Australian Unity, the nation’s first member-owned wellbeing company, has released its latest Wellbeing Index survey report in partnership with Deakin University.
Conducted in June 2023, the survey measured the subjective wellbeing of over 2,000 Australians aged 18 to 97 against a series of national and personal life areas, including the economy, health, and community connectedness. This year, researchers also examined the areas of mental distress and carer wellbeing (professional and informal).
- Generational and income divides: Clear age and income divides emerged in personal wellbeing, particularly on standard of living. Notably lower scores were observed for those aged 55 years and under, compared to older adults, and those with household incomes of $100,000 or less, compared to those earning more.
- Record low economic satisfaction: Satisfaction with the economic situation in Australia fell sharply from 2022, hitting its lowest level in the report’s 22-year history – worse than the Global Financial Crisis.
- Australian carers need more support: Informal carers felt less satisfied with their access to carer support compared to professional carers. They also recorded lower personal wellbeing and higher mental distress – particularly those providing informal care for more than 20 hours per week.
Data collection occurred amid a challenging backdrop with global unrest, repeated interest rates rises, and more than half of the population reporting feelings of financial stress just months earlier. Against this climate, the survey found Australians’ overall satisfaction with their lives and life in Australia remained at record lows.
On the National Wellbeing Index, scores for most life areas remained at the lower end of the normal range. However, economic satisfaction recorded a sharp drop to its lowest level in 22 years – worse than that recorded during the Global Financial Crisis in 2008.
“Australians are feeling worried about the economy and financially stressed,” said Dr Kate Lycett, Research Fellow from the School of Psychology at Deakin University and lead researcher of the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index. “Rising living costs and interest rates are putting immense pressure on many people, particularly those with mortgages and those trying to get into the housing market. Without a lift in economic satisfaction, our national wellbeing will likely remain stagnant.”
Scores for life areas on the Personal Wellbeing Index remained similar to 2022 levels. However, growing age and income inequities emerged. Those aged 55 years and under, and those with a household income of $100,000 or less, recorded notably lower personal wellbeing than older adults and those with higher household incomes, respectively. These same age and income divides were also seen on satisfaction with standard of living.
“Addressing wellbeing inequities in these respective demographics is essential,” says Esther Kerr, Chief Executive Officer Wealth and Capital Markets at Australian Unity. “The findings likely reflect a ‘pressure cooker’ effect caused by the rising cost of living, higher interest rates, stubborn inflation, and global economic uncertainty. This appears to be affecting the financial wellbeing of people who were previously able to cope or had a savings buffer to carry them through tough times.”
In addition to measuring personal and national wellbeing, the survey also explored the wellbeing of Australians with professional and informal caring responsibilities. A timely exploration given the number of people aged 80 years and over is expected to triple by 2063, forecasting considerable pressure on the future care economy.
“Informal carers who cared for more than 20 hours a week recorded notably lower personal wellbeing and higher levels of mental distress compared to those in professional caring and non-caring roles. Those with a caring load of 40 hours or more seemed to be doing even worse,” says Dr Lycett. “These findings suggest that people with high caring commitments in informal capacities need more support. They are also strong learnings for us as a society when we think about the ageing population and just how big the care economy is going to become.”
On the growing demand for professional caring services to help improve the wellbeing of those caring in an informal capacity, Prue Bowden, Australian Unity’s CEO of Home Health, said workforce supply for professional carers has been a key issue in Australia for many years now.
“The care economy is fundamental to the health of our whole society, not just our ageing population. It’s integral that we ensure workers in the industry are provided with secure, safe jobs with decent wages, conditions and opportunities for career development. In order for the care workforce to grow, we need to professionalise the work and shift the community mindset from being an unskilled job to one of the most rewarding careers,” Bowden adds.
The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index is one of the longest running national studies of subjective wellbeing in the world. Since its inception in 2000, data from over 75,000 Australians has been widely used by researchers, governments and organisations to gain insights into how satisfied citizens are with their lives and the nation.
The 2023 Australian Unity Wellbeing Index report can be viewed here
A summary can be viewed here
 Botha, F., Gamarra Rondinel, A., & Payne, A., Most Australians, not just the poor, are facing constraints in covering basic needs, Melbourne Institute Research Insight, Issue 04/23, University of Melbourne, 2023.
 Australians continue to face budgetary constraints in housing, food, energy and healthcare, Taking the Pulse of the Nation, Melbourne Institute and Roy Morgan, February 2023
 2023 Intergenerational Report, Australian Government, 2023, p. 159.
ABOUT AUSTRALIAN UNITY
Established in 1840, Australian Unity is the nation’s first member-owned wellbeing company, delivering health, wealth, and care services. The heritage organisation is committed to Real Wellbeing for all Australians, going well beyond physical health. To Australian Unity, Real Wellbeing is about Australians’ standard of living and feeling safe in their home, personal relationships and community connectedness and life fulfilment, while having the security to get out and do what makes them happy.
ABOUT DEAKIN UNIVERSITY
Established in 1974, Deakin is one of Australia’s most progressive universities, leading in the innovative use of digital technologies and online learning, and blending this capability across its distinctive campus precincts in Melbourne, Geelong and Warrnambool. The Australian Centre on Quality of Life (ACQol) was established within the School of Psychology to study evidence-based measures for quality of life. ACQol formed a partnership with Australian Unity in 2000 to develop the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index.
ABOUT THE WELLBEING INDEX
The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index is holistic, subjective understanding of wellbeing beyond just health and mental health and is one of the longest running national surveys of personal wellbeing in the world.
Since 2000, Australian Unity and Deakin University have been monitoring the subjective wellbeing of Australians aged 18 to 90+ years via the Wellbeing Index. To date, this monitoring has been achieved through 40 national surveys and collected data on over 75,000 Australians. In addition to charting the natural history of personal and national wellbeing, each year researchers examine how it varies by demographic groups and special interest areas.
Personal Subjective Wellbeing
Personal Subjective Wellbeing is measured using two methods, both of which measure satisfaction on a 0 to 10 choice scale. The first is a single item: ‘How satisfied are you with your life as a whole?’. The second is the Personal Wellbeing Index, which averages the level of satisfaction across seven life domains – standard of living, health, achieving in life, relationships, safety, community connectedness, and future security.
National Subjective Wellbeing
National Subjective Wellbeing is measured using two methods, both of which measure satisfaction on a 0 to 10 choice scale. The first is a single item: ‘How satisfied are you with life in Australia?. The second is the National Wellbeing Index, which averages the level of satisfaction across six national domains - economic situation, state of natural environment, state of social conditions, government, business, and national security.
Informal carers were captured by asking all participants: “Do you currently provide any unpaid care for another person due to their ongoing illness, disability or old age?”. Interviewers were advised that receiving government assistance (e.g., carers allowance) for a caring role does not exclude respondents from providing unpaid care.
Professional carers were captured by asking all participants: “As part of any paid work you do, do you currently provide care to people due to their ongoing illness, disability or old age?”.
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