnic groups included under the broad group North-West European:

2 - North-West European

  • 21 - British
    • 2101 - English
    • 2102 - Scottish
    • 2103 - Welsh
    • 2104 - Channel Islander
    • 2105 - Manx
    • 2199 - British, nec
  • 22 - Irish
    • 2201 - Irish
  • 23 - Western European
    • 2301 - Austrian
    • 2303 - Dutch
    • 2304 - Flemish
    • 2305 - French
    • 2306 - German
    • 2307 - Swiss
    • 2311 - Belgian
    • 2312 - Frisian
    • 2313 - Luxembourg
    • 2399 - Western European, nec
  • 24 - Northern European
    • 2401 - Danish
    • 2402 - Finnish
    • 2403 - Icelandic
    • 2404 - Norwegian
    • 2405 - Swedish
    • 2499 - Northern European, nec
       

The full standard classification and code structure are included in the ASCCEG.

The standard input categories for the Ancestry question module are the base-level units of the ASCCEG and are represented by their four digit codes. For operational reasons, supplementary codes also exist to enable inadequately described responses to be processed within a collection and coded at the four digit level.

Residual categories and codes

For each narrow group of the classification structure, a four digit code, consisting of the two digits of the narrow group followed by the digit '99', is reserved as a residual 'not elsewhere classified' (nec) category. Cultural and ethnic origin groups which are not separately identified in the classification structure are included in the residual (nec) category of the narrow group to which they refer. Residual categories are only identified in the classification structure if they are needed. The classification currently identifies 23 residual categories.

In each broad group, codes are also reserved for residual categories at the narrow group level. These codes consist of the broad group code followed by '9'. These categories are termed 'other' and consist of separately identified cultural and ethnic groups which do not fit into any of the narrow groups contained within the broad group on the basis of the classification criteria. The classification contains 2 such residual categories.

Residual categories are part of the standard classification and should not be created or used to code responses which contain sufficient information to be accurately assigned to another category of the classification. For more details regarding the residual categories and codes used when coding ancestry, see the ASCCEG.

Supplementary codes

Supplementary codes are used to process inadequately described responses in statistical, administrative and service delivery collections. These codes are of three types:

  • The four digit codes ending with two or three zeros are described as 'not further defined' (nfd) codes and are used to code responses to a statistical or administrative question which cannot be accurately coded to one of the base level units of the classification but which can be coded to a higher level category.
  • The four digit codes commencing with three zeros are supplementary codes included for operational purposes to allow the coding of survey responses and other data that cannot be allocated a code at any level of the classification structure.
  • The four digit codes commencing with '09' are used to code responses and other data relating to specific and recognised entities which are not discrete cultural and ethnic groups according to the ASCCEG principles and which cannot be allocated an nfd code as described above.
     

Supplementary codes are not part of the main classification structure. They exist for operational reasons only, and no data would be coded to them if sufficiently detailed responses were obtained in all instances. More details regarding the supplementary codes (e.g. 'not further defined' (nfd), 'inadequately described' and 'not stated') used when coding ancestry are included in the ASCCEG.

Collection methods

Detailed question module

This question module is recommended for all household based surveys and other statistical and administrative collections designed to collect data on Ancestry. When used in conjunction with Country of Birth and language variables, it provides detailed information about the ethnic diversity of the Australian population.

The standard question module for obtaining detailed data for Ancestry is:

Q. What is [your] [the person's] [(name)'s] ancestry?

Provide up to two ancestries only.

Examples of 'Other – please specify' are: Spanish, Vietnamese, Hmong, Welsh, Kurdish, Maori, Lebanese, Australian South Sea Islander.

English
Irish
Scottish
Chinese
Italian
German
Indian
Greek
Dutch
Australian
Other - please specify: ............................................................

The list of ancestries provided with this question module reflects the most common responses to this question from the previous Census. It is recommended that 'Australian' be positioned last in the pick list of responses, before 'Other – please specify', to encourage respondents to consider the question and other ancestries with which they may identify. This list ensures compatibility across collections and is used to minimise coding costs. It will be reviewed periodically as different ancestries assume a greater or lesser significance in the Australian context. The note 'Provide up to two ancestries only' may be modified to suit the number of ancestries to be collected for the purposes of the survey or Census.

