Family-related life events

Insights from two Australian longitudinal studies
Research Report No. 22 – December 2012

2. Analyses of the HILDA survey data

2.1 The HILDA survey

The HILDA survey is a longitudinal study that follows all members of an initial sample of 7,682 households across Australia since the start of the first wave data collection in 2001. All original sample members (called “continuing sample members”), including children once they turn 15 years old, are interviewed at each annual wave. In Wave 1, nearly 14,000 such people were interviewed.2 Each survey wave takes place towards the end of each year, with several questions tapping experiences that took place during the previous 12 months.

Households are dynamic entities, with changes in structure occurring with the birth of children, entrance of new members, and departure of some existing members. In each survey wave, attempts are made to interview all people aged 15 years and over who live with an original sample member, regardless of where the latter lives. With some exceptions, these new people are only interviewed for as long as they live with the original sample member. The exceptions include children born of original sample members and the other parents of these children. These people become continuing sample members in that they are followed up even if they move to a separate dwelling. In turn, the same set of “following rules” applies to these people and any others with whom they live.

Attention is here directed to the experiences of respondents who participated in Waves 9 and 10 of the survey, conducted in late 2009 and late 2010. Specifically, we focused on: (a) experiences of life events occurring between these two survey waves, as reported by respondents in 2010 (Wave 10); (b) personal and familial characteristics of respondents apparent in the previous survey (Wave 9); and (c) levels of personal wellbeing reported by these respondents in each of these two survey waves. This approach enabled us to identify the extent to which the likelihood of experiencing particular life events varied systematically according to specific personal or familial characteristics, and to examine the extent of changes in wellbeing associated with such experiences. All analyses were based on weighted data, which take into account some of the biases in the sample that were introduced through the initial sample selection and non-response.

2.2 Life events questions

The analyses focused on the experience (or non-experience) of the following 14 life events:

  • formed a live-in relationship;
  • separated from spouse or long-term partner;
  • pregnancy or birth/adoption of new child (self or partner);
  • serious personal injury/illness;
  • serious injury/illness to a close relative/family member;
  • death of spouse or child;
  • death of close relative/family member;
  • death of a close friend;
  • victim of physical violence;
  • self or a family member detained in jail;
  • retired from the workforce;
  • fired or made redundant;
  • major worsening in finances; and
  • changed residence.

The first of these events—formed a live-in relationship—was ascertained from respondents’ reports on their relationship status in Wave 9 and Wave 10: respondents were identified as having formed a live-in relationship if they were single in Wave 9 but were living with a partner in Wave 10. The other 13 events formed part of a list of 21 events that is included in a self-complete questionnaire distributed to all household members aged 15 years and old. Respondents are asked to identify the events that they have experienced in the previous 12 months. The selection of events included in the present set of analyses was made in consultation with the Department of Human Services. They were deemed to be particularly pertinent to the services provided by the department. In relation to the event “pregnancy or birth/adoption of new child”, the adoption of a new child would have applied to very few respondents.

2.3 Prevalence of life events

Table 1 shows the proportion of men, women and all respondents who had experienced each life event (taken separately) in the 12 months prior to Wave 10.

Table 1: Prevalence of life events, by gender, 2010
  Men (%) Women (%) All (%)
Formed a live-in relationship 1.9 2.0 1.9
Separated from spouse or long-term partner 2.5 3.2 2.8
Pregnancy or birth/adoption of new child (self or partner) 6.0 6.5 6.3
Serious personal injury/illness 9.0 8.5 8.7
Serious injury/illness to a close relative/family member 12.3 16.2 14.3
Death of spouse or child 0.5 0.8 0.6
Death of close relative/family member 10.7 11.7 11.2
Death of a close friend 11.4 11.8 11.6
Victim of physical violence 1.2 1.3 1.3
Self or a family member detained in jail 1.1 1.2 1.2
Retired from the workforce 2.3 2.4 2.4
Fired or made redundant 3.7 2.2 2.9
Major worsening in finances 2.8 3.2 3.0
Changed residence 13.0 13.7 13.4
No. of respondents 6,413 7,113 13,526

Note: The number of respondents may vary slightly due to non-response to specific items. Respondents were asked to identify each of the events they had experienced.

Source: HILDA 2010

The most commonly occurring life events were: a close relative/family member experiencing a serious injury or illness, and changing residence, followed by the death of a close friend and the death of a close relative/family member. These events were each reported by 11–14% of respondents. Serious personal injury/illness, and pregnancy or birth of a new child (self or partner) were each experienced by 6–9% of respondents. The least commonly occurring events were the death of one’s spouse or child, followed by detention of the respondent or family member in jail, the respondent becoming a victim of physical violence, and the respondent forming a live-in relationship. These events were reported by fewer than 2% of respondents.

