According to the latest, Australians’ satisfaction with life as a whole is at its lowest level in 21 years Australian Unity Wellbeing Index surveya collaboration between Deakin University and mutual society Australian Unity.
Each year since 2001, we survey a geographically representative sample of 2,000 Australians on how satisfied they are with their lives as a whole, along with their satisfaction across seven key areas of life to compile an overall measure: the Personal Wellbeing Index.
Our research was conducted in May and June 2022, when inflation was more than 6% and the Reserve Bank of Australia had the first two of ten consecutive rate hikes. There are now 11 since May 2022.
In 2020, at the start of the pandemic, we even saw an improvement in satisfaction with life as a whole. The decline since then likely reflects pressures such as the cost of living, but is also consistent with a long-term trend since 2010.
Measuring personal well-being
Our composite measure, the Personal Wellbeing Index, covers seven areas of life: standard of living, relationships, purpose in life, community connectedness, safety, health, and future security. We combine these according to an internationally recognized method to generate an index score out of 100.
This composite has remained fairly stable over the 21 years of the study, with average scores between 74 and 77.
But small shifts are significant because we don’t expect to ever see big ones. This is mainly due to a kind of “psychological homeostasis” where most people endure the highs and lows of their lives and maintain a relatively positive outlook regardless of the circumstances.
Read more: 5 charts on Australian well-being and the surprising effects of the pandemic
Also as an average, different factors can cancel each other out. You can get a better idea of this in the following chart, which shows the constituent elements of the Personal Wellbeing Index.
This shows long-term increases in feelings of personal security, but long-term declines in average measures of health and purpose in life, with relatively steep declines since 2021 in living standards, future security, and community connectedness.
Welfare and low incomes
For Australia’s poor, 2020 had an unexpected silver lining when the federal government temporarily doubled JobSeeker payments. This likely explains the jump in well-being scores recorded in 2020 for people with household incomes less than $30,000. But with the end of those extra payments (in March 2021) and the increase in the cost of living since then, the average well-being score for poor people has plummeted.
Vary by age
Those aged 76 and over reported the highest average well-being (78.7 out of 100), and those aged 18-25 the lowest – although not by much, with their score (72.5) just below those aged 46-55 (73.2).
The average well-being score for 18 to 25 year olds was the lowest in 21 years. It probably reflects higher feelings of anxiety, stress, depression and climate concerns (also measured in our study) in this age group.
Creating a wellness economy
Given the ongoing uncertainties and cost-of-living pressures we now face, there is every reason to expect Australians’ well-being to be even lower now than when our survey was conducted.
It underscores the importance of taking welfare into account in policy decisions, especially for groups most in need.
As Treasurer Jim Chalmers noted in his lengthy essay in The Monthly in February, we need to “build something better” in the face of ongoing crises.