Income and Economic Wellbeing

For more than 50 years, the Melbourne Institute has played a leading role in developing an evidence base of the causes and consequences of individuals’ and families’ economic outcomes in Australia.

The Melbourne Institute is renowned for undertaking and disseminating high-calibre, rigorous, peer-reviewed research on income and economic wellbeing. We apply sophisticated statistical and econometric methods to data, allowing us to evaluate and contribute to the design of policies that reduce socio-economic disadvantage and promote economic independence for more Australians.

In 1966, the Melbourne Institute began the first systematic attempt to measure poverty in Australia. Since then we have contributed some of the world’s best research in socio-economics, including setting the first ever Australian poverty benchmark (the ‘Henderson Poverty Line’) and developing and managing the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. The HILDA Survey, the only study of its kind in Australia, has collected longitudinal data on economic wellbeing since 2001.

  • Poverty, socio-economic disadvantage and social exclusion

    For over five decades, our researchers have been describing and analysing the nature and extent of socio-economic disadvantage in the Australian community. Our focus is on examining the causes, conditions and consequences of poverty and economic inequality, helping to inform public discussions and policymaking.

    We are particularly interested in the complex issues surrounding the intergenerational transmission of socio-economic advantage and disadvantage, and the impact of economic stress on families and young people.

    We actively disseminate our research through a range of social indicator reports, including:

  • Household financial decision-making and economic wellbeing

    Our researchers are working to improve our understanding of how financial decision-making in various household structures affects financial wellbeing. We’re studying retirement savings adequacy, the growth of dual income households, and the social and cultural norms underpinning the functioning of financial decision-making.

    We also explore how family formation, structure and decision-making processes impact economic wellbeing.

  • Welfare receipt

    The effects of welfare policies and programs on economic wellbeing is of key concern to the Australian Government, and the Melbourne Institute. Our aim is to inform the design of a welfare system that incentivises work while ensuring those in need can access an appropriate level of income support.

    We work with the Department of Social Services to evaluate major policy packages such as the $96.1 million Try, Test and Learn Fund, which is trialling innovative approaches to assist vulnerable families to move towards stable, sustainable independence. The objective of the Try, Test and Learn Fund is to generate new insights and empirical evidence into what works to reduce long-term welfare dependence.

  • Wealth distribution and income inequality

    Our researchers are working to understand the extent, nature and drivers of economic inequality and mobility in Australia, especially as measured by household incomes and wealth. This includes evaluation of the impact of tax and transfer policies on the distribution and dynamics of income and wealth.

Program Details


Program Coordinator: Professor Roger Wilkins

Research staff

Partnerships and Funding

This program is funded through grants and research contracts provided by a variety of sources, including the Australian Research Council, Australian Government Department of Social Services, Paul Ramsay Foundation, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Australian Taxation Office, and often works in collaboration with the Brotherhood of St Laurence.


Working Papers

Research Insights