New data reveals Australian wellbeing has hit an all-time low in the midst of an ongoing polycrisis, according to a new report.
As part of an enduring partnership spanning more than two decades, Australian Unity and Deakin University have released their latest Wellbeing Index Survey Report, measuring the subjective wellbeing of over 2,000 Australian adults against a series of personal and national life domains.
- Satisfaction slides: Australians’ overall life satisfaction has fallen to the lowest score on record.
- Young Australians are struggling: 18-25 year-olds’ wellbeing has hit an all-time low and they recorded the highest levels of mental distress and climate worry.
- Multiple crises put pressure on wellbeing: More Australians on average scored below the normal range for personal wellbeing, including those under 56 years of age, on a household income below $60,000 and those in casual work or unemployed.
The new report, which details survey data collected in May 2022, found Australia’s subjective wellbeing declined across all measures as the country faces a polycrisis of cost-of-living pressures, climate change and global uncertainty, amidst an ongoing health pandemic. This marks the first time in over a decade that such a consistent downtrend has been observed across all wellbeing measures.
According to Dr Kate Lycett, Research Fellow from the School of Psychology at Deakin University, ‘Given the tumultuous global and local events of 2022, including catastrophic floods, soaring COVID-19 cases, and global unrest causing inflation to skyrocket, the downward trend of Australians’ wellbeing was unsurprising.
‘But what is surprising is that we didn’t see this decline earlier. Our findings highlight the importance of putting wellbeing at the heart of policy decisions. By doing this, with bipartisan support and legislation we can create an economy that better serves the people and the planet,’ she said.
Youth and young adults hit hard
Key groups that recorded all-time low scores for their collective wellbeing included 18-25-year-olds and low-income households.
Young adults also recorded the highest level of mental distress and climate worry. However, they felt most optimistic that climate change can be kept under control when compared to all other age groups.
‘It’s a really challenging time for so many,’ said Dr Lycett. ‘People are increasingly struggling with the cost of living, the housing crisis, climate change and the upheavals of the pandemic, which is particularly the case for young people. Young adulthood is a major transition period with change, exploration and risk-taking and where mental health problems can emerge or be compounded.
‘Our results highlight the urgent need for policies to prioritise young people’s wellbeing,’ she said.
A long term study
The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index is one of the longest running national studies of subjective wellbeing in the world. Since its inception in 2001, data from over 70,000 Australians has been widely used by researchers, governments, and organisations to gain insights into how satisfied citizens are with their lives.
‘As policymakers and the wider community look for tangible ways to support our most vulnerable out of the pandemic and with rising economic uncertainty, the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index can play an important role in guiding resources and support to where it is needed most,’ said Esther Kerr, Chief Executive Officer Wealth and Capital Markets at Australian Unity.
‘It’s why we welcome the Federal Government’s commitment to “Measuring What Matters”.
‘This is an important step in broadening our understanding of (societal) progress to include wellbeing alongside traditional economic measures,’ she said.
‘While wellbeing is realised by the individual, it is ultimately the product of the macro environment. The key to wellbeing is having comfort that the services I and those close to me need, are accessible and affordable — be they education, childcare, health, disability, and aged care.
‘While government will continue to have a vital role in financing and delivering such services it can’t do it alone and we need financial markets to urgently allocate and incentivise capital — both public and private — to the services and infrastructure that contribute to our wellbeing,’ said Ms Kerr.
The 2022 Australian Unity Wellbeing Index Report can be viewed here.