The paper presents an analysis of Indigenous household demography and economic status relative to non-Indigenous Australian households. An innovative combination of economic analysis of 1996 Census data and ethnographic research is used, and reveals that Indigenous households are experiencing substantial and multiple forms of economic burden in comparison to non-Indigenous Australian households and that they display significantly different characteristics. The findings highlight a number of policy implications.
Ethnographic research suggests that Indigenous households in the 1990s were characterised by considerable compositional complexity, porous social boundaries and large size. They commonly consist of extended families whose members may live together in a single physical dwelling, but more often than not will be residing across several nearby dwellings. Indigenous households are more likely to contain sole parent families and have, on average, a larger number of children than non-Indigenous Australian households. The adults are younger, have lower levels of income and education and are less likely to be in employment than non-Indigenous Australians.
The important demographic trend at the household level indicated by the 1991 and 1996 Censuses is the substantial relative increase in the total number of Indigenous households; an increase of 25 per cent compared to 9 per cent in non-Indigenous households. The increased population count has had a marked impact on the apparent urban-rural distribution of the Indigenous population. At the household level, while the major trend is that Indigenous households are urbanising, they nevertheless remain relatively remote in geographic terms compared to non-Indigenous Australian households.
The 1996 Census data indicate the median income of Indigenous famil