What 19 years of data tell us about Australia

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Australian family life is changing. HILDA data shows men are more involved in child care as their partners take on more paid work.

The annual HILDA Survey of thousands of households is helping to improve life in Australia by informing government policy in areas including health, employment and social services.

The outcome

State and federal governments, economic think tanks and non-governmental organisations are making more informed decisions using data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey.

Established in 2000, the HILDA Survey is an annual household-based study designed and managed by researchers at the Melbourne Institute, the University of Melbourne’s economic and social policy research centre. It collects information about aspects of life such as relationships, income, employment, health and education.

Australia’s Fair Work Commission regularly uses data from the HILDA Survey in its annual wage review, which sets award wages and the national minimum wage each year. More than 2.3 million employees are affected by these recommendations.

The Australian Government considered HILDA Survey data before introducing its first national Paid Parental Leave scheme in 2011.

More than 3000 users – including the Australian Treasury, Reserve Bank of Australia, Smith Family and Deloitte Access Economics – use HILDA Survey results. Groups from Asia, South America, Africa and the Middle East have used its design to create or improve their own household surveys.

The need

Effective decision making requires accurate data on how things stand and how they are changing. However, there was no long-term information about life in Australian households before the HILDA Survey.

‘Snapshot’ data is available from the Census of Population and Housing, which captures information about people in Australia on a particular day every five years. But this data does not give an accurate picture of how people’s lives are changing over time.

Data from the same people over longer periods are also needed to understand how different aspects of life are connected – such as the circumstances leading up to major life events, such as divorce or having a child, as well as the outcomes of those events.

Effective public policy in a wide range of areas, including housing affordability, child care and employment conditions, depends on the availability of long-term data.

Developing the solution

The HILDA Survey is designed and managed by the Melbourne Institute on behalf of the Australian Department of Social Services. The surveys are currently conducted by Roy Morgan, a market research company.

The HILDA Survey captures data from all individuals aged over 15 living in the selected households. The survey can be continued indefinitely, as it follows not only the initial participants for the remainder of their lives but also their children and grandchildren and their households.

The first survey was conducted in 2001 and included 7682 households, covering 19 917 people. In 2019, the survey included more than 17 500 households, covering 33 000 participants.

Ninety per cent of the surveys are conducted face to face and the rest are by phone, for example if the person lives remotely. Interpreter services are available for languages other than English. There is also a written questionnaire that participants fill in later.  It includes questions that may be sensitive, such as ‘How satisfied are you with your partner?’, or that require people to consult records.

Information collected from the survey is stored securely by the Australian Data Archive. The information is anonymised – which means that the data cannot be used to find or identify people. Each dataset contains descriptive metadata and data files, including documentation and code that accompany the data. Users can download the full annual dataset in different formats. They can then use their own tools to analyse the data, refine by topic, create statistical models and discover relationships within the survey results.

Users from around the world may apply to the Australian Government to access the HILDA Survey data.

Funding

Australian Government, Department of Social Services

Publications

HILDA Survey Statistical Reports

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