The list of ancestries can be truncated should space on the collection instrument be an issue. If the list of ancestries is truncated, the ancestries omitted from the list should be added as examples of 'Other – please specify' above the truncated list.

The 'Other' category is included for those people who have an ancestry or ancestries not offered in the list as a response to the question. 'Please specify' is added to the 'Other' category and a space is provided for respondents to write in their ancestry response(s).

Each ancestry response will need to be matched with an appropriate entry in the Australian Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups (ASCCEG) using a coding index. Coding indexes are tools that support categorisation of information against a statistical classification and contain terms that are not officially recognised (e.g. synonyms and misspelt terms). A coding index may be of use to anyone seeking to code responses to a statistical classification and may be requested by contacting standards@abs.gov.au.

All responses to questions about ancestry that are coded to ASCCEG use the coding rules detailed on the 'Index for Coding Responses' page of the ASCCEG. Responses are matched with entries in an ASCCEG coding index to determine the correct classification code.

Basic question module

If space constraints prevent the full question from fitting onto the question form then the tick boxes can be removed and a space can be provided for ancestry responses to be entered by the respondent. A consequence of this modification to the question format will be the addition of significant coding costs to the collection of the data. In this case each response will need to be matched with an appropriate entry in an ASCCEG coding index (see Index for Coding Responses) which may be requested by contacting standards@abs.gov.au. As a result of the additional coding costs the shortened question format is likely to be appropriate only for certain limited collections. Some examples of the appropriate application of the shortened question format are as follows: small scale data collection activities, situations in which data entry of verbatim responses is an administrative requirement, and situations in which optical character recognition data capture technologies are used which allow automatic matching of response data with index entries. The shortened question module is represented below:

Q. What is [your] [the person's] [(name)'s] ancestry?

For example: English, Irish, Hmong, Kurdish, Italian, Greek, Maori, Vietnamese.

(Provide more than one ancestry if necessary.)

Ancestry: ............................................................

Since the above questions are subject to an ongoing program of testing in ABS collections and are subject to change, it is recommended that agencies wishing to collect Ancestry in their own data collection activities contact the ABS before implementing this standard. If you have any queries, you can email the Statistical Standards and Infrastructure Section at the Australian Bureau of Statistics at the following address: standards@abs.gov.au. The ABS Privacy Policy outlines how the ABS will handle any personal information that you provide to us.

Output

Standard output categories

The hierarchical structure of the Australian Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups (ASCCEG) allows users the flexibility to output statistics at the level of the classification which best suits their requirements. Data can be presented at the broad group level, narrow group level, or the base (cultural and ethnic origin group) level. If necessary, significant ethnic origin or cultural groups within a narrow group can be presented separately while the remaining ethnic origin groups within the narrow group are aggregated. For example, the third level category 'Finnish' can be separately identified as an output category within the 'Northern European' Narrow Group, with the remaining third-level categories in this narrow group aggregated in an 'Other Northern European' category. The same principle can be adopted to highlight significant narrow groups within a broad group.

Regardless of the level of aggregation envisaged for the dissemination of statistics, data should be captured, classified and stored at the base-level of the ASCCEG wherever possible. Collecting and storing data at the most detailed level of the classification allows the greatest flexibility for the output of statistics, enables more detailed and complex analysis, facilitates comparisons with previous data using different classifications, and preserves information that provides maximum flexibility for future use of the data.

However, the constraints affecting each statistical collection or other application, such as problems with confidentiality or standard errors, may not permit the collection or output of data at the lower levels of the classification.

In instances where significant cultural and ethnic origin groups within a narrow group are presented separately while the remaining base level units within the group are aggregated, the aggregate group should be labelled 'Other'. Similarly, aggregated narrow groups within a broad group are labelled 'Other'.

Cultural and ethnic origin groups from different narrow groups should not be combined as this corrupts the application of the classification criteria and has repercussions on data comparability. Similarly, narrow groups from different broad groups should not be combined.

