Happiness, Wellbeing and Habitus

Some time ago in this blog I wrote about wellbeing and demography. This week I had an opportunity to revisit some of the ideas from that post in the context of some 2010 reports and discussions. The three stimuli were:

1.Derek Bok‘s discussion of The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-Being with Phillip Adams on Radio National’s Late Night Live. The book describes the principal findings of happiness researchers and considers “how reliable the results appear to be and whether they deserve to be taken into account in devising government policies”. Derek Bok looks at the policy implications of happiness research for “economic growth, equality, retirement, unemployment, health care, mental illness, family programs, education, and government quality, among other subjects”.

2. The publication of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ report Are Young People Learning or Earning? The report notes that in 2009:

  • The majority (81%) of young people aged 15-24 years (from a total of around three million) were fully engaged in either education or work.
  • Almost a half (49%) were studying full-time for a qualification, while almost a third (31%) were in full-time employment.
  • A small proportion (around 2%) were engaged in both study and work on a part-time basis.
  • Some 561,000 (19%) were not fully engaged. These were made up of 8% of young people who worked part-time (without being enrolled in study), 5% who were unemployed, and another 6% who were not in the labour force. A very small proportion of young people (25,700 or around 1%) were enrolled in part-time study only.

3.Radio National’s PM program explored the report and in its discussion observed that “More than half the people who left school in 2008 without matriculating couldn’t find full-time work or a place in further study. And the downturn left nearly one in five young people in limbo, neither working full time nor studying.” The next day the PM program followed up with a story about the work of the Exodus Foundation. The Foundation has been in operation for eight years and works on “the problem of students falling out of the education system, then struggling to either find work or get into tertiary study.” It takes on twenty students each year who face “barriers to education, including abusive families, homelessness or having already been in gaol.” Exodus Youth:

Is a second chance education and training program directed at early school leavers aged 15-19 who experience homelessness, abuse and/or other social dislocations. Exodus Youth provides young people with the knowledge, skills and attitudes that enable them to succeed in everyday life and gain employment .

Exodus Youth program is based on three steps:

Step 1 – Completion of the Year 10 certificate
This is achieved through correspondence with Sydney Distance Education High School. The certificate takes approximately one year to complete.

Step 2 – Living Skills Program
The living skills program assists young people in making the transition to a successful, independent life. This program runs parallel to the Year 10 certificate program, and is based around six modules designed to teach everyday skills ranging from budgeting and cooking, to law and basic rights.

Step 3 – Next Step Program
After completion of Steps 1 & 2 students will be ready for employment, further education and/or training. We assist in the first few months of their new life, providing support, mentoring and counselling as required.

The Exodus Youth program is different from regular schooling because it allows students to learn at their own pace in a small group within a safe environment. The program runs Tuesday to Thursday from 9:30am to 2:30pm. As many of the students go without meals at home, breakfast, lunch and snacks are provided.

These three items encouraged me to think again about habitus. I read Bourdieu a long time ago but a Wikipedia summary took me back to 1970s and early 1980s studies in sociology. The summary noted that:

The habitus provides the practical skills and dispositions necessary to navigate within different fields (such as sports, professional life, art) and guides the choices of the individual without ever being strictly reducible to prescribed, formal rules. At the same time, the habitus is constantly remade by these navigations and choices (including the success or failure of previous actions).

These navigations and choices are key components for me in the discussion of  happiness and wellbeing. This week’s reading and listening have reaffirmed that for me.

Photo Credits

Meeting in Utrecht (1980)

Sydney (1935)

Hope Arriving h.koppdelaney

Wellbeing and Demographic Snapshots of Australia 2009


In the last week, two reports have provided some fascinating demographic information about Australia. An ABC news post drew attention to the most recent Australian Unity Wellbeing Index report developed in the Australian Centre on Quality of Life (ACQOL) by Bob Cummins. The Index has the aim of promoting greater public and political awareness of the social factors underpinning wellbeing, as well as enhancing scientific understanding of subjective wellbeing.

Results (Report 19.1) indicate that:

  • The five Statistical Sub-Divisions (SSDs) with the highest levels of wellbeing are all characterised by being fairly remote regions of Australia.  These are: Glenelg (VIC), Upper South East (SA), Kangaroo Island/Yorke (SA), Litchfield Shire (NT), Barkly/Lower Top End (NT)
  • The five SSDs with the lowest levels of wellbeing are all charactrised as inner-city.  These are: Fairfield-Liverpool (NSW), South Canberra (ACT), Inner Sydney (NSW), Greater Dandenong City  (VIC), Campbelltown (NSW).
  • Various demographic variables alone and in combination can explain 25-30% of the variation in wellbeing between SSDs.  The strongest of these are wealth (positive), population density (negative), the percentage of homes where only English is spoken (positive) and the percentage of people not born in Australia (negative).
  • The strongest demographic factor in terms of explaining variation between SSDs appears to be the percentage of people not born in Australia.  However, the influence is minor where the proportion of New Australians remains below 40% of the total SSD population.  The vast majority of SSDs contain less than 40% New Australians.  However, the few SSDs that exceed this proportion have low average wellbeing.
  • The domains of wellbeing that appear most sensitive to these influences are relationships and community connection.
  • Wellbeing generally falls in cities with more than 40,000 inhabitants.

