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Life Satisfaction in Australia: Evidence from Ten Years of the HILDA Survey

Abstract

Employing data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey, this paper examines the level, determinants and distribution of self-reported life satisfaction, as well as the prevalence and severity of dissatisfaction in Australia over the period 2001–2010. Against most objective measures Australia’s economic performance during this period was exemplary. Yet our results indicate a steady decline in life satisfaction from 2003 onwards, as well as a diminishing gap between the life satisfaction of males and females. Results also suggest that inequality in life satisfaction has generally declined. Geographic heterogeneity in the distribution of life satisfaction is apparent, and a number of socio-economic and demographic factors are found to serve an important role in determining an individual’s level of life satisfaction. Measures of the extent of dissatisfaction reveal an encouraging downward trend and provide policy makers with an alternative perspective from which to assess societal welfare.

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Notes

  1. Gross National Income growth rates are calculated from figures converted to international dollars using purchasing power parity rates. Household final consumption expenditure is measured in constant 2000 USD. For further information see http://data.worldbank.org/?display=default.

  2. A statistical division is an Australian Standard Geographical Classification defined area. Statistical divisions represent relatively homogenous regions characterised by identifiable social and economic links between the inhabitants and between the economic units with the region, under the unifying influence of one or more major town or city. Statistical divisions cover, in aggregate, the whole of Australia without gaps or overlaps. They do not cross State or Territory boundaries (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011a).

  3. This initial increase in the mean self-reported life satisfaction reflects the estimated panel conditioning effects, it not found in either the unadjusted estimates or the estimates employing a linear adjustment.

  4. We take advantage of Mark Schaffer and Steven Stillman’s Stata user written command xtoverid. This is downloadable from the Statistical Software Components Archive using the Stata command "ssc install xtoverid".

  5. We calculate the per cent maximum standard deviation employing a Stata program created by Ulrich Kohler. This is downloadable from the Statistical Software Components Archive using the Stata command “ssc install sdlim”.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Griffith University for the Griffith University Postgraduate Research Scholarship and the Griffith Business School for the Griffith Business School Top-up Scholarship; funding that was instrumental in facilitating this research. This research would not have been possible without data provided by the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA). Revisions to this paper were made while Christopher Fleming was a visiting researcher at the University of Stirling; we thank staff for their support. We also thank an anonymous reviewer for feedback on an earlier draft.

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Correspondence to Christopher M. Fleming.

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This paper uses unit record data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey. The HILDA project was initiated and is funded by the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) and is managed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research (Melbourne Institute). The findings and views reported in this paper, however, are those of the authors and should not be attributed to either FaHCSIA or the Melbourne Institute.

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Table 3 Additional results

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Ambrey, C.L., Fleming, C.M. Life Satisfaction in Australia: Evidence from Ten Years of the HILDA Survey. Soc Indic Res 115, 691–714 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-012-0228-0

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Keywords

  • Dissatisfaction
  • Happiness
  • Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA)
  • Inequality
  • Life satisfaction