Latest release

General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia

Provides data on the social characteristics, wellbeing and social experiences of people in Australia

Reference period
2020

General Social Survey and the COVID-19 pandemic

The 2020 General Social Survey (GSS) was conducted over a 4 month period from 15th June to 5th September 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey was collected online or via telephone interviewing only. There was no face-to-face interviewing conducted in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions. Because of this changed methodology and the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the Australian population, care should be exercised when making comparisons with 2019. 

During the time that the GSS was conducted, initiatives were in place to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and support the economy, including:

  • international travel restrictions
  • border control measures for some states and territories
  • stimulus payments including:
    • a Coronavirus Supplement paid fortnightly from 27 April 2020 to eligible income support recipients along with their usual payments
    • a JobKeeper Payment passed in legislation on 15 April 2020 and paid to employers to keep more Australians in jobs and support businesses affected by the COVID-19 restrictions (extended until March 2021)
  • various restrictions, including shutting down non-essential services, limits on gatherings and social distancing rules from March 2020
  • a guided easing of these restrictions in many states and territories using the National Cabinet agreed three step framework introduced in early May 2020 (with the exception of Victoria as described below).

A second wave of COVID-19 emerged in Victoria from mid-June 2020 leading to stronger restrictions within the state from August 2020, including:

  • mandatory face coverings in public
  • ‘stay at home’ restrictions including curfews and a small number of provisions to leave home for exercise, grocery shopping, and essential work, medical care and caregiving
  • a return to remote learning for schools with onsite access to schools and child care restricted to essential workers with permits
  • closing onsite operation of retail, administration and some manufacturing businesses for 6 weeks (with the exception of essential businesses)
  • a Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment introduced for people who are required to take 14 days of leave to self-isolate or quarantine at home or care for someone with COVID-19 and who have no income or appropriate leave entitlements.

Wellbeing

Key statistics

  • Overall life satisfaction of Australians aged 15 years and over was 7.2 out of 10 in 2020, compared to 7.5 in 2019 and 7.6 in 2014.
  • More than half of Australians (59%) experienced at least one personal stressor in the last 12 months. This was similar to 2019 (56%).
  • One third of Australians (33%) reported 'Always' or 'Often' feeling rushed for time. 

Life satisfaction

  • Overall life satisfaction is a summary measure of subjective wellbeing against a scale ranging from 0 to 10, where 0 means 'not at all satisfied' and 10 means 'completely satisfied'.
  • In 2020, on average, Australians rated their overall life satisfaction as 7.2, compared to 7.5 in 2019 and 7.6 in 2014 (Table 8).
  • With the exception of people aged 70 years or over, most people reported a lower overall life satisfaction in 2020 compared to 2019. Older people aged 70 years and over reported an overall life satisfaction of 7.9 while young people aged 15-24 reported an overall life satisfaction of 6.9 in 2020 (Graph 1). 
  • Average life satisfaction was low for people with a metal health condition (5.8), long term health condition (6.9) and people who described themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual (6.3).
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Care must be exercised when making comparisons between this and previous surveys due to the higher non-response observed in 2020.

Personal stressors and feeling rushed for time

  • In 2020, more than half of Australians (59%) experienced at least one personal stressor in the last 12 months. This was similar to 2019 (56%) (Table 1).
  • People with a mental health condition were more likely to have experienced at least one personal stressor compared to those who do not have a mental health condition (83% and 56%). People with a long term health condition were also more likely to have experienced at least one personal stressor compared to those who did not (68% and 52%) (Table 3).
  • One third of Australians (33%) reported 'Always' or 'Often' feeling rushed for time in 2020 (Table 1).
  • Those aged 70 years or over were least likely to report feeling rushed for time (8%) and those aged 40 to 54 years were most likely to report feeling rushed for time (45%) (Table 2). 
  • More females (35%) reported 'Always' or 'Often' feeling rushed for time than males (30%). Females aged 25-39 years were more likely than males aged 25-39 to report feeling rushed for time (47 % compared to 38%) (Table 2) (Graph 2). 
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Social experiences

Key statistics

  • Australians had less face to face contact with family or friends living outside their household in 2020. Two in five (42%) had face to face contact with family or friends living outside their household at least once a week in 2020, compared to three in five (68%) in 2019. 
  • There was a decrease in the proportion of Australians involved in Social groups, Community support groups, and Civic and political groups from 2019 to 2020.
  • In 2020, 13% of Australians experienced some form of discrimination in the previous 12 months.
  • People who described themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual were more likely to report experiencing discrimination than people who described themselves as heterosexual (30% compared to 13%).
  • More than three quarters (76%) of Australians agreed that the healthcare system can be trusted in 2020.
  • In 2020, nearly one in five households (19%) were unable to raise $2,000 within a week for something important.

