Indicator: Socio-economic Equity

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Average values of several indicators of income and employment continued to be higher in the ACT than nationally. For example, average weekly earnings in the ACT stayed higher than those for Australia as a whole; gross household income and gross household disposable income in the ACT were the highest of all states and territories, exceeding the national average by around 40%.

In addition, the ACT had the nation's second lowest proportion of government payments as the main income source, and easily the highest proportion of wages and salaries as the main income source. The ACT employment participation rate (15–64 age group) was significantly higher than the national figure.

The relative wealth of the ACT population obscures a number of inequities in the ACT community. In the most disadvantaged suburbs, there was a high correlation between the proportion of people in poverty and primary dependence on government payments but little indication of a 'working poor';. The geographic distribution of low-income households also resembles that for unemployed people, people aged 65 years or older, dwellings with no motor vehicles and, to a lesser extent, one-parent families with dependent children.

There were indications of a link between economic disadvantage and poor health.

Male earnings continued to exceed those of females.

In recognition of the social challenges facing the ACT, during the reporting period the Government began to develop a Social Plan as part of a Canberra Plan. Subsequent State of the Environment reports will monitor the progress and implementation of these plans.

What the results tell us about the ACT

Incomes continue to rise

Level and reliability of income is one of the most significant factors in assessing and illustrating social gradients and relative disadvantage in the community. Income is related to the number of people earning in the household, as well as the amount earned by each individual.

Within the ACT the average weekly ordinary time earning exhibited an upward trend throughout the reporting period, from $922.00 to $1062.30 (see Table 1).

ACT weekly earnings also remained higher than the average for Australia throughout the reporting period (Table 1). In fact the ACT weekly earnings have exceeded the average for Australia by more than 12% since at least 1994 when State of the Environment reporting in the ACT started.

Table 1: Average weekly earnings, ACT and Australia as at August 2000 to 2003
Category Aug 2000 Aug 2001 Aug 2002 Aug 2003
ACT $922.00 $945.70 $988.10 $1062.30
National $794.80 $837.30 $878.00 $929.90
ACT > National $127.20 (16.0%) $108.40 (12.9%) $110.10 (12.5%) $132.40 (14.2%)
Category Aug 2000 Aug 2001 Aug 2002 Aug 2003

Source: Average Weekly Earnings, Australia, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Cat. No. 6302.0 (Nov 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004). Trend data

Consistent with the higher average weekly ordinary time earnings, gross household income and gross household disposable income in the ACT exceeded the national average by an average of 42.2% and 46.5% respectively over the three-year reporting period (see Table 2). Although there was some fluctuation, on both of these measures the rate of increase in the ACT overall exceeded the national rate of increase throughout the reporting period.

These results reflect the very high employment participation rate in the ACT (see the economy indicator result).

Table 2: Household income, ACT and Australia, June 2000 to June 2003
Household Income per capita 2000–01 2001–02 2002–03
ACT National ACT National ACT National
Gross $43,467 $30,413 $43,977 $31,418 $46,612 $32,430
Gross disposable $34,722 $23,668 $34,901 $24,301 $36,831 $24,677

Source: Compiled from Australian National Accounts, State Accounts 2002–03, Australian Bureau of Statistics,
Cat. No. 5220.0

More white collar workers

Data from the 1991, 1996 and 2001 Census recording the occupations of people over 15 years of age working in the ACT shows a trend toward more people working in professional, clerical and service jobs, and fewer in trades and labour jobs. Management and administration jobs have remained relatively stable (see Table 3).

Similar trends continued up to the year ended May 2002, with 28% of all employed people employed as professionals, 20% employed as intermediate clerical, sales and service workers and 13% employed as associate professionals.

Table 3: Occupation composition, ACT in Census years 1991, 1996 and 2001
Occupation 1991 1996 2001
Professionals 22.3% 25.3% 26.1% 21,690 males
20,286 females
Intermediate clerical, sales and service workers 12.9% 18.5% 18.1% 9,087 males
20,005 females
Associate professionals 8.1% 12.2% 14.2% 12,058 males
10,724 females
Managers and administrators 11.2% 11.7% 11.4% 11,911 males
6,461 females
Tradespersons and related workers 9.3% 8.3% 8.0% 11,270 males
1,531 females
Labourers and related workers 4.6% 4.2% 4.0% 3,782 males
2,521 females

Source: Compiled from 2001 Census Basic Community Profile and Snapshot, Australian Capital Territory, 19 November 2002, Australian Bureau of Statistics. Note: The occupation classification was altered substantially after the 1991 Census. Figures from 1991 should be used as an indicator only.

Wealth is unevenly distributed

At the 2001 Census, 16.8% of households in the Canberra–Queanbeyan area received a weekly income of $2000 or more. The highest proportion of high income households was in Forrest (more than 50%), with proportions more than 30% also recorded in O’Malley, Fadden, Bruce, Chapman, Isaacs, Nicholls and Red Hill. The geographic distribution of high-income households resembles those for people with university qualifications and owner-occupied dwellings.

At the other end of the scale, 19.5% of households in the Canberra–Queanbeyan area received a weekly income of less than $500. Relatively high proportions of low-income households were recorded in the ACT in Symonston in South Canberra, Braddon, Reid, Turner and Ainslie in North Canberra, Belconnen Town Centre, and Lyons in the Woden Valley. The geographic distribution of low-income households resembles those for unemployed people, people aged 65 years or older, dwellings with no motor vehicles and, to a lesser extent, one-parent families with dependent children.

Data from the 2001 Census are supported by Australian Social Trends (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2004, catalogue no. 4102.0) and a 2002 study of disadvantage in the ACT (Bill, Lloyd and Harding, 2002).

Australian Social Trends data for 2000–01 indicated that the proportion of all households with government pensions and allowances as the main source of income was 15.4% in the ACT, compared with 28.3% nationally. The ACT figures may be explained in part by the lower proportions of aged people on age pensions, as set out in Table 4.

These results reflect the relatively younger age of the ACT (see the population indicator result) along with the high employment rates and high proportion of public sector employment, which has traditionally generated self-funded retirees.

Table 4: Proportion of aged on age pension, ACT and Australia, June 2000 to June 2002
2000 2001 2002
ACT National ACT National ACT National
53.6% 67.8% 51.4% 65.8% 52.3% 66.2%

Source: Compiled from Australian Social Trends, Australian Bureau of Statistics Cat. No. 4102.0 (2001; 2002; 2003, 2004)

The 2002 study found there was little evidence of a ‘working poor’ in the ACT. An average of 76.6% of households in the most disadvantaged suburbs cited government payments as their main source of income, which is much higher than elsewhere in Australia. That study also found that low-income households in the ACT were more likely to derive income from government payments than from sources such as wages and salary, self-employment or other income. This was most marked where just over half of those in poverty live in households where the head was not in the labour force, such as in the suburbs of Ainslie, Narrabundah and O’Connor, and where more than one-third of those in poverty live in households where the head is unemployed, such as in Charnwood. In other words, to be poor in the ACT is more likely to mean being on a pension or absence of work rather than being in the workforce and poorly paid.

Gender inequity in relation to incomes is a continuing phenomenon in the ACT, as well as across Australia. Table 5 shows that male earnings continued to exceed female earnings throughout the reporting period. Average weekly full-time adult females’ ordinary time earnings expressed as a percentage of average weekly full-time adult males’ ordinary time earnings at the end of this reporting period averaged 84.7% and varied little during the reporting period.

Table 5. Male and female earnings, ACT in August for 2000 to 2003
Gender Aug 2000 Aug 2001 Aug 2002 Aug 2003
Males $996.80 $1011.60 $1053.60 $1144.20
Females $836.20 $862.60 $904.70 $956.90
Male>Female $160.60 (19.2%) $149.00 (17.3%) $148.90 (16.5%) $187.30 (19.6%)
Female as % of male 83.8% 85.3% 85.9% 83.6%

Source: Average Weekly Ordinary Time earnings—derived from Australian Bureau of Statistics data Cat. No. 6302.0

While the ACT can claim higher individual and household incomes than for Australia as a whole (as expressed for all persons in Tables 1 and 2), the difference in the ACT between female and male full-time earnings is little different from the national differential which was between 84% and 85% throughout the reporting period. So higher incomes, higher rates of employment, higher public sector/white collar work have not translated into greater gender equity in relation to earnings.

Some categories of occupation also continued to be dominated by a particular sex. Males dominated as tradespeople (92%), labourers and related workers (64%), managers and administrators (58%) and professionals (55%). Conversely, females dominated as intermediate clerical, sales and service (70%) and elementary clerical, sales and service (58%) occupations.

In November 2001 the private sector employed 92,100 people (or 56% of ACT wage and salary earners). Total gross earnings for 2000–01 were $6339 million, of which $2699 million were made in the private sector. Although 56% of wage and salary earners in the ACT were employed in the private sector, their gross earnings represented only 43% of total gross earnings in that year.

Link between low incomes and poor health

Despite the apparent wealth of the ACT population, there is evidence that the poor and the unemployed suffer disadvantage in a number of other ways including educational achievements and health outcomes. These are discussed separately in other indicators in this report.

They have also been the subjects of a number of reports, including:

  • the forthcoming ACT Council of Social Services (ACTCOSS) report, Sustaining the Social Relations of Health in the ACT
  • A Social and Demographic Profile of Multicultural Canberra (ACT Government, 2003).

