Fascinating Facts about Female Same-Sex Couples from the 2011 Australian Census

You’ll think twice about the next nurse, teacher, or police officer you meet… 

Last week, more data on same-sex couples was released from the 2011 Census of Population and Housing. This is the third set of analyses released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS):

  • Same-sex couple families” part of the “Reflecting a Nation: Stories from the 2011 Census” series in June 2012.#
  • Counts of Same-Sex Couples” a census factsheet in September 2012.$
  • a media release titled “Australian Social Trends: Same-Sex Couples in Australia” released July 2013.^

Data are reported by same-sex couple versus opposite-sex couple, with an occasional breakdown by gender. Although there is not enough disaggregation by gender for my liking, I’ve put these data in green. These analyses provide some interesting insights into women living in same-sex couple relationships.

How are same-sex couples identified by the census?

Since 1996 respondents have been asked to identify the relationship of each person in the household to each other person – whether you are the husband/wife, de facto partner, child, stepchild, sibling, or unrelated. In 2011, 33,714 same-sex couples were registered, an increase of 32% since the 1996 census.^ The ABS suggests this is due to “growing social acceptance [and] increased awareness that data about same-sex couples is made available from the Census, giving more reason for same-sex couples to be open about the nature of their relationship and willing to supply this information.”$

Despite there being no marriage equality in Australia and various governments working to make sure marriages from other jurisdictions are not recognized, the ABS made a bold move* for the 2011 census and reported the proportion of same-sex partners registering their relationship as husband/wife. Prior to this, these people would have been reclassified as de facto.^  The ABS  states: “The reasons why people might report that they are the husband or wife of someone of the same sex cannot be known from Census data, but may include having been married in a jurisdiction other than Australia, having registered their relationship under state or territory law, or considering that husband or wife is the term that best describes their relationship.”^

What do the census releases tell us about women in same-sex relationships?

The number of same-sex couples in Australia in 2011

  • There were 16,131 female same-sex couples, of whom, 661 women reported their relationship as wife-wife.^
  • Same-sex partners  accounted for 0.7% of all partners (1.6% of partners aged 15–24 years).#
  • 0.9% of partner Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women were in a same-sex couple, this flattens out when you take account of age. It is worth remembering that 2.9% of all same-sex couples include an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person.#
  • 0.8% of women born in Australia were living with another women.#
  • 0.5% of women born overseas were living with another women. (The most common countries of origin for women were NZ and England).#

Age differences within couples

  • The average age difference between women in a same-sex couple was 4.8 years (compared to 6.5 years between men in a same-sex couple, or 3.7 years between people in an opposite-sex couple).$
  • People in same-sex couples were in general younger than people in opposite-sex couples. The greatest number of same-sex couples were in the age group 35-44 years, followed by 25-34 and 45-54.#


  • 22% of female same-sex couples had children living with them (compared to 3% of male same-sex couples and 54% of opposite-sex couples).$
  • Same-sex couples who had children living with them were less likely to have two or more  (47%), compared to opposite-sex couples (64%).$


  • Same-sex couple partners were less religious than opposite-sex couples (48% compared to 21%); still 40% registered their religion as Christian (compared to 67% of opposite-sex couples).#
  • Same-sex couple partners were more likely to report their religion as Buddhism (4.0% compared with 2.6%).#


  • Same-sex couple partners were twice as likely to have a Bachelor degree or higher than those in opposite-sex couples (42% compared to 23%).$
  • And more than twice as likely to have a Doctoral degree (2.3% compared to 0.9%).$

Workforce participation

  • 89% of partners in same-sex couples are in the workforce, compared with 69% of those in opposite -sex couples.$
  • Partners in same-sex couples are more likely (53% )to be in skilled occupations than those in opposite -sex couples (40%).$
  • The most common occupation for women in same-sex couples was registered nurse (4.3%), with secondary school teacher (2.2%), police (2.2%), welfare worker (2.0%), primary school teacher (1.7%) and university lecturer/tutor (1.5%) all in the top ten occupations.$

