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An individual’s quality of life is affected by many objective factors, like health, education, employment, or housing, but it is also dependent on how they subjectively assess their circumstances and wellbeing; that is, how they feel they are faring1.
Measuring life satisfaction is notoriously complex. It is important as it affects, and is affected by, many other domains of life. For example, high life satisfaction contributes to key positive social outcomes such as better health and longevity2, but it is affected by other domains such as employment and relationships3. When we look at life satisfaction along with our other domains, it can inform how well Australia is faring, at an individual and societal level.
Overall life satisfaction indicates how people feel, on the whole, about their life. Life satisfaction is measured on the HILDA survey using a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is completely dissatisfied, and 10 is completely satisfied. According to that survey, between 2001 and 2013 the average level of overall satisfaction was 7.9. This has not changed significantly between 2001 and 2013.
When we looked at specific aspects of life, we found that people were least satisfied with their financial situation (6.5) and local community (6.6) and were most satisfied with how safe they feel (8.24) and the home in which they live (8.0).
Our analysis of 2013 HILDA data revealed that on average, people aged 65 and over were significantly more satisfied with all aspects of their lives compared to people aged 25 to 64. There were fewer significant differences in the satisfaction levels of younger people aged 15 to 24 and 25 to 64 year olds, with the exception of younger people being more satisfied with free time, the home in which they live, how safe they feel, and their health.
There were small but significant differences in the satisfaction levels of men and women. In particular, women had lower levels of satisfaction than men with their free amount of free time and safety. On the other hand, women were more satisfied with feeling part of the local community and neighbourhood.
People with a disability were significantly less satisfied than people with no disability in 6 out of 8 aspects of life. Specifically, people with a disability were significantly less satisfied with their employment opportunities compared to people with no disability, and were also less satisfied with their financial situation; feeling part of the community; their neighbourhood; their safety; and their health. Satisfaction with free time was the only area in which people with a disability reported higher levels of satisfaction than people with no disability.
There were no significant differences in satisfaction levels between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, except for satisfaction with their financial situation. Indigenous people were less satisfied with their financial situation, compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts.
People with moderate, high or very high levels of psychological distress had significantly lower levels of satisfaction than people with a low level of psychological distress in all aspects of life satisfaction. Furthermore, the level of dissatisfaction was predicted to increase with the severity of psychological distress across all satisfaction domains.
Socio-economically disadvantaged areas (SEIFA)
People living in the most socio-economically disadvantaged areas were significantly less satisfied than people living in areas of median disadvantage in all specific aspects of life except for the amount of free time they had.
At the other end of the spectrum, those living in the least disadvantaged areas were more satisfied than people in areas of median disadvantage in most aspects of life. Specifically, those in the areas of least disadvantage were more satisfied with their financial situation; the home in which they live; feeling part of the local community; the neighbourhood in which they live; and how safe they feel.
People living in remote Australia had higher levels of satisfaction than people living in major cities to be satisfied with their employment opportunities and their financial situation. People living in regional areas were significantly more satisfied with the home in which they lived compared to those in major cities.
Satisfaction with the amount of free time was strongly associated with remoteness, when compared to people living in major cities. Similarly, the likelihood of being satisfied with feeling part of the community and the neighbourhood in which they lived increased the further people lived from major cities
Predicted scores for level of satisfaction with how safe a person feels were more varied, although people living in regional and remote areas were significantly more satisfied than people in major cities.
Overall, Australians are relatively happy and satisfied with their lives, with some groups experiencing slightly different levels of satisfaction. On average, higher levels of satisfaction are reported by older people, and people living outside of major cities. However, lower levels of satisfaction are reported by people experiencing psychological distress, with satisfaction with all areas of life decreasing the more psychological distress a person is experiencing. We need to think more about how to support people who are experiencing poor mental health.
- ORGANISATION FOR ECONOMIC CO-OPERATION AND DEVELOPMENT. n.d. Life satisfaction [Online]. Available: http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/topics/life-satisfaction/ [Accessed January 2016].
- DIENER, E. & CHAN, M. Y. 2011. Happy people live longer: Subjective well-being contributes to health and longevity. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 3, 1-43.
- STANSFELD, S. A., SHIPLEY, M. J., HEAD, J., FUHRER, R. & KIVIMAKI, M. 2013. Work characteristics and personal social support as determinants of subjective well-being. PLOS One, 8, e81115.