The foundation paper for the Index was published in 2003 (Google Scholar link to a PDF copy of the paper.)

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has released a Picture of the Nation. A post announcing its publication reports that the Picture “analyses information collected in the 2006 Census of Population and Housing. It incorporates information from previous censuses—in some instances going back as far as 1911. It presents stories about contemporary society and trends that affect the lives of Australian people. Drawing on the rich variety of topics covered by the census and looking across different geographic areas and population groups, this report showcases the many strengths of census data”.

Some key points abstracted by the ABS:

  • Australians are living longer with the proportion of older Australians (aged 65 and over) increasing from 4% in 1901 to 13% in 2006.
  • The proportion of children (aged under 15) declined from 35% in 1901 to 20% in 2006.
  • Generation X and Y are the most highly qualified generation, with one in four having a Bachelor Degree or above in 2006.
  • Between 2001 and 2006, Australia’s population increased by over one million people, with about half from overseas migration and half from natural increase.
  • Young Australians continue to leave rural areas. Over a quarter of people leaving country inland areas in 2006 were aged 15-24. The loss of young people makes it difficult to sustain population levels in these areas.


  • Almost half (44%) of all Australians were either born overseas or has at least one parent born overseas.
  • About one-third of Australia’s Indigenous population are living in Major Cities.
  • In 2006, Australia’s Greek and Croatian born population had the highest citizenship rates with 97% and 96% respectively. Japan born residents had the lowest citizenship rate with 15%.
  • Over 200 languages were spoken in Australian homes in 2006. The most common non-English languages were Italian (1.8%), Greek (1.4%), Cantonese (1.3%), Arabic (1.3%) and Mandarin (1.2%).


  • The proportion of young couple families without children has remained constant over the last 20 years (14%). However fewer of these couples are getting married – 44% in 2006 compared with 75% in 1986.
  • In 2006 two-thirds of all people living in group households were aged between 15 and 34 years.
  • In 2006, one in 10 people in Australia were living alone, but half the population lived in a two parent family with children.
  • In 2006, 24,000 children lived with their grandparents, with no parent in the family.


  • In 2006, more women had volunteered than men and people born in Australia were more likely to volunteer than those born overseas (22% compared with 15%).
  • In 2006, 1.3 million people provided unpaid care for another child, who was not their own. Two thirds of these were women.
  • 4.4% of Australians needed daily assistance with core activities such as self-care, moving around or communicating, because of a long term health condition, a disability or old age.


  • One in four Australians attended an educational institution in 2006.
  • There were 1.7 million primary school students and 1.3 million secondary school students in 2006: a 2% decline in the number of primary students and a 5% increase in the number of secondary students since 1996.
  • The number of Indigenous students attending primary school increased by 17% to 72,000 between 1996 and 2006. Over the same period, the number of Indigenous secondary students increased by 46% to 40,000.
  • The most common fields of study for people’s highest non-school qualification were Engineering and related technologies (21%) and Management and commerce (20%) of all people with non-school qualifications.


  • Labour force participation for women increased from 48% to 58% between 1986 and 2006. Over the same period the participation rate for men fell from 75% to 72%.
  • In 2006, more people worked very long hours than in 1986: 19% reported that they worked 49 hours or more per week, compared with 15% of all employed people in 1986.
  • 8 out of 10 people travelled to work by motor car on Census day 2006.


  • The family home is the main asset for many Australians: 70% of households owned their own home with or without a mortgage: a similar rate to the past 40 years.
  • In 2006, more than two thirds (67%) of people who were employed full-time in higher skill level occupations (which included managers and professionals) had higher incomes.


  • Between 1986 and 2006, the number of private dwellings in Australia increased by 45% (or 2.6 million dwellings), while the number of people living in private dwellings increased by substantially less at 28%.
  • The median weekly rent for public housing was $90.

Both publications appeared (or were discussed) close to Australia Day. This year’s Australian of the Year, Mick Dodson, has stimulated a very open debate about when Australia Day should be celebrated and what the Day should be called.


Footnote: On 5 March 2009 Radio National held a fascinating discussion about Australian population growth. This is a link to a podcast of the discussions between Philip Adams, Mark O’Connor and Barney Foran. This is the trail for the program:

This month the Federal Government will be issuing its draft legislation on an emissions trading scheme. At the same time, our population is growing faster than Indonesia’s, faster than the Asia-Pacific region’s and three times as fast as the average OECD countries. But, is it possible to cut our greenhouse gas emissions without taking into account our future population?