Is the quality of life in Australia getting worse?

According to today’s SMH happiness coverage, four out of ten Australians think that the overall quality of life in Australia is getting worse, while a quarter think it is getting better. The text of the question looks to be from a Newspoll series:

Thinking now about the overall quality of life in Australia, taking into account social, economic and environmental conditions and trends, would you say that life in Australia is getting better, worse or staying the same?

But if as a pollster you were asked to design a question to get junk answers you couldn’t do much better than this one. It is very vague – compared to when? (one of the earlier surveys found that people were inclined to regard the years of their early adulthood as the best general period, which suggests that personal experiences rather coloured perceptions of the overall social climate). It also requires respondents to do two things that they are not very good at – comparing over time, as I discussed earlier in the week; and assessing how other people are going, where they suffer from information bias – the media is more likely to report negative than positive stories, for example. As a result, when you ask people to judge trends in time for verifiable social or economic circumstances or events they almost always gets it wrong.

4 Responses to “Is the quality of life in Australia getting worse?

  • 1
    Club Troppo » The happiness crisis
    September 16th, 2006 23:36

    […] Are things really getting worse? As Andrew Norton explains, it’s often difficult to make sense of answers to these kinds of questions. So the real test will be whether Australians report being less happy and satisfied next time they’re surveyed. So far there’s no solid evidence that Australians are any less happy than they have been in the past. For anti-growth activists like Clive Hamilton, however, it’s the lack of any improvement in happiness scores that shows the failure of the neoliberal project of economic growth and rising consumption. After all, if consumption and growth were the path to happiness we ought to be much happier now than in the recent past. And so far, there’s no solid evidence for that. […]

  • 2
    September 17th, 2006 18:57

    It’s a very vague question. It’s so submerged in subjectivity that I have trouble conceiving of how one could divine anything from the results.

    Thanks to interest rates, terrorism and oil prices, long-term trend “bad news” stories are also the flavour of the month in the current news cycle.

  • 3
    September 18th, 2006 19:25

    Bad news stories sell, you only have to lean over the back fence to hear all you want.

    Nobody wants to know how much better other people are doing they only want to hear of those that are doing so much worse, its human nature.

  • 4
    derrida derider
    September 19th, 2006 15:59

    I suspect you could have polled the population at any time in the last, say, 10000 years and the majority will say that life ain’t wot it used to be. It’s our kvetching nature.

    Certainly I think older people often look back on their youth and think society was better then, but they’re mistakenly confusing society with their own experiences. Of course it’s better to be young than old – “the days of our youth are the days of our glory”.

    What I fear most from the aging of the population is a society dominated by greedy, whinging, stick-in-the-mud old buggers.