Working lives shape Aussie blokes' wellbeing

The wellbeing of Aussie men continues to depend on fulfilling their traditional roles of 'breadwinner', according to new research.

Survey seven of The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index found that having a paid job was very important to men's wellbeing. Men aged between 26 and 55 not in paid employment were significantly less satisfied with life than those who were. This was less true of women.

Professor Robert A. Cummins from Deakin University's Australian Centre on Quality of Life and joint author of The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index, says wellbeing is clearly influenced by social perceptions of what roles people should occupy and whether their situation is chosen or imposed.

"Males who do not earn money from their work have reduced wellbeing. However, this effect is not as marked for women, who may be more likely to gain wellbeing from the 'socially acceptable' option of being homemaker and parent,“ Professor Cummins said.

"These results, when seen in the context of other recent data, should generate discussion of the relative disadvantage to males and females of unemployment." Australian National University's Mr Richard Eckersley, social analyst and joint author of the Index, said the new findings suggested men who were not in paid employment during the years of life when most men were working did not have a clear role for themselves in society, and were more likely to be isolated and alienated.

The findings of the quarterly survey also showed that satisfaction with standard of living and future security fell for non-employed people between the ages of 26 and 55 years.

"Their wellbeing is compromised, perhaps placing them at greater risk of depression and other problems," he said.

The findings were not true of younger and older men. "More of the older group are likely to be retired, while younger men are likely to be studying."

Mr Ian Ferres, Group Managing Director of Australian Unity, said people at any age can gain control over their finances and future, no matter what their income.

"The Australian Wellbeing Index results support the fact that people with more satisfaction over their control of financial security generally have a more optimistic view of their financial future," he said.

"And the key to financial security and better wellbeing is a clear plan to help you achieve your goals, which includes appropriate insurances to protect against downside events such as illness or unemployment."

In other findings from The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index:

  • Non-earning men who live alone have low wellbeing. Again, this is not the case for women in this group, suggesting men were at greater risk of becoming socially isolated.
  • Overall, women are as satisfied as men with the balance between work and family, although satisfaction drops more for women than for men between the ages of 26 and 45, the time when people are most likely to have young children.
  • There is a sharp drop off with age in people' s satisfaction with getting a comparable job if they lose their current job. In men, this happens after 35 and for women, after 45.
  • Young adults are more likely to remain living with their parents if the household income is high.

Overall, survey seven results of The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index, conducted in June 2003, found that wellbeing in Australia has risen to its highest level since surveys began in April 2001.

The Personal Wellbeing Index, which measures people's satisfaction with their own lives reached 75.9 per cent compared with 73.2 per cent in April 2001. The National Wellbeing Index, measuring satisfaction with living conditions in Australia, rose to 61.7 per cent compared to 55.8 in April 2001.

Survey authors attributed the rise to a sense of relief and satisfaction at the time over the rapid victory over Iraq, with few allied casualties and none among Australian troops and without any retaliatory terrorist attacks.

This boost in morale has built on previous rises in wellbeing following 11 September 2001 and 12 October 2002 terrorist attacks. These events appear to have produced a stronger sense of community and patriotism, jolted people out of the rut of everyday life and made them appreciate more what they have and the preciousness of life.

About The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index
Launched in April 2001, The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index is the world' s first national survey of subjective wellbeing conducted on a quarterly basis. Each survey asks 2000 Australians how they feel about their own lives and life in Australia. The Index was developed for Australian Unity by Professor Robert A. Cummins from Deakin University and Richard Eckersley from the Australian National University in conjunction with a team of researchers at Deakin University led by Professor Cummins. Other team members include Professor Sing Kai Lo from the University of Sydney, and two Deakin doctoral students, Melanie Davern and Bruce Hunter.

The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index consists of a Personal Wellbeing Index measuring satisfaction with seven aspects of people's personal lives, and the National Index measuring six aspects of national life.

The Personal Wellbeing Index consists of standard of living, health, achievements in life, personal relationships, community connectedness, future security and safety. The National Wellbeing Index includes the economy, social conditions, the environment, government, business and national security. Satisfaction is scored on a 0-10 very dissatisfied to very satisfied scale, and the values expressed as a percentage of the maximum possible score.