Measuring social exclusion

Until recently income alone was used to measure disadvantage in Australia. It is now widely accepted that extending this to measure social exclusion is essential to monitor social progress and the effectiveness of government policy.

This in turn will help reduce disadvantage among Australians, improve community wellbeing and strengthen economic productivity.

Read also: Depth of social exclusion» Persistence of social exclusion » Social exclusion and poverty »


How we measure social exclusion

The Brotherhood of St Laurence began collaborating with the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research (MIAESR) in 2008 to find out who experiences social exclusion.

For this work we focused on seven key areas or ‘domains’ of life: material resources, employment, education and skills, health and disability, social connection, community and personal safety. Across these life domains we selected 30 key components of disadvantage that are measurable (see graph). These are called indicators of social exclusion. Using these indicators we created a composite measure that allows us to measure an individual’s overall level of exclusion.

Note: From 2010 the material resources domain includes an indicator on household financial status. This was done to ensure there are at least two of the common indicators available every year in all the domains. The annual estimates of social exclusion for 2005–2014 included the new indicator.

Graph of incidence of social exclusion indicators in Australia 2005 to 2014

To copy this graph for your own use, right-click on the image (or control-click on a Mac) and paste the graph into your document. Please credit 'The Brotherhood of St Laurence and the Melbourne Institute 2016'.

See data table for this graph and note above on updated indicators

HILDA survey

The data we use is from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. This is a nationally representative study of Australian households that began in 2001 (see www.melbourneinstitute.com/hilda/). The study aims to follow the same 13,000 people, aged over 15 years, who are interviewed each year about a wide range of social and economic aspects of life.

Using an annual survey like HILDA allows us to analyse changes in individual and household social exclusion over time to assess trends. We can then examine the prevalence of exclusion, its depth and persistence – and work out who experiences it. The monitor will be updated with each new wave of the HILDA survey. The latest data is from 2012.

Although it includes a wide range of data, the HILDA Survey has a few limitations. It does not collect data on homelessness, internet access, lifelong learning, voter enrolment and experiences of discrimination so these issues are not included in our key indicators.

Marginal and deep social exclusion

We classify exclusion into marginal social exclusion and deep social exclusion. For example, an individual counted as deeply excluded will most likely be experiencing at least four of the indicators across at least two domains.

Find out more

For further information about how we measure exclusion see: Rosanna Scutella, Roger Wilkins and Weiping Kostenko 2009, Estimates of poverty and  social exclusion in Australia: a multi-dimensional approach, Melbourne Institute Working Paper No.26/09 (PDF file, 1.2 MB)


The social exclusion monitor is the work of the Brotherhood of St Laurence and the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research (MIAESR). This page was updated using analysis of Wave 14 of the HILDA Survey in October 2016.

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