Australians wealthier but less satisfied with their lives: HILDA

Australians are more likely to be wealthier than they were two decades ago, but also less satisfied with their lives, according to a new report.

The latest annual Housing, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey found the average household income grew by more than $23,000 between 2001 and 2018.

Canberrans have led the charge. The ACT recorded the highest average income in each of the 18 years of the survey.

Despite the increase in people's wealth overall, household income fell for single-parent families. It was the only family type to do so between 2016 and 2018, dropping by an average of $4000.

The survey also found single-parent households were the most likely to report they were struggling to afford essential items.

Melbourne Institute professorial fellow and co-author of the survey, Roger Wilkins, said the figures surrounding single-parent families were alarming.

"The HILDA survey evidence on the economic fortunes of single-parent families in recent years is a concerning trend," Professor Wilkins said.

"It is not clear why their economic wellbeing would have deteriorated, but clearly this needs to be closely watched if this trend is borne out by evidence from other sources."

The survey has tracked more than 17,500 people from more than 9000 homes each year since 2001, tracking their living situations as their families expand.

It found while a majority of Australians are likely to be financially better off than they were 20 years ago, people's overall satisfaction with their lives as a whole has declined.

Women had a higher satisfaction with their life compared to men, while those who are married or widowed and have lower levels of education reported a higher satisfaction with their lives.

Those aged over 65 had a higher satisfaction with their lives overall, while people surveyed for the report between 45 and 54 were the least satisfied.

The survey found people's health and their safety were the most important factors to their overall satisfaction.

Professor Wilkins said those aged over 65 were more likely to be satisfied with their lives due to them having greater stability.

"They have more stable economic circumstances, and their income doesn't depend on how the labour market is performing, for example," he said.

"They also tend to own their own home outright, so they are probably more financially secure."

The survey was based on figures recorded in 2018, well before the outbreak of coronavirus triggered lockdowns around Australia and across the world.

However, the survey did reveal the segments of the population that were most exposed to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

The survey found one-third of those under the age of 24 worked in industries that lost more than 15 per cent of their workforce due to COVID-19.

It's estimated 2 million Australians live in homes with their main income earner worked in an industry that were most exposed to the impact of coronavirus.

People in those households were more likely to be renters, have a lower income and were more likely to experience financial stress.

"It has given us a handle on the magnitude of those who were particularly dependent on government income support," Professor Wilkins said.

"Women have been much more adversely impacted in this recession compared to other recessions."

Australian households on average are more than $23,000 wealthier than they were 20 years ago. Picture: Jamila Toderas

Australian households on average are more than $23,000 wealthier than they were 20 years ago. Picture: Jamila Toderas

Professor Wilkins also expressed concern at some of the findings that revealed one in 10 adult employees were being paid below the minimum wage.

However, he said underpayment was only one explanation for the high figure.

"There are caveats to that; people could potentially misreport their hours or their earnings, or there could be people who work in the agriculture sector where some are paid on an output-dependent basis," he said.

"There is definitely a high proportion of people who work in hospitality who are being paid less than the national minimum wage."

Among the other insights highlighted by the report were the continued decline of religious belief across the past two decades.

The number of women who had a religious belief fell from 70 to 63 per cent since 2004, while the drop in men was from 70 to 56 per cent.

The figures were largely driven by a falling belief in Christianity, which dropped from 70 per cent of respondents reporting an affiliation down to 51 per cent, along with a rise in people reporting no religious belief.

This story We're getting wealthier but it's not all good news in latest snapshot first appeared on The Canberra Times.