The determinants of income
for employed indigenous
School of Economics, Banking and Marketing,
University of Canberra, Australia
Australia’s indigenous population of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
people accounted for less than 2 per cent of the population recorded in the 1991
census, yet they are regarded as a special group for a number of reasons.
A number of factors distinguish indigenous people from other Australians.
As the indigenous inhabitants of the continent, they have had their nomadic
hunter-gatherer lifestyles changed dramatically by the arrival of European
Not only does the history of indigenous people differ from that of other
Australians but also there are other important differences. Indigenous people
are more concentrated in the younger age groups than are other Australians and
are more likely to live outside major urban centres. It is well documented that
the economic status of indigenous people in Australia, as measured by
conventional indicators, falls behind that of other Australians. They have, on
average, lower incomes, fewer are in employment and those who do work are
occupied in less skilled jobs and concentrated in the public sector (Daly, 1995;
The focus of this article is the relatively affluent group of indigenous
Australians who were employed full-time. The aim is to consider the effects of
their Aboriginality on their employment income.
Although the position has improved, comprehensive sources of information
on indigenous Australians remain limited. The Census of Population and
Housing, taken every five years, is the only comprehensive data set collected at
regular intervals. It has the advantage that information has been collected over
time on the basis of fairly consistent definitions and it is possible to compare the
economic status of indigenous people with that of other Australians. Other
sources, notably case studies, document the economic position of particular
groups of indigenous people in more detail, but it is difficult to generalize from
The author would like to thank Jon Altman and Bruce Chapman for comments on earlier versions
of this article. All remaining errors are, of course, the author’s responsibility.
International Journal of Manpower,
Vol. 16 No. 4, 1995, pp. 11-29.
© MCB University Press,