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Young Aussies’ life satisfaction plummeted during COVID-19

Life satisfaction among young professionals is at an all-time low, new research from ANU has revealed.

user iconLauren Croft 18 July 2022 Big Law
Young Aussies’ life satisfaction plummeted during COVID-19
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Young Australians have suffered the greatest drop in life satisfaction during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, new analysis from the Australian National University (ANU) shows.

The COVID-19 Impact Monitoring Survey, which has asked more than 3,500 Australians how the pandemic has affected their lives since COVID-19 was first recorded in the country, is the source of the findings, which show that those aged 18 to 24 experienced a steep drop in life satisfaction over the last few years.

The survey is the longest running of its kind — and according to the latest wave, Australians aged 18 to 24 years saw a drop of 0.50 points in life satisfaction from 6.8 in January 2020 to an average of 6.3 on a scale of zero to 10 between April 2020 and April 2022. Life satisfaction for young adults reached a low of six out of 10 in April 2022 and October 2020, and in April 2022 was still well below the January 2020 value — showing that young Australians were at a higher risk of poor mental health, according to study co-author Professor Nicholas Biddle.


“Young Australians are still at the highest risk of suffering the worst mental and wellbeing effects of COVID-19. Clearly, we need to make sure our young people are given the right support and care to help them deal with the ongoing impacts of the pandemic,” he said.

“This includes access to ongoing employment and education opportunities, mental health support, and factoring the impact of any COVID-19 policy on youth and young adults into all our policy decisions.”

Men and women experienced similar drops in life satisfaction during the pandemic, while Australians aged 55 and older were less likely to suffer a drop compared to those younger than 55.

“Between April 2020 and April 2022 if anything, life satisfaction was slightly higher for those aged 75 years and over than prior to the pandemic,” Professor Biddle explained.

“This might be because the health impacts on older Australians were not as large as in some other countries like the UK, the USA or Continental Europe, or as large as they were first predicted.”

Additionally, the research also examined Australians’ mental health and psychological distress, loneliness and self-isolation, social cohesion and economic and financial stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the survey, there was a “large increase” in psychological distress between the beginning of the pandemic and April 2020 — and whilst levels of psychological distress have begun to stabilise since January 2022, they remain at higher levels compared to before the pandemic.

Furthermore, the research revealed that two years into the pandemic, levels of face-to-face social interaction had not returned to pre-pandemic levels. The proportion of adults who met socially with other people less often than once a week was 54.8 per cent in April 2022, much higher than the 41.4 per cent who said they did the same in February 2020.

There was also a significant increase in “social cohesion” during the early stages of the pandemic, with it increasing over the period from February 2020 to October 2020. Since then, social cohesion has started to decline, but has remained well above pre-COVID levels.

The latest survey results show overall life satisfaction in Australia sat at 6.9 out of 10 in January 2020. The lowest level of life satisfaction during the pandemic was 6.5 in April 2020 and August 2021, with the average “lost life satisfaction” over the period equal to 0.21. By April 2022, life satisfaction had returned to 6.7, still well below levels observed in late 2019 and early 2020.

Professor Biddle said the drop in life satisfaction during the COVID-19 pandemic could be measured in “very real economic terms”.

“For example, January 2020’s level of life satisfaction of 6.93 equates to a household income of $1,480 per week. In contrast, a life satisfaction of 6.71 equals a weekly household income of $773. The average lost life satisfaction during the pandemic is therefore equivalent to roughly halving in a household’s weekly income,” he said.

“Clearly, there has been a very significant impact on life satisfaction for all Australians due to COVID-19.”