Area-level socioeconomic outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in the 2016 and 2021 Censuses

Author/editor: Biddle, N, Markham, F
Publisher: Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research
Year published: 2023
Issue no.: 144


Since the 2001 Census, the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR) has developed the Indigenous Relative Socioeconomic Outcomes (IRSEO) index to assist Indigenous communities and organisations in advocating for resource allocation based on relative needs, and assist governments in directing services toward areas with the most significant impact on Indigenous populations. This study replicates previous analyses using data from the 2021 Census.

After describing the 2021 IRSEO index, this paper expands on previous analysis in four ways. First, it examines the ongoing need for an index of socioeconomic outcomes that is specific to the Indigenous population. Second, it examines changes in relative Indigenous socioeconomic outcomes over time, asking which sorts of places have become relatively more advantaged and which relatively less advantaged. Third, it investigates the validity of a new census question about long-term health conditions for the Indigenous population, and investigates whether it provides a useful measure of Indigenous health outcomes to include in the IRSEO index. And fourth, it examines the potential impact of COVID‑19 restrictions on the Indigenous relative socioeconomic outcomes recorded in the 2021 Census.

Our findings indicate that spatial inequalities in Indigenous socioeconomic outcomes have widened from 2016 to 2021, with regional areas experiencing more rapid improvements compared to other urban or remote locations. Conversely, outcomes in remote Indigenous towns and locations in the Northern Territory have further declined relative to the rest of the country. Despite the 2021 Census occurring amidst heightened COVID-19 governmental interventions, the impact on relative Indigenous socioeconomic outcomes appears to be minimal. We also find that newly introduced health-related questions in the census exhibit limited internal validity for evaluating Indigenous health outcomes. Accordingly, they have been excluded from the IRSEO index.

The 2021 IRSEO index, as detailed in this article, can be accessed and downloaded from the CAEPR website.

Updated:  26 February 2024/Responsible Officer:  Centre Director/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications