MIL-OSI Australia: Opinion piece: Why don’t Australians get together like they used to?

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Source: Australian Treasurer

In the 13 years to 2019, the share of people involved in social groups fell from 63 per cent to 50 per cent.

Over the same period, the proportion of people involved in community support groups dropped from 33 per cent to 25 per cent. These rates fell even lower in 2020, at a time when the pandemic was impacting how we connected.

What has happened since then? We can’t be sure.

The data on group involvement comes from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ General Social Survey, which hasn’t been conducted for nearly 4 years.

Wellbeing isn’t just about dollars. When a friend asks ‘how are you?’, they’re not simply asking about your bank account.

They want to know about your health, happiness and social connections.

Humans are social animals, and the strength of our community is fundamental to the wellbeing of our society. In Reconnected: A Community Builder’s Handbook, Nick Terrell and I showed that many measures of community health have worsened over the past generation.

Over recent decades, Australians have become less likely to play an organised sport and less likely to volunteer. Religious attendance declined, and union membership has fallen.

Tracking the health of Australian community life is fundamental to turning these trends around. A revitalised General Social Survey will help understand wellbeing in 3 fundamental ways.

This new General Social Survey has 3 new features which will help to paint a bigger, more detailed and vibrant picture of Australians’ wellbeing.

First, the new General Social Survey will get to the heart of wellbeing better than ever before.

The survey will ask about health, including experiences of psychological distress and chronic health conditions.

It will investigate people’s economic security, including experiences of cash flow problems and ability to raise cash when needed.

The General Social Survey will ask about social cohesion, with questions about volunteering, participation in cultural activities, visiting cultural venues, experiences of discrimination, and levels of trust.

And it will include a question on life satisfaction – a broad measure of wellbeing that captures how people are faring. Together, these metrics will feed into our national Measuring What Matters wellbeing dashboard.

Second, the new General Social Survey will be conducted annually.

Upgrading from a quadrennial collection to a yearly collection will provide more accurate data and will allow us to track long‑term trends.

Wellbeing can fluctuate year‑to‑year, so having this data will allow government, business, and community to understand changes and respond accordingly.

Third, the new survey will shed light on differences in wellbeing.

We are increasing the number of people surveyed to 10,000 so that we can understand differences across geographic areas and social groups. If you want to know who’s going well, and who’s struggling, a big survey provides bigger insights.

Asking more questions, asking them annually, and asking a large sample are the essence of our new General Social Survey.

For government, it will allow us to shape policies that improve the wellbeing of Australians.

For community groups, it will show where populations are underserved. And for all Australians, it will paint a clearer picture of how our nation is faring.

When we measure what matters to Australians, we can build a fairer society and a more inclusive community.

MIL OSI News