Accurate estimates of the size of the Indigenous business sector are valuable for policy makers, practitioners and academics. Such estimates provide one measure of Indigenous economic advancement. A difficulty in developing these estimates has been a lack of suitable data for calculating key unknowns, such as changes in Indigenous identification by individuals. Using the three-wave Australian Census Longitudinal Dataset (ACLD), which links individuals between the past three (2006, 2011 and 2016) Censuses of Population and Housing, this paper addresses these data gaps and presents a transparent methodology for estimating the number of Indigenous business owner–managers.
Using information about the greater rate of Indigenous self-identification over time from the ACLD, we estimate that around 19 400 Indigenous Australians were business owner–managers in 2016, almost double the number in 2006. We also estimate that Indigenous business ownership as a share of the Indigenous working-age population grew from around 3.3% in 2006 to around 3.7% in 2016. This increase occurred at a time when the rate of non-Indigenous business ownership decreased from 10.0% in 2006 to around 8.7% in 2016, reflecting the ongoing consolidation of the global economy since the global financial crisis. Although the Indigenous business ownership rate remains low compared with the non-Indigenous rate, the continued growth during challenging times is testament that greater numbers of Indigenous people are aspiring to the opportunity and ambition that business ownership affords. But barriers such as implicit or unconscious bias in society still exist and may limit opportunities for faster Indigenous economic advancement.