A person’s wellbeing is influenced by many factors, but having an adequate income remains an essential component in the measurement of individual and household wellbeing. Adequate levels of income for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians can help them better support themselves, their families and their communities more broadly.

The Australian Government provides long or short-term income support payments to people who cannot fully support themselves. For many disadvantaged Australians, including Indigenous Australians, having access to income assistance is key in ensuring economic and social wellbeing.

Indigenous Australians have lower average levels of employment and earnings from work and other private income sources than the general population, which can lead to higher levels of dependence on government assistance for income support (AIHW 2015:289; SCRGSP 2016).

The analysis on this page shows that for Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over:

  • their median household income grew moderately between 2011 and 2016, and this growth was faster for Indigenous than non-Indigenous Australians
  • the proportion of the total population who relied on a government pension or allowance as their main source of personal income fell between 2002 and 2014–15
  • the proportion of the total population who received any form of income support payments from Centrelink has remained about the same in recent years.

See also ‘Chapter 4 Income support among working-age Indigenous Australians’ and ‘Chapter 3 Income support over the past 20 years’ in Australia's welfare 2019: data insights for more information on trends in the use of income support by Indigenous Australians and the general population.

Household income

The Census of Population and Housing compiles household income data for specific sub-groups, including for Indigenous Australians, non-Indigenous Australians, and the total population. This page focuses on Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over ranked by the income level of the household they live in, but with adjustments accounting for differences in household size and age profile of household members. With these adjustments, income level is referred to as the ‘equivalised’ gross weekly household income. See glossary for definitions.

Figure 1 shows median values for equivalised (or adjusted) gross weekly household income for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over in 2016 and 2011.

In 2016:

  • the median adjusted weekly household income among all Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over was $623 compared with $935 for non-Indigenous Australians (ABS 2019). This indicates that the Indigenous median weekly income was 33% lower
  • the median adjusted weekly household income for Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over in 2016 was 19% higher than in 2011 ($522)—9% higher after adjusting for inflation
  • the median adjusted weekly household income for non-Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over grew by 5% between 2011 and 2016 after adjusting for inflation
  • around 27% of Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over had adjusted household incomes of $1,000 or more per week, considerably lower than the equivalent proportion for non-Indigenous Australians (46%)
  • an estimated 37% of Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over had adjusted weekly household incomes in the bottom 20% (quintile) of the income distribution for all Australians aged 15 and over. Only 9% of Indigenous Australians were in the top quintile (ABS 2019).

Personal income

In 2016, the median weekly personal income for Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over was $441 (Figure 2) compared with $362 in 2011, an increase of 11% after adjusting for inflation. The equivalent data for non-Indigenous Australians was $670 in 2016 and $585 in 2011 (ABS 2019), an increase of 5% after adjusting for inflation.

In 2016:

  • 18% of Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over reported a gross personal income of $1,000 or more per week. Males were more likely to have this level of income than females, 21% and 14% respectively (ABS 2018c)
  • more than half (55%) of Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over reported a gross personal income between $1 and $799 per week (ABS 2017)
  • Indigenous personal income varied considerably by remoteness (Figure 2). The highest median income level ($513) was reported in Major cities with a consistent decrease in income with increasing remoteness. The lowest level was in Very remote areas ($286). The latter was slightly more than half (55%) the level in Major cities
  • non-Indigenous personal income also varied by remoteness but the pattern was different, with the median weekly income being substantially higher in Very remote ($1,023) and Remote ($796) areas than in Major cities ($696)
  • the difference in median personal income between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians was highest in Very remote areas, where the median income for non-Indigenous Australians was 3.6 times the median income for Indigenous Australians, compared with 1.4 times as high in Major cities, and 1.5 times as high nationally.

Main sources of personal income

In 2014–15, 52% of Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over received a government pension or allowance as their main source of personal income, 44% relied on employee income, and a small group (4%) reported other main sources.

  • The proportion of Indigenous Australians relying on a government pension or allowance as their main income source has fallen from 65% in 2002 (Figure 3).
  • The proportion of Indigenous Australians whose main source of income was a government pension or allowance was highest in remote areas, being 65% in Very remote areas compared with 43% in Major cities (AIHW 2017:285).
  • Compared with Indigenous Australians, a lower proportion of non-Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over received a government pension or allowance as their main source of income (25%). This was the case across all age groups (AIHW 2017:285). 
  • The proportion of Indigenous Australians relying on wages or salaries as their main income source increased from 31% in 2002 to 44% in 2014–15.
  • In 2014–15 the proportion of Indigenous Australians relying on wages or salaries was highest in Major cities (54%) and lowest in Very remote areas (33%).

Income support

At 30 June 2018, 45% of Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over were receiving some form of income support payment—around 234,600 recipients. The equivalent proportion for non-Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over was 23%. (See glossary and DSS (n.d.) for descriptions of income support payments.)

  • The number of Indigenous Australians receiving income support payments in June 2018 was 12% higher compared with 209,000 at 30 June 2014; but the proportion of the Indigenous population aged 15 and over receiving income support payments has remained stable at 45% over this period to June 2018.
  • The most common income support payments received by Indigenous Australians in June 2018 were Newstart Allowance (76,200 recipients), Disability Support Pension (48,500), Parenting Payment Single (36,800) and Age Pension (19,900) (Figure 4).

Overall, Indigenous Australians made up 5% of all income support recipients in June 2018. Excluding Age Pension, Indigenous Australians made up 9% of all other income support recipients.

  • The proportion of Indigenous Australians among total income support recipients varied by type of income support payment—19% of all recipients of Youth Allowance (other), 15% of Parenting Payment Single and 11% of Newstart Allowance (Figure 4).
  • These variations in the relative share of Indigenous Australians in specific income support payments can highlight the greater needs of specific sub-groups, such as the high share of young Indigenous job seekers on Youth Allowance (other) among all Youth Allowance (other) recipients.

Financial stress

The inability to raise emergency funds and experiencing cash-flow problems are 2 measures of financial stress widely used to assess income vulnerability (Breunig & Cobb-Clark 2006; Saunders et al. 2007).

In 2014–15 among Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over (Figure 5):

  • almost half (48%) reported that no one in their household could raise $2,000 for an emergency in a week
  • more than 1 in 4 (26%) reported their household had cash-flow problems in the last 12 months.

The inability to raise $2,000 within a week for an emergency was particularly high for Indigenous Australians, 3.6 times the rate for non-Indigenous Australians (13%). The proportion of non-Indigenous Australians reporting household cash-flow problems (in the last 12 months) was 19%, with Indigenous Australians 1.4 times as likely to report cash-flow problems.

Where do I go for more information?

More information from the 2016 Census on personal and household income of Indigenous Australians are in the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census of Population and Housing: Characteristics of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2016.

The Department of Social Services provides detailed tabulations of Centrelink-based data on a quarterly basis on data.gov.au, including receipt of income support payments and other non-income support allowances by Indigenous status. See DSS Payment Demographic Data.

More information on receipt of income-support payments by Indigenous status for people aged 15–64, including time trends between 2002 and 2015, and disaggregation by state and territory, are in the most recent Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage: key indicators 2016 report.

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2010a. National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (2002), Expanded Confidentialised Unit Record File (CURF), DataLab. Findings based on use of ABS Microdata.

ABS 2010b. National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (2004–05), Expanded Confidentialised Unit Record File (CURF), DataLab. Findings based on use of ABS Microdata.

ABS 2010c. National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (2008), Expanded Confidentialised Unit Record File (CURF), DataLab. Findings based on use of ABS Microdata.

ABS 2012. Census 2011, DataPack. Findings based on use of ABS DataPack data.

ABS 2014a. Estimates and projections, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2001 to 2026. ABS cat. no. 3238.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2014b. General Social Survey, 2014. ABS cat. no. 4159.0.30.004. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2015. National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (2012–13), Expanded Confidentialised Unit Record File (CURF), DataLab. Findings based on use of ABS Microdata.

ABS 2016a. National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, 2014–15, TableBuilder. Findings based on use of ABS TableBuilder data.

ABS 2016b. National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (2014–15), Expanded Confidentialised Unit Record File (CURF), DataLab. Findings based on use of ABS Microdata. 

ABS 2017. Census of Population and Housing: Reflecting Australia—stories from the Census, 2016: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Population 2016 Census Article. ABS cat. no. 2071.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 21 January 2019.

ABS 2018a. Census 2016, DataPack. Findings based on use of ABS DataPack data. 

ABS 2018b. Census 2016, TableBuilder. Findings based on use of ABS TableBuilder data.

ABS 2018c. Census of Population and Housing: Characteristics of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2016. ABS cat. no. 2076.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 21 Jan 2019.

ABS 2019. Census of Population and Housing 2016 and 2011 Customised Report. Canberra: ABS.

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2015. Australia’s welfare 2015. Australia’s welfare series no. 12. Cat. no. AUS 189. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2017. Australia’s welfare 2017. Australia’s welfare series no. 13. Cat. no. AUS 214. Canberra: AIHW.