The following is an example (for illustration purposes only) of the correct approach to producing output for selected cultural and ethnic origin groups which may be of interest in a particular application:

Oceanian

  • Australian Peoples
    • Australian
    • Australian Aboriginal
    • Australian South Sea Islander
    • Torres Strait Islander
  • New Zealand Peoples
  • Other

North-West European

  • British
    • English
    • Scottish
    • Other
  • Irish
  • Western European
    • Dutch
    • German
    • Other
  • Northern European

Southern and Eastern European

  • Southern European
    • Italian
    • Spanish
    • Other
  • South Eastern European
    • Greek
    • Macedonian
    • Other
  • Eastern European

North African and Middle Eastern

  • Arab
  • Jewish
  • Other

South-East Asian

  • Vietnamese
  • Indonesian
  • Other

North-East Asian

  • Chinese Asian
  • Other North-East Asian

Southern and Central Asian

  • Southern Asian
    • Indian
    • Pakistani
    • Other
  • Central Asian

People of the Americas

  • North American
  • Other

Sub-Saharan African

Supporting variables

Ancestry does not require any supporting variables. However, it is strongly recommended that the variable should be used with other cultural and linguistic diversity variables for the purposes of most analysis. Such variables include Country of Birth variables, Indigenous Status, Religious Affiliation, Year of Arrival in Australia and language variables.

Measurement issues

The Ancestry question will record all claims of association with ancestries, ethnic origins and cultures. As such, multiple responses are encouraged.

The purpose of the Australian Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups (ASCCEG) is to code the extent to which people associate or identify with particular ethnic and cultural groups. The classification is not intended to classify people, but rather all claims of association with an ethnic origin or cultural group, i.e. one ancestry response is not equal to one person. Many people do not relate to a single ethnic origin or cultural group and will give multiple responses to a question on ancestry, ethnicity or cultural identity. It is recommended that a minimum of two and a maximum of four ethnic origins and cultural groups nominated by a person on a statistical or administrative form be collected and coded (to capture responses such as 'Australian Italian', and for those people who wish to identify with, say, the ethnicities of each of their grandparents). The ABS has developed guidelines for the coding, storage and presentation of multiple responses to questions on ancestry, ethnicity or cultural identity data. These guidelines are included in the ASCCEG publication.

The normal constraints affecting statistical collections, such as problems with confidentiality or standard errors which may not permit the collection or output of data for some of the categories at the lower levels of the classification, apply to the Ancestry variable.

Indigenous Status is a separate variable measuring a specific element of ancestry, namely whether a person is of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin. However, it does not necessarily provide information on all elements of a person's ancestry.

The Ancestry question in the 1986 Census of Population and Housing was classified and coded using a non-standard classification and coding index.

References

Show all

  • Australian Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups (ASCCEG), Second Edition. (ABS Cat. No. 1249.0) 2011.
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011, 2011 Census Dictionary (Cat. no. 2901.0), ABS, Canberra.
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics 1999, Standards for Statistics on Cultural and Language Diversity (Cat no. 1289.0), ABS, Canberra.
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics 1998, 2001, 2013 Census of Population and Housing: ABS Views on Content and Procedures (Cat no. 2007.0), ABS, Canberra.
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics 1994, Testing of Ethnic Origin Questions for the 1996 Census, Census Working Paper 94/4, ABS, Canberra.
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics 1984, The Measurement of Ethnicity in the Australian Census of Population and Housing, Report to the Australian Statistician by the 1986 Population Census Ethnicity Committee (Cat. no. 2172.0), ABS, Canberra.
  • Kunz, C. 2003. 2001 Census: Ancestry - First and Second Generation Australians. ABS Census Paper 03/01a.
  • Kunz, C. and Costello L. 2003. 2001 Census: Ancestry - Detailed Paper. ABS Census Paper 03/01a.
     

History of changes

Show all

15/06/2018 – this release updates the detailed question module response order based on the results of the 2016 Census and updates information about how to treat response options that are omitted if the full list of response options is truncated.

04/04/2017 – this release removes references to a coding index that was previously included with the Australian Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups (ASCCEG), 2016 (ABS catalogue number 1249.0) and states it is available on request. Links to other statistical standards referred to in this product have been updated to connect to the most recent versions.