Family and community support

  • Australians had less face to face contact with family or friends living outside their household in 2020. Two in five (42%) had face to face contact with family or friends living outside their household at least once a week in 2020, compared to three in five (68%) in 2019 (Table 1). 
  • In Victoria, one in three (34%) people had face to face contact with family or friends living outside their household at least once a week in 2020 (Table 6 and Graph 3).
  • One third (34%) of persons aged 40-54 had face to face contact with family or friends living outside their household in 2020, compared to 67 % in 2019 (Graph 4).
  • Recent migrants and temporary residents were less likely than people born in Australia to have had face to face contact with family or friends living outside the household at least once a week during the 3 months prior to the survey (29% compared to 45%) (Table 4). 
  • Most Australians reported being able to get support in times of crisis from persons living outside their household in 2020 (93%), which is similar to 2019 (94%) . People with a mental health condition were less likely than those who do not have a mental health condition to report being able to get support in a time of crisis (85% and 94%) (Table 3). 
  • In 2020 most Australians said they had family or friends living outside their house to confide in (86%), lower than 2019 (89%). Recent migrants and temporary residents were less likely than people born in Australia to have someone outside the household to confide in (78% compared to 88%) (Table 4).
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Care must be exercised when making comparisons between this and previous surveys due to the higher non-response observed in 2020. 

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Care must be exercised when making comparisons between this and previous surveys due to the higher non-response observed in 2020. 

Involvement in Social, Community support, and Civic and political groups

  • There was a decrease in the proportion of Australians involved in Social groups, Community support groups, and Civic and political groups from 2019 to 2020 (Table 1). 
  • In 2020 46% of Australians were involved in Social groups, compared to 51% in 2019. Just over one fifth of Australians (21%) were involved in Community support group in 2020, compared to 25% in 2019.
  • Participation in Civic and political groups decreased from 9% in 2019 to 7% in 2020.

Cultural tolerance and discrimination

  • Generally, people agreed that it is 'a good thing for a society to be made up of people from different cultures' (85%) (Table 1). 
  • In 2020, 13% of Australians experienced some form of discrimination in the previous 12 months (Table 1).
  • One in five (21%) people with a mental health condition reported having experienced some form of discrimination, compared to 12% of people without a mental health condition. People with disability were also more likely to report having experienced discrimination compared to those with no disability (16% and 12%) (Table 3).

Trust

  • More than three quarters (76%) of Australians agreed that the healthcare system can be trusted in 2020 (Table 1). 
  • Trust in the healthcare system was higher in Major Cities (78%) compared to Outer Regional / Remote areas (70%) (Table 7).
  • Three in five (61%) Australians agree that most people can be trusted. Persons aged 70 years and over were more likely to agree that most people can be trusted compared to persons aged 15 to 24 years (68% and 54%) (Table 2).
  • Four in five (79%) Australians agree that police can be trusted, while 63% agree that the justice system can be trusted.

Sexual orientation

  • In the GSS respondents are asked which of the following best describes how they think of themselves: straight (heterosexual); gay or lesbian; bisexual; or a different term to describe their sexual orientation. For the purpose of this publication, data for people who described themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or a different term are combined into 'gay, lesbian or bisexual'.
  • Social experiences by sexual orientation are presented in Table 5.
  • Approximately 773,000, or 4%, of Australians described themselves as being gay, lesbian or bisexual in 2020, similar to 2019 (3%).
  • People who described themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual were more likely to report experiencing discrimination than people who described themselves as heterosexual (30% compared to 13%) and more likely to have experienced at least one personal stressor in the last 12 months (76% compared to 58%).
  • People who described themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual were less likely to agree with the follow statements than people who described themselves as heterosexual: 
    • most people can be trusted (51% compared to 63%)
    • the healthcare system can be trusted (68% compared to 78%)
    • the police can be trusted (56% compared to 82%)
    • the justice system can be trusted (41% compared to 65%)

Financial stress

  • The GSS measures financial stress experienced by households through a range of indicators including: the inability to raise $2,000 for something important, whether a household has experienced a cash flow problem in the last 12 months and whether a household took a dissaving action in the last 12 months.
  • In 2020, nearly one in five households (19%) were unable to raise $2,000 within a week for something important. A similar proportion of households experienced a cash flow problem in the previous 12 months (21%) or had at least one dissaving action in the previous 12 months (23%) (Table 16).
  • When compared with 'Couple families with dependant children', 'One parent families with dependant children' were more likely to report that a government pension and allowances was the main source of income in the household (32% compared to 4%) and were less able to save money most weeks (33% compared to 52%) (Table 15).

Voluntary work and unpaid work/support

Key statistics

  • One quarter (25%) of Australians aged 15 years and over participated in unpaid voluntary work through an organisation in 2020, lower than the 30% in 2019.
  • In 2020, volunteering rates were similar for males and females at 23% and 26%.
  • Unpaid voluntary work through an organisation contributed 489.5 million hours to the community in the 12 months prior to the survey.
  • Just under half (49%) of Australians aged 15 years and over provided unpaid work/support to persons living outside their household in the four weeks prior to the survey in 2020.

Unpaid voluntary work through an organisation

  • One quarter (25%) of Australians aged 15 years and over participated in unpaid voluntary work through an organisation in 2020, lower than the 30% in 2019 (Table 1).
  • In 2020, volunteering rates were similar for males and females at 23% and 26%.
  • In 2020, 31% of people aged 40-54 years participated in unpaid voluntary work through an organisation, compared to 19% of those aged 15-24 years (Table 2 and Graph 5).
  • Unpaid voluntary work through an organisation contributed 489.5 million hours to the community in 2020 and 596.2 million hours in 2019 (Table 11). The difference between 2019 and 2020 is not statistically significant.
  • The most common types of organisations for which people volunteered were those relating to sport and physical recreation (31% of volunteers), religious groups (23%) and education and training (19%) (Table 10). These were the same top three types of organisations as for 2019.
  • The main reasons given by people who did not do any voluntary work through and organisation in the 12 months prior to the survey in 2020 were 'No time (family / work commitments)' (52%) and 'Not interested / no need' (33%) (Table 12).
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Informal volunteering

  • Informal volunteering is the provision of unpaid work/support to non-household members, excluding that provided only to family members living outside the household.
  • In 2020, about one third (32%) of the Australian population aged 15 years and over participated in informal volunteering in the four weeks prior to the survey, similar to that of 2019 (33%) (Table 1).
  • Informal volunteering rates for males and females in 2020 were both 32%.

Unpaid work/support to non-household members

  • In 2020, almost half (49%) of the Australian population aged 15 years and over provided unpaid work/support to non-household members in the four weeks prior to the survey, similar to the 52% of 2019. In 2020, males and females were just as likely to provide this unpaid work/support (48% and 50%) (Table 1).
  • In the four weeks prior to completing the survey in 2020, Australians provided 113.9 million hours of unpaid work/support to non-household members, down 16% from 136.2 million hours in 2019 (Table 14). 
  • Of those who provided unpaid work/support to non-household members in last four weeks, the most common types of unpaid work/support provided were 'Providing any emotional support' (54%), 'Providing transport or running errands' (38%) and 'Domestic work, home maintenance or gardening' (37%) (Table 13 and Graph 6). These were the same top three types of unpaid work/support as for 2019.
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Data downloads

Table 1: Persons aged 15 years and over, Social Experiences–By Sex, 2019 and 2020

Table 2: Persons aged 15 years and over, Social Experiences–By Age and Sex

Table 3: Persons aged 15 years and over, Social Experiences–By Sex and Health Characteristics

Table 4: Persons aged 15 years and over, Social Experiences–By Migrant Status

Table 5: Persons aged 15 years and over, Social Experiences–By Sexual Orientation

Table 6: Persons aged 15 years and over, Social Experiences–By State and territory

Table 7: Persons aged 15 years and over, Social Experiences–By Remoteness area

Table 8: Persons aged 15 years and over, Overall Life Satisfaction–By Sex, 2014, 2019 and 2020, Mean score

Table 9: Persons aged 15 years and over, Voluntary Work and Unpaid Work/Support–By personal characteristics

Table 10: Persons aged 15 years and over who have undertaken unpaid voluntary work through an organisation in last 12 months, Characteristics of voluntary work–By Sex

Table 11: Persons aged 15 years and over who have undertaken unpaid voluntary work through an organisation in last 12 months, Annual hours–By Age and Sex

Table 12: Persons aged 15 years and over who have not undertaken unpaid voluntary work through an organisation in last 12 months, Reasons for not doing voluntary work

Table 13: Persons aged 15 years and over who provided unpaid work/support to non-household members in last 4 weeks, Characteristics of unpaid work/support–By Sex

Table 14: Persons aged 15 years and over who provided unpaid work/support to non-household members in last 4 weeks, Hours in last 4 weeks–By Age and Sex

Table 15: All Households, Household Income and Wealth–By Family composition of household

Table 16: All Households, Financial Stress – 2006, 2010, 2014, 2019 and 2020

Table 17: Persons aged 18 years and over, Social Experiences–By Sex, 2006, 2010, 2014, 2019 and 2020

Data item list

All data cubes

Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 4159.0.