Breunig R & Cobb-Clark D 2006. Understanding the factors associated with financial stress in Australian households. Australian Social Policy, 2005, 13–64. Canberra: Australian National University.

DSS (Department of Social Services) 2018. DSS payments demographic data, June quarter 2018. 24 October 2018. Canberra: DSS.

DSS (n. d.) Income support payment description. Canberra: DSS. Viewed 4 December 2018.

Saunders P, Naidoo Y, & Griffiths M 2007. Towards new indicators of Disadvantage: Deprivation and social exclusion in Australia. Sydney: Social Policy Research Centre.

SCRGSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision) 2016. Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage: key indicators 2016. Canberra: Productivity Commission.

Alternative text for figures

Figure 1: Median equivalised weekly household income, people aged 15 and over, by Indigenous status, 2011 and 2016

This figure is a paired horizontal bar chart, comparing the median adjusted household weekly income among people aged 15 and over, by Indigenous status, in 2011 and 2016.

 In 2016, the median adjusted weekly household income among all Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over was $623 compared with $935 for non-Indigenous Australians.

The median adjusted weekly household income for Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over in 2016 was 19% higher than the 2011 value of $522.

For non-Indigenous Australians, the median adjusted weekly household income increased by 15% from the 2011 value of $815.

Figure 2: Median weekly personal income among people aged 15 and over, by Indigenous status and remoteness area, 2016

This figure is a paired horizontal bar chart, comparing the median weekly personal income among people aged 15 and over, by Indigenous status at the national level and by remoteness areas, in 2016. The remoteness area classification has 5 categories: Major cities, Inner regional, Outer regional, Remote and Very remote areas.

In 2016, at the national level the median weekly personal income for Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over was $441. The equivalent data for non-Indigenous Australians was $670 in 2016.

Indigenous personal income varies considerably by remoteness. The highest median income level of $513 is reported in Major cities and lowest level of $286 in Very remote areas. Non-Indigenous personal income also varies by remoteness but the pattern is different. The median weekly income is substantially higher in Very remote areas, $1,023, and Remote areas, $796, than in Major cities, $696.

Figure 3:  Proportion of Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over with government payments as their main source of personal income, 2002 to 2014–15

This figure is a vertical bar chart showing the time trend in the percentage of Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over who report relying on government payments as the main source of personal income. The percentage data is reported for 4 periods: 2002, 2004–05, 2008, and 2014–15

In 2014–15, 52% of Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over relied on a government pension or allowance as their main source of personal income. The percentage of Indigenous Australians relying on a government pension or allowance as their main income source has fallen over this period from a high of 65% in 2002.

Figure 4: Main income support payments received by Indigenous Australians, number and share in total recipients, June 2018 

This figure is a paired horizontal  bar chart showing two measures related to Indigenous Australians who received specific kinds of Centrelink income support payments in June 2018. One measure reports the total number of Indigenous recipients of the following payment types: Youth Allowance (student), Parenting Payment (partnered and single), ABSTUDY Living Allowance, Carer Payment, Youth Allowance (other), Age Pension, Disability Support Pension, and Newstart Allowance. The second measure reports the share of Indigenous recipients of these specific payments as a percentage of all recipients of these payments.

The most common income support payments received by Indigenous Australians in June 2018 were Newstart Allowance with 76,200 recipients, followed by Disability Support Pension with 48,500 recipients, and Parenting Payment Single with 36,800 recipients. Another 19,900 received Age Pension, 17,800 received Youth Allowance (other) and 15,400 received Carer Payment. Youth Allowance (students) was the payment with the fewest number of Indigenous recipients, 2,100.

The proportion of Indigenous Australians among all recipients of these selected income support payments varied by the type of income support payment. This proportion was highest at 19% for Youth Allowance (other), followed by 15%  for Parenting Payment Single, and 11% for Newstart Allowance. Youth Allowance (students) was also the payment with the lowest share of Indigenous recipients among all recipients at 1%.

Figure 5: Experience of financial stress among people aged 15 and over, by Indigenous status, 2014–15

This figure is a vertical bar chart showing the percentage of Australians aged 15 and over who report experiencing two types of financial stress, by Indigenous status, in 2014–15. The two types of financial stress measures used in this figure are the percent who report that no one in their household could raise $2,000 for an emergency in a week, and the percent who report that their household experienced cash-flow problems in the last 12 months.

In 2014–15 among Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over, 48% reported that no one in their household could raise $2,000 for an emergency in a week, and 26% reported that their household experienced cash-flow problems in the last 12 months. Among non-Indigenous Australians 13% reported that no one in their household could raise $2,000 for an emergency in a week, and 19% reported that their household experienced cash-flow problems in the last 12 months.