Taking the Pulse of the Nation

Informing Australian economic & social policy. A Melbourne Institute & Roy Morgan partnership

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Taking the Pulse of the Nation (TTPN) surveys the Australian population to capture their sentiments and behaviours related to current economic and social issues

Since 2020, the Taking the Pulse of the Nation (TTPN) survey has collected compelling information on the changing behaviours and attitudes of Australians. Together, Melbourne Institute and Roy Morgan understand the value in capturing the voices of Australians on the issues that matter right now. We use this information to create expert analyses to directly inform social and economic policies for our Nation.

This survey data is available subject to relevant fees and conditions.  Please contact us for more information and access.

Despite lower unemployment rates and decreased restrictions from the pandemic in 2022, stress remains high in Australia

The Taking the Pulse of the Nation has tracked financial stress and mental distress throughout the pandemic. Financially, some workers were laid off due to lockdown restrictions, there were changes in demand and supply, in addition to several other factors that have changed how we work and the need for workers. Emotionally, we spent much of 2020 and 2021 in isolation and engaging in social distancing. Both changes in the workplace and the restrictions we faced resulted in high levels of financial stress and/or high levels of mental distress.

During 2022, we have moved closer to pre-2020 activities at home and in the workplace. Freedoms have increased and more workers have been going back to the office. Unemployment rates have dropped. But, at the same time, economic conditions are changing, with increases in the cost of living and interest rates.

How are we doing in 2022 in terms of stress? Are we noticing changed stress levels from both a financial and emotional perspective? As stress can lead to bad short and long-term outcomes, are we supporting what is needed for a vibrant, safe and healthy Australia?

This report focuses on “stress” that reflects Australians’ reports of financial stress (just making ends meet or worse) plus a report of some level of mental distress. We combine these two indicators given they are strongly correlated and an increase in either measure can drive an increase in the other measure. We confirm that stress is not dropping as fast as we might expect. Moreover, the changes in stress over time varies by age, family composition and employment status.

Focusing on respondents that are within expected ages for being employed (25 to 54), we find:

Younger Australians report the highest level of stress

For Australians aged 25-44, stress levels remain relatively high. The biggest drop in stress is for those aged 45-54. Reported stress for females is higher than for males. (Figure 1 and Table 1)

Unemployment is a key factor in stress levels

Grouping our respondents by family composition, couples exhibit higher rates of employment than single respondents. For both types of family composition, employment rates have increased in 2022. The reported employment rate for single respondents is much higher in 2022 than in 2020 and 2021. (Figure 2)

Respondents who are single and not employed or in a partnership where both partners are not employed continue to exhibit high rates of combined financial and mental distress. These rates increased at the end of 2021 and at the beginning of 2022. Respondents who are employed or have a partner who is employed exhibit lower rates of stress. For couples where the respondent is not employed stress rates have been increasing even if the partner is employed. (Figure 3)

Respondents with children exhibit higher stress than those with no children at home

Singles with children report higher stress (by about 10 percentage points) than singles without children. These rates have remained relatively constant during 2022. Couples with children report higher stress (by about 4-5 percentage points) but the rates have been falling in 2022 (by about 12-13 percentage points).(Figure 4)

These findings illustrate that the proportion of those reporting financial and mental stress has not fallen by much in 2022. There is, however, much variation based on gender, family composition and employment rates. Particularly disturbing is that stress is not dissipating for single respondents and single respondents with children. As unemployment rates have fallen, so have stress rates. But even with lower unemployment, stress remains high for families and, as we are seeing other stressors such as increases in the cost of living and other uncertainties, we should not assume that stress will fall for many groups.

This Taking the Pulse of the Nation insight was authored by Prof A. Abigail Payne, Director of the Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research and Ronald Henderson Professor, 25 August 2022.

*Beginning in April 2020, the Taking the Pulse of the Nation (TTPN) was conceptualised and implemented by a group of researchers at the Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research. In 2022, the Melbourne Institute and Roy Morgan formed a partnership to extend the running of the TTPN. Each wave includes a set of core questions, as well as additional questions that address current and emerging issues facing Australians. The sample is stratified to reflect the Australian adult population in terms of age, gender, and location. The TTPN Survey uses a repeated cross-sectional design. This report is based on a total of 34,434 survey respondents from data collected between April 2020 to June 2022. All figures capture information for respondents aged 25 to 54. If you are interested in adding questions to the survey or accessing the data, please contact us at: melb-inst@unimelb.edu.au.

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