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Older Australians much happier than young

By Sarah Bell

Nerida Conisbee,
Ray White Chief Economist

Gallup’s World Happiness report for 2024 was recently released. Australia is one of the happiest countries in the world, ranking 10th globally. Overwhelmingly, the happiest countries tend to be small, with populations under 15 million people. Only the Netherlands and Australia could be considered large countries in terms of population of the top 10.

What drives this happiness? The ranking is based on self reporting of happiness however there seem to be similar trends amongst happier countries. Some are very obvious – war and revolution has made Afghanistan a very unhappy country. In the happiest country, Finland, high levels of gender equality, a high level of trust in institutions and fellow citizens and low corruption are likely drivers. Free education, universal health care and family-friendly policies would also help. Australians aren’t quite as happy as the Finns but far happier than other countries in our region, with the exception of New Zealand which is ranked just below Australia at 11th.

While we are happy, there was a distinct difference by age group. The happiest Australians are older, aged over 60 years. In comparison, the young are far less happy. Australians under 30 years ranked 19th in global happiness. This compares to people aged over 60 years, ranking 9th. More concerning, this gap has mainly risen since 2010. At that time in Australia, the young were as happy as the old. A drop in happiness amongst young females has been far more marked than young males. Australia’s young are still far happier than most of the young people than the world but the gap is cause for concern.

Far less happy young people is not a global trend but does seem to be the case in Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada. The Gallup report doesn’t delve into the source of lower levels of happiness however there are potentially a range of causes. Rising social media use, income inequalities, the housing crisis, and fears about climate change are considered top of the worries. In countries where the young are much happier than the old, rising levels of education and gender equality seem to be drivers. Not having gone through war time periods like older people however is also a major factor.

For Australia, housing is likely a major factor. Fewer young people own homes now compared to older Australians at the same age. House prices have risen rapidly and more recently, so too have rents. As Australia’s population has grown, housing densities have had to rise, changing the types of homes that people are used to. Australia’s young are still a lot happier than most other countries, including those that are often given as examples as having better housing policies, however this inter-generational challenge needs to be addressed.

If older people are happiest in Australia, it would stand to reason that the happiest suburbs are those that contain a lot of people aged 60 plus. Many of the suburbs with a lot of older people are pretty nice. Most are regional and on the water. There are only two that are located in a capital city, both in Brisbane. The happiest suburb based on this metric however is Tea Gardens-Hawks Nest in Port Stephens with over 60 per cent of the population aged over 60 years.

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