Social connections


Theme: Cohesive
Dimension: Having time for family and community


  • Proportion of people who agreed with the statement ‘I often feel very lonely’
  • Proportion of people who undertake voluntary work

Why does this matter

One reason that people value free time, is because it can be used to pursue social connection, which is critical to overall wellbeing. We can measure whether Australians have access to the relationships and social connection that they need, by tracking the presence of loneliness in the community.

One way Australians may seek to maintain social connections is volunteering.

Has there been progress

The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey data shows that the overall proportion of Australians experiencing loneliness at any one time has declined slightly, from a high of 21 per cent in 2001, to a low of 16 per cent in 2009. Rates have remained relatively stable at around 18 per cent for the past 7 years.

Other surveys undertaken during the COVID-19 pandemic found that people reported that they felt more lonely since the start of the pandemic – young people were more likely than other age groups to have felt this.1

One quarter (25 per cent) of Australians aged 15 years and over participated in unpaid voluntary work through an organisation in 2020, lower than the 30 per cent in 2019. One third (32 per cent) of people volunteered informally in 2020, compared with 33 per cent in 2019.2 

People aged 40-54 years volunteered through an organisation at the highest rate of any age group (30.5 per cent). This was followed closely by people aged 70 years and over (28.0 per cent). Rates of volunteering through an organisation was similar for men (23 per cent) and women (26 per cent).

The COVID‑19 pandemic is one factor that has affected number of people who feel lonely. The COVID-19 pandemic may have also affected volunteering patterns as a significant number of volunteering positions were closed during this period, for example, hospitals.

1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) Social isolation and loneliness, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 19 July 2023.

2 Australian Bureau of Statistics (2020) General Social Survey, accessed 14 July 2023.

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