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‘Wellbeing recession’: Happiness at its lowest point since COVID-19

By Kace O'Neill | |5 minute read

There are a variety of factors impacting the happiness of Aussies in the current climate. Financial concerns are still climbing among lower-income earners, having a negative impact on wellbeing.

The NAB Australian Wellbeing Survey Q4-2023 has revealed data displaying how finances are affecting the average Australian’s wellbeing.

Wellbeing is measured through a range of factors according to the individual’s perceptions of things like happiness, life satisfaction, life worth, and anxiety.


Naturally, everyone’s moods and circumstances fluctuate, but there is an underlying average that can be measured over time, providing another useful measure of how Australia is tracking as a nation. Wellbeing recognises the crucial importance of human flourishing, not only on its own but also in terms of the individual’s economic activity.

The report stated that wellbeing as a measured scale is at its lowest since the onset of COVID-19. This is being led by dissatisfaction with the state of the economy, as many Australians are struggling to make ends meet during a cost-of-living crisis. Household financial stress has also increased exponentially and is now at its highest since mid-2016.

Money is a key driver, as wellbeing was the lowest among the unemployed by a wide margin, along with those renting (particularly apartments), younger people aged 18 to 29, low-income earners, people with children, and women in general. On the other end, wellbeing was highest among people over 65 (particularly men), retirees, people earning $200,000 plus, married people, and people who live in their own houses.

There is a clear correlation between people who are in a lower economic situation being lower in the wellbeing department. The financial stress data from the survey gives similar results pertaining to the age groups.

Financial stress levels rose in all age groups except the 65-year-old-and-over group in the December quarter. Stress remained lowest by a large margin among the over 65s. People in the lower-income group reported higher stress for all index components, with the biggest gap in stress levels for raising $2,000 for an emergency, food and necessities, normal monthly utility bills, and major household items.

In terms of overall health, Australians are still “moderately” satisfied with all aspects of their health, which includes:

  • Emotional and mental health: Ability to cope with normal stresses of life and take pleasure and satisfaction from life.
  • Physical health: Soundness of body and freedom from disease and abnormality.
  • Social health: Quality of interactions and meaningful relationships with others.

According to the report, on average, they were most satisfied with their emotional or mental health, at 63.6 points (down from 64 points in the last survey), just ahead of social health, where satisfaction lifted a little to 63.5 points (63.2 points in the previous quarter). They were also more satisfied with their physical health but still rated it lowest of all aspects of their health, at 62.5 points (61.7 points in Q3).

In terms of the gender difference in regard to health, men are still more satisfied with all aspects of their health than women, especially emotional or mental health.

Meanwhile, in terms of the age difference, Australians over 65 reported much higher satisfaction for their emotional, mental, and social health compared to the 18-to-29-year-old group, who were most satisfied with their physical health.

Although, as a whole, Australians were moderately satisfied with all aspects of their health, there was a difference between income groups, with people in higher-income groups reporting much higher levels of satisfaction for all aspects of their health than those in the lower-income group, which follows the trend of the report.

Historically speaking, when wellbeing as a whole reaches these low levels, it snaps back in the following quarter. Should these falls further continue, Australia could be facing a “wellbeing recession”.

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill is a Graduate Journalist for HR Leader. Kace studied Media Communications and Maori studies at the University of Otago, he has a passion for sports and storytelling.