4160.0 - Measuring Wellbeing: Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics, 2001  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 12/10/2001   
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Contents >> Chapter 7: Economic Resources >> Economic resources and wellbeing

Economic resources and wellbeing

'Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds and six, result misery.'

Mr Micawber's advice from David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens.


An individual's wellbeing (and that of the social unit with whom they share resources) is obviously low if their budget is so limited that they have difficulty in paying for basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing and shelter. People in this situation can face physical, mental and emotional stress on a daily basis, as they struggle to make ends meet and to live a civilised life. Being dependent on others, for money or for goods and services, can also affect a person's self esteem. People with limited resources may have feelings of inadequacy or failure, particularly as, in our culture, high income and high levels of consumption are often equated with success.

Beyond being able to provide for themselves and provide for their families with basic necessities, most people aspire to having extra money to obtain a range of other goods and services that may serve to enhance their wellbeing. People with ready access to large amounts of money obviously have greater choice in satisfying their wants and needs than those with little money. Although being rich does not necessarily make people happy, those who are rich have more freedom to choose the lifestyle and the material goods they would prefer.


The acquisition and use of economic resources is a social activity which involves giving and taking. In our system of production and distribution many transfers occur as formal transactions in the marketplace. While allowing people to pursue their own interests, the marketplace may not meet the needs of all. Individual business interests may be against the interests of the wider community. Mechanisms therefore exist to cater for people who fare less well and to protect wider community interests. It is the tension between the self interest of people and the concerns with supporting others, played out within families, through business decisions, and the many decisions of governments through their taxing and spending programs, that helps to determine levels of inequality within the community.

As described in the chapter concerned with family and community, a key determinant of human wellbeing is the way in which people support each other with their various needs. Many forms of support involve the transfer of economic resources. These transfers occur within families, between friends and neighbours, as well as through government tax-transfer systems. They also occur through the work of charitable organisations, sometimes with the help of government, and the charitable donations made by businesses and households.

Measures of income distribution and of the extent to which people live in relative poverty provide key indicators of the effectiveness of the market and of the complementary roles of families, governments and community groups in sharing the rewards of economic growth. As such they provide a basis for society to evaluate established systems of resource distribution and the need for change.

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