Young Australians hit hard by Covid pandemic, life satisfaction survey finds

Young Australians aged 18 to 24 were hit hard by the pandemic, losing the most life satisfaction of any age group in the first two years of Covid, new analysis has found.

The Australian National University’s Covid-19 Impact Monitoring Survey measured life satisfaction on a scale of one to 10. Between April 2020 and April 2022, young Australians recorded an average life satisfaction of 6.3 – a drop of 0.50 points since January 2020, before Covid-19 was first recorded in the country.

The drop was almost double the average lost life satisfaction of 0.21 points measured across the survey’s 3,500 participants, with ages ranging between 18 and 75-plus.

Young adults hit their lowest point at 6.0 in October 2020. Almost two years on and after some improvement the same low was reached again in April 2022.

The blunt impact on young people is a “consistent finding across other countries and surveys”, the study co-author Prof Nicholas Biddle said.

Key to the blow was hampered social interaction.

“Young people haven’t had the time to develop links within the workplace, to develop social networks as an adult, which are obviously different to as an adolescent,” Biddle said. For Australians between 18 and 24, “all those things tend to be established or developed around the time substantial Covid restrictions were introduced”.

The numbers were quite different for Australians over 55, who were less likely to suffer a drop – and those 75-plus did even better. “If anything, life satisfaction was slightly higher for those aged 75 years and over than prior to the pandemic,” Biddle said.

“Young Australians are still at the highest risk of suffering the worst mental and wellbeing effects of Covid-19,” he said.

“Clearly we need to make sure our young people are given the right support and care …. This includes access to ongoing employment and education opportunities, mental health support, and factoring the impact of any Covid-19 policy on youth.”

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The measure of satisfaction captured “a level of health and wellbeing across all aspects of a person’s life”, Biddle said. This spanned from relationship status and social interaction to financial wellbeing and health.

Along with the inability to develop new social networks or interact with people, loss of life satisfaction materialised as losing hours of work, financial pressure, concern about health, and an inability to travel or engage in work and study.

But the drop in life satisfaction transcended measurements of wellbeing. According to Biddle, it could be identified in “very real economic terms” too.

January 2020’s average level of life satisfaction of 6.93 equated to a household income of $1,480 a week, for instance. A lower life satisfaction of 6.71 equalled a weekly household income of $773.

“The average lost life satisfaction during the pandemic is therefore equivalent to a roughly halving in households’ weekly income,” Biddle said.

In more measures than not, women were more impacted than men, as were people with low levels of education and income. And though levels of psychological distress have stabilised since January 2022, they remain much higher than levels before the pandemic.

However, the survey also saw an increase in social cohesion across Australia, particularly among young Australians during the early stages of the pandemic to October 2020. Social cohesion has remained well above pre-Covid levels.

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