Women in same-sex couples are highly engaged in looking after the health and education of the Australian community


  • Women in same-sex couples are earning more than their sisters in opposite-sex couples: three times as many earn $2000 or more per week.$
  • While women in same-sex couples are earning more than their sisters, there is still a gender pay gap: 11% of these women earn $2000 or more per week compared to 18% of men in same-sex couples and 14% of men in opposite-sex couples (and 4% of women).$


  • Women in same-sex couples shared the housework more than all other couples – 59% shared compared to 57% of male same-sex couples and 38% of opposite-sex couples.$

Geographical concentration

  • Same-sex couples are most likely to live in large cities and town – female same-sex couples account for 0.4% of couples in cities of 1million plus people.$
  • Perhaps reflecting the concentration of women in public service jobs, the greatest proportion of female same-sex couples was in ACT (0.6% of all couples in ACT), followed by… Northern Territory (0.5%; but only 0.3% of couples were male same-sex couples).$
  • While NSW had less than 4% of female same-sex couples, 34% of Australia’s female same-sex couples lived there.$

Female same-sex couples were highly concentrated in the inner west of Sydney…

  • The inner west of Sydney comprised the top ten suburbs for female same-sex couples: St Peters (6% of all couples), Newtown (5.7%), Erskineville (5.4%), Enmore (5.3%), Lewisham (4.2%), Alexandria (3.6), Tempe (3.5%), Chippendale (3.4%), Marrickville (3.2%), Stanmore (3.0%).$
  • Not to be left out, female same-sex couples made up 4.5% of couples in Daylesford-Hepburn Springs, a Victorian country town with a population of 3,200. And 1.2% of couples in Alice Springs, a central Australian town with less than 25,000 residents.$
  • 63% of people in same-sex couples had lived at a different address than at the time of the 2006 census (compared to 40% of people in opposite-sex couples).$

Who’s missing?

All the single ladies… Now put your hands up

The 2011 Australian census can only tell us about people in same-sex couples – that’s “two people of the same-sex who report a de facto or married partnership in the relationship question on the Census form” – and who are “usually resident in the same household”.# This means we have no insights into the lives of Australian:

  • Single lesbian or bisexual women
  • Single lesbian or bisexual women with children
  • Lesbian or bisexual women who are in couple relationships but who do not usually reside in the same household
  • Lesbian or bisexual women who are in relationships comprising more than two people

How is this all helpful?

Check out this great discussion paper from the national LGBTI Health Alliance on why this matters and some of the complexities around capturing accurate, useful and meaningful data about lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans/transgender, intersex and other sexuality, sex and gender diverse peoples.

I’m a social researcher working in health and I’d like to have access to reliable data on lesbian and bisexual women. I run  (with colleagues) a biennial survey of lesbian and bisexual women’s health (I’ve written several blog posts about this work). If we can use the census to work out how representative our samples are (I’ll write about this when we do it) then we can be confident about the validity and usefulness of the data we collect. And others can act on it, including those making policy that affects lesbian and bisexual women’s lives and health providers caring for their health and wellbeing. This is especially important as long as lesbian and bisexual women are not identified in national data sets. I’d love to hear about the information about lesbian and bisexual women you’d find useful for the area you work in.

*The fact sheet goes so far as to pointedly state: “However, there is still no Australian legislation to allow same-sex marriage or legal recognition of same-sex marriages performed overseas”.$
Data sources – The ABS has done all the hard work here, I’ve merely collated and pulled data on women. Thanks for that ABS, I really really appreciated your efforts.
$ Counts of Same-Sex Couples
Same-sex couple families. Reflecting a Nation: Stories from the 2011
Australian Social Trends: Same-Sex Couples in Australia


  1. KT. Macri says:

    It is so varied when it comes to women in same sex relationships. The variables include child sexual abuse, rape and domestic violence to name a few. You are probably more inclined to spk to a Lesbian who has been abused rather than a woman in an opposite sex relationship.
    Please do not get me wrong, abuse does not lead to a homosexual relationship. That is another story….!!!


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