ACT: Canberra residents happier than other regions in Australia, study finds

People living in and around Canberra are happier on average than Australians in other parts of the country – according to a new study by the University of Canberra.

The fourth ‘Living Well in the ACT Region’, conducted by the University of Canberra’s Health Research Institute, found only 17.6 per cent of ACT adults reported a low level of wellbeing, compared with 24.8 per cent of all Australians.

On Thursday, lead researcher, Professor Jacki Schirmer, said in a statement that the research was interesting as it showed how ACT residents’ wellbeing changed between the first and second Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020 and 2021.

“While personal wellbeing fell during the first lockdown, it didn’t decline as significantly for most Canberrans during the second,” she said.

“The survey results suggest that while 47.1 per cent of Canberrans told us they found the second lockdown harder to cope with than the first, many actually managed to maintain their wellbeing despite the challenges of lockdown.”

Wellbeing indicators measured in the survey include personal wellbeing, access and connectivity, nature connection, health, identity and belonging, living standards, safety and social connection.

The survey data contributes to reporting for the territory government’s ACT Wellbeing Framework, which was established following consultation in 2019 and 2020 with Canberrans about “what is most important to their quality of life”.

Explaining the purpose of the framework, the ACT Government said that “existing measures of economic progress do not capture all the issues that may be important to a community”.

“Quality of life issues are often masked in such statistics, with life satisfaction not necessarily tracking measures of economic growth for all in the community,” it says.

“By turning our attention to indicators of social progress and considering them alongside the economic issues we already measure, we will start to form a clearer picture of the broader effects that policy and non-policy factors have on our people, businesses, places and systems.”

The University of Canberra survey found that some groups did experience a decline in wellbeing, notably those living on their own or in units or apartments.

“People who are carers had a particularly large drop in what was already a lower than average level of wellbeing amongst this group, along with those living with a mental health disability,” Prof Schirmer said.

“This highlights a need to invest in supporting those groups whose wellbeing has been most affected over the last two years.”

The report also indicated a decline in the perception of overall liveability in the region, dropping to 87.8 per cent, from 94.7 per cent in the 2020 survey. The decline was greatest among younger Canberrans, renters, those living in units and apartments, and those who have lived in Canberra less than five years.

“The findings suggest that among these groups, the effects of Covid-19 on being able to socialise, study and work face-to-face, as well as participating in community events, has had a significant impact,” Prof Schirmer said.

She said the ACT Government had led the way in developing a wellbeing framework that governments can use to inform their decision-making, and other states and the Federal Government had recently begun following suit.

“This type of data can help governments, and other organisations like community groups, identify where they can best invest in and support those who are struggling the most,” she said.

ACT residents, including people living in Canberra, Queanbeyan, Yass and Murrumbateman, are invited to take part in the next phase of the research by answering the 10-minute survey.

“We may not be in lockdown, but 2022 is certainly bringing its share of challenges,” Prof Schirmer said.

“We invite all people living in the Canberra region to take part in the latest round of the ‘Living Well’ survey.”

Originally published as Canberra residents happier than other regions, University of Canberra study finds