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Aus subjective wellbeing 2022: Climate change

Australians’ subjective wellbeing in 2022: Climate change, mental distress, mood and social connection, Australian Unity Wellbeing Research Team, May 2023

Australian Unity Wellbeing Index (AUWI) – Survey 39

Executive Summary

The Australian Unity Wellbeing Research Team:
Mallery Crowe, Tanja Capic, Mervyn Singh, Christopher Greenwood, Georgie Frykberg, Sarah Khor, Robert A. Cummins, Matthew Fuller-Tyszkiewicz, Craig A. Olsson, Delyse Hutchinson, Kate Lycett.


The Australian Centre on Quality of Life at Deakin University, in partnership with Australian Unity, has been monitoring the Subjective Wellbeing (SWB) of Australians aged 18 to 90+ years for the past 21 years. This monitoring has been achieved through 39 national surveys and collected data on over 70,000 Australians. In addition to charting the natural history of personal and national wellbeing, each year we examine how it varies by demographic groups and special interest areas. In the latest 2022 survey, data collection was conducted between 23 May and 27 June 2022 and the special interest areas included mental distress, social connectedness, climate change and mood.

Several events in the lead-up to data collection were notable locally and globally. The federal election took place on 21 May 2022, with the Labor Party achieving a majority government for the first time since 2013, and several inner-city seats swinging towards the Greens and ‘Teal’ independents (ABC, 2022; Australian Electoral Commission, 2022) – most of whom ran strong election campaigns on the need for climate action.

In 2022, we also experienced the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic and one in which cases soared. In Australia, most social isolation restrictions had been wound back, but the death rate was much lower than in 2020 and 2021 (Macali, 2020), as most eligible Australians had received COVID19 vaccinations. Nonetheless, Australia’s health system was in distress (Ore & Rose, 2022).

Cost-of-living pressures also began to quickly rise in early 2022. Globally, tensions escalated in February 2022 when Russia launched an invasion into Ukraine. The war displaced millions of people and killed thousands (Psaropoulos, 2022). It also had a major impact on commodities and supply chains (Tsiaplias & Wang, 2023), with oil prices surging.

Locally, catastrophic floods swept through New South Wales and Queensland in February 2022. This impacted tens of thousands of people (Australian Red Cross, 2022) and had a devasting impact on nature and agriculture, which led to increases in the cost of fresh fruit and vegetables (Kelly, 2022). In addition, rising inflation and the corresponding rate hikes by the Reserve Bank (RBA, 2022) compounded cost-of-living pressures. These came at a time when Australia’s wealth and income inequality had already been rising (Richardson & Grudnoff, 2023).

Together, these tumultuous local and global events of early 2022 saw Australians face a polycrisis of cost-of-living pressures, climate change pressures and global uncertainty amidst an ongoing health pandemic and war. The following report provides a summary of the key highlight results from our 2022 report, showing how Australians were faring against this backdrop in 2022 compared to previous years.


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