Limited ACTCOSS research on the health status of people living on low incomes in the ACT, includes a project focusing on the experience of people accessing community services in the Civic area. Of these people, 70% live on less than $300 per week and 90% on less than $500 per week. Participants in the research generally reported poor health.

Comparison with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (Australian Bureau of Statistics) Health Survey for the ACT, while not statistically valid, suggests a marked difference between health levels of the disadvantaged and the average resident (see Table 6).

Table 6: Self-reported health status, total population versus ‘disadvantaged’
Status Australian Bureau of Statistics National Health Survey–ACT, 2001 ACTCOSS ‘disadvantaged’ sample
Excellent/very good 54.2% 3.8%
Good 29.9% 30.8%
Poor/fair 15.9% 65.4%

Source: ACTCOSS (forthcoming)

Employment is unevenly distributed

High percentages of unemployed people (11% or more of the labour force) were recorded in Acton, Bruce and part of Belconnen Town Centre, reflecting high proportions of students in those areas. These were also areas with relatively high proportions of people aged 15–24 years, people speaking a language other than English at home, and recent arrivals. High proportions were also recorded in inner northern suburbs of Turner, Reid and Braddon, which contained a high proportion of recent arrivals, low-income households and privately owned rented dwellings; and in Symonston, Charnwood and Lyons. More than one-third of those in poverty live in households where the head is unemployed, such as in Charnwood (33.7%).

Data sources and references

The Australian Bureau of Statistics undertakes the Labour Force Survey every month.

Average weekly earnings—descriptions of the underlying concepts of Australia's average weekly earnings statistics, and the sources and methods used in compiling these estimates, are presented in Labour Statistics: Concepts, Sources and Methods(Australian Bureau of Statistics catalogue no. 6102.0) which is available on the Australian Bureau of Statistics web site (About Statistics - Concepts and Classifications).

Gross income – households—the total income, whether in cash or kind, receivable by persons normally resident in Australia. It includes both income in return for productive activity (such as compensation of employees, the gross mixed income of unincorporated enterprises, gross operating surplus on dwellings owned by persons, and property income receivable, etc.) and transfers receivable (such as social assistance benefits and non-life insurance claims). Reference: Australian National Accounts: State Accounts (Australian Bureau of Statistics catalogue no. 5220.0)

Gross household disposable income per capita—where gross household disposable income, as measured in the Australian System of National Accounts, is gross household income less income tax payable, other current taxes on income, wealth etc., consumer debt interest, interest payable by dwellings and unincorporated enterprises, social contributions for workers’ compensation, net non-life insurance premiums and other current transfers payable by households. The population used is the mean resident population for the financial year. Reference: Australian National Accounts: State Accounts (Australian Bureau of Statistics catalogue no. 5220.0)

Trend estimates shown in this report for August of each year of the reporting period are the revised figures published 15 months after the date. Explanatory notes for the Australian Bureau of Statistics publication Average Weekly Earnings, Australia (Australian Bureau of Statistics catalogue no. 6302.0) describe the averaging method used by Australian Bureau of Statistics for calculating trend data which can lead to revisions in the trend estimates for the last three quarters when data become available for later quarters. As a result, the average weekly earnings from Australian Bureau of Statistics catalogue no. 6302.0 for August 2000 shown in this report revise those shown in the 2000 State of the Environment Report.


ACT Council of Social Services (forthcoming), Sustaining the Social Relations of Health in the ACT: Draft Report, ACTCOSS, Canberra

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2002) Australia’s Health, AIHW, Canberra

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2003) Canberra: a Social Atlas, Cat. No. 2030.8

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2002) Census of Population and Housing: Selected Social and Housing Characteristics, Australia, Cat. No. 2015.0

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2002) 2001 Census Basic Community Profile and Snapshot – Australian Capital Territory, Cat. No. 2015.8

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2002) Australian Capital Territory in Focus 2002, Cat. No. 1307.8

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2003) Australian National Accounts, State Accounts 2001–02, Cat. No. 5220.0.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2001) (2002) (2003) Australian Social Trends, Cat. No. 4102.0

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2003) Average Weekly Earnings, Australia July 2003, Cat. No. 6302.0

Australian Bureau of Statistics, Wage and Salary Earners, Cat. No. 6248.0

Bill A, Lloyd R & Harding A (2002) Locating poverty in the ACT, National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling/University of Canberra/ACT Government

SCRCSSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Commonwealth/State Service Provision) 2003, Report on Government Services 2003, AusInfo, Canberra.

Standing Committee on Health and Community Care (2000) Inquiry into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health in the ACT, Legislative Assembly for the Australian Capital Territory, Canberra.

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