Advantage and disadvantage across Australia: SEIFA 2021
Where are the most advantaged and disadvantaged areas in Australia? Census expert Glenn Capuano explains the SEIFA indexes and explores the results of the recently released 2021 update.
Finally, the ABS have released the last of the data from the 2021 Census. This is the keenly awaited Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA),which require a lot more number crunching and analysis than the base Census data. SEIFA indexes are used to rank areas based on their overall level of socio-economic advantage or disadvantage. The ABS defines this broadly as people’s access to material and social resources, and their ability to participate in society. More information on the definitions is in the SEIFA Technical Paper. There are four indexes, but only two are in widespread use: the Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage (IRSED), and the Index of Relative Socio-Economic Advantage / Disadvantage (IRSAD).
The indexes don’t tell you everything, but they are a useful summary of where an area sits relative to other areas on a variety of measures from the Census. Because of this, they are most widely used in funding models and grant applications. They show whether an area is really in need of that service, or whether funding based on need should go to a particular place. In Local Government, if you’re applying for a grant, you will likely need to include a SEIFA index in your application.
What is included in SEIFA?
Some of the factors which go into the SEIFA index every Census are:
- Income – level of low income households (and higher income households for IRSAD)
- Unemployment rate
- Professional and Managerial occupations compared to Machinery Operators and Labourers occupations
- Year 12 and tertiary qualifications compared to early school leavers
- Large houses (based on number of bedrooms) compared to smaller dwellings.
There are other factors and they change each Census. In 2016, lack of internet access was used as a key measure of disadvantage, but that information wasn’t collected in 2021. Interestingly, though clearly correlated with disadvantage, the ABS did not include the new Long Term Health Conditions Census topic as part of the SEIFA index in 2021.
Comparing SEIFA over time
Because the inputs change like this, the raw SEIFA scores should not be compared between Census years. Rankings can broadly be compared but keep in mind some change in rankings may be due to changes in the composition of the index. This is why SEIFA is one of the few topics for which we don’t include a view change over time in our community profiles or social atlases.
How to read SEIFA indexes
The SEIFA indexes all have the same format. The average for Australia is set at approximately 1,000, with lower numbers being more disadvantaged and higher numbers being less disadvantaged (and more advantaged if you’re using the IRSEAD index). The number itself means nothing – there are no units, or percentages involved. They are only used in comparison to other areas. It’s the situation where benchmarking is the only way to read the information.
What the most advantaged and disadvantaged LGAs in Australia?
Now the data has been released, here are some key numbers for the most advantaged and disadvantaged Local Government Areas in Australia.
Top 10 most advantaged LGAs in Australia, 2021 (with population >1,000)
|North Sydney NSW||1164|
|Lane Cove NSW||1162|
|Peppermint Grove WA||1161|
|Hunters Hill NSW||1156|
The ten most advantaged LGAs in Australia are dominated by the harbourside suburbs and north shore of Sydney, and affluent western suburbs of Perth. No other state gets a look in! The most advantaged of all is Woollahra, in Sydney’s affluent east (Vaucluse, Double Bay etc.). This has changed since 2016, when Ku-ring-gai was the most advantaged. It’s slipped down the ranks to 3rd, but is still very well off!
Top 10 most disadvantaged LGAs in Australia, 2021 (with population >1,000)
|West Daly NT||677|
|East Arnhem NT||694|
|Central Desert NT||697|
|Halls Creek WA||702|
|Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yunkunytjatjara SA||706|
As in previous years, the most disadvantaged areas in Australia at the LGA level are dominated by remote, predominantly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. This unfortunately shows the level of Aboriginal disadvantage, particularly in remote parts of Australia. These are all are in Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia, and most are distant from major population centres. Note that percentage of Aboriginal population is not an input to the SEIFA index, but these populations tend to be disadvantaged on a variety of measures.
Here is a map showing the SEIFA index of Advantage/Disadvantage for all LGAs in Australia. (Remember, the lower the score, the greater the disadvantage.)
SEIFA at smaller geographic levels
The power of SEIFA comes from the fine-grained nature of Census data and its ability to look at smaller communities. Here are the most advantaged and disadvantaged areas at the suburb/town/locality level.
Top 10 most advantaged Suburbs and Localities, 2021 (with population > 1,000)
|Suburb/Locality||Population (UR)||SEIFA IRSAD|
|Greenhills Beach NSW||1,375||1205|
|Balgowlah Heights NSW||3,546||1202|
|Roseville Chase NSW||1,618||1194|
|Milsons Point NSW||2,529||1188|
We restrict these to >1,000 people because extremes are more likely to be found in very small populations. Even with this restriction, the most highly advantaged scores are in relatively small population suburbs, as the larger an area is the more likely it is to be close to the middle.
At the suburb/locality level, it's even more dominated by Sydney. All the top 10 are Sydney areas except for one lone suburb in Perth: Dalkeith. Within Sydney it's again largely north-shore and harbourside areas with the most advantage. But the new suburb of Greenhills Beach in Sutherland Shire comes in at #2.
Top 10 most disadvantaged suburbs/localities in Australia, 2021 (with >1,000 population)
Our arbitrary 1,000 population restriction cuts out a lot at this end of the scale. Most of the extremely disadvantaged areas are very small (<100 people being common).
|Suburb/Locality||Population (UR)||SEIFA (IRSAD)|
|St George Ranges WA||1,133||657|
There are many remote Aboriginal communities in this list as well, but at the suburb level, a few urban areas do feature. In fact, number 1 is the suburb of Gagebrook, Hobart – an area with a lot of social housing in the Brighton LGA . Those areas which aren't remote are largely dominated by social and public housing in our cities. As well as Gagebrook, we have Rocherlea in Launceston, and Elizabeth South in Adelaide (Playford LGA).
Finding and supporting hidden pockets of disadvantage
The key to SEIFA is not at the LGA level, or even in many cases at the suburb level. Being able to map this data at the SA1 level is where the real power is; there can be pockets of disadvantage hidden in otherwise advantaged areas (common in inner city areas).
We are loading in the scores for each suburb/small area on profile.id, and maps showing the distribution of SEIFA indexes at the SA1 level in atlas.id. This enables you to really get a handle on the pattern of disadvantage in your local community. Many LGAs have a very wide range of SEIFA scores. Understanding how advantage and disadvantage plays out locally is key to planning and service delivery as well as successful grant applications.
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