The passage of time immerses people in experiences which add to their accumulated knowledge and change their capacity to meet life challenges. As time passes, people are presented with decisions and choices which have a fundamental bearing on their long term wellbeing. Importantly, if people are to improve their wellbeing, this will usually happen over time, often through a series of transitions. For these reasons, the change in a variable's value over time is often of core interest to data users, and a common analytical aim is to understand reasons for changes in wellbeing over time.
However, although comparing an indicator at one point in time with the same indicator at another point may tell an analyst that a change has occurred, it may not provide insight into why the change occurred. It is often necessary to measure other factors associated with transitions in order to understand causal relationships. For example, life cycle related events can be the catalyst for change in a household's wellbeing status. Thus data can be usefully analysed in relation to life events of significance, e.g. gaining employment, getting married - or its equivalent, having children, seeing children leave home, retiring from work, losing a life time spouse or partner. Life stage analysis can also be crucial to understanding changes in wellbeing at the societal level, for example, a greater emphasis is being placed on support for the elderly as Australia's population is ageing.
The notion of time is central to many other aspects of wellbeing. For example, the time use framework, discussed in the chapters addressing work and leisure, highlights the time trade-offs that occur between various activities happening within the cycle of minutes and hours in a day.
Social movements also have a fundamental influence on people over time. The movement towards gender equality over recent decades is an example. Far from simply resulting in a few additions to the list of social indicators on the role of women, the true statistical effects of this movement are to be found in the way underlying assumptions in core areas of social statistics, such as family, work, and income, have shifted. The concept of work has been extended to include household work and child minding. The notion of income has been extended to include non-market income and income-in-kind. Family care and labour market based work, rather than being associated with one or other gender, are now viewed as elements in debates about how time related responsibilities are allocated between people, regardless of gender.