On the whole, men and women were similarly likely to experience these events. The largest difference concerned reports that a serious injury/illness had occurred to a close relative/family member, with 16% of women and 12% of men indicating this experience..

2.4 Experience of multiple life events

Table 2 shows the proportion of men, women and all respondents who experienced no event, one event only, two events, or three or more events in the previous 12 months.

Over the 12-month period, around one-half of respondents (47%) had not experienced any of these events, around one-third (32%) had experienced only one event, and 14% had experienced two events. A small proportion (7%) reported that at least three events had occurred in the preceding 12 months.

Table 2: Number of events that men and women reported in previous 12 months, 2010
  Men % Women % All %
None 49.9 46.8 47.2
One 31.0 32.3 31.8
Two 13.0 13.9 14.3
Three or more 6.1 7.0 6.8
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0

Note: Percentages may not total exactly 100.0% due to rounding.

Source: HILDA 2010

When two events were reported, the combination tended to involve:

  • serious injury/illness to family member and death of close relative/family member (reported by 9% of men and 13% of women who reported two events);
  • pregnancy or birth/adoption of new child and changed residence (7–8% of men and women);
  • death of close relative/family member and death of a close friend (6–7% of men and women); and
  • serious personal injury/illness and serious injury/illness to family member (6–7% of men and women).

Among those who experienced three or more events, the combinations commonly involved:

  • serious injury/illness to family member, death of close relatively/family member and death of a close friend (11% of men and women who reported three or more events);
  • serious personal injury/illness, serious injury/illness to family member and death of a close friend (9–10% of men and women); and
  • serious personal injury/illness, serious injury/illness to family member and death of close relatively/family member (6% of men and 10% of women).

The experience of multiple life events varied according to the respondents’ family forms. Among respondents who experienced two life events in the previous 12 months, those who lived with a partner and dependent children commonly reported the combinations:

  • serious injury/illness to family member and death of close relative/family member (12% of men and 19% of women with two life events);
  • pregnancy or birth/adoption of new child and changed residence (11% of men and 14% of women); and
  • pregnancy or birth/adoption of new child and serious injury/illness to family member (11% of men and 9% of women).

Among partnered men and women under 55 years who had no dependent children and who reported two life events, the most common combination of events was pregnancy or birth/adoption of new child and changed residence (28% of men and 21% of women).

Partnered men and women aged 55 years and over who had no dependent children and who reported two life events commonly reported:

  • serious injury/illness to family member and death of a close friend (14% of men and 15% of women);
  • serious personal injury/illness and death of a close friend (14% of men and 10% of women); and
  • serious injury/illness to family member and death of close relative/ family member (8% of men and 15% of women).

2.5 Socio-demographic circumstances associated with experience of life events

This section examines the extent to which people experienced the 14 life events during the 12 months preceding Wave 10, according to the following characteristics apparent in Wave 9: respondents’ age, and aspects of socio-economic status, residential location, family circumstances and family of origin. Details of each of these characteristics are provided below.

The various sets of analyses were conducted separately for men and women. The experience of some of the life events examined would impossible or highly improbably for some individuals, given their personal circumstances. For example, separation from partner requires that one is partnered, and pregnancy or childbirth requires that women are in their reproductive years, notwithstanding modern reproductive technology. For this reason, we narrowed our focus of some events to certain groups. Specifically, in examining ways in which forming a live-in relationship varied according all socio-demographic factors (other than age), we focused on those who were single and under 65 years old in 2009 (i.e., before the event took place). Likewise, for separation from a partner, we focused on partnered individuals who were under 65 years; for pregnancy or birth/adoption (applying to self or partner), we restricted attention to men under 55 years old and women under 45 years old; the experience of retirement from the workforce was examined for those aged 45 years and older; and the experience of being fired or made redundant was assessed for those aged under 65 years old. These restrictions were not imposed in the analysis of age-related differences (outlined first).

In addition to assessing the extent to which each life event varied according to each characteristic, taken separately (called “bivariate analysis”), we also used a form of multivariate analysis (logistics regression) to assess whether any observed link between a specific life event and a specific characteristic persisted after the effects of the other characteristics were controlled. The results of multivariate analyses are presented in Appendix B, and summarised below after the results of the bivariate analyses are discussed.

Age-related differences

The prevalence of life events experienced by respondents in the following age groups were compared: 15–24 years (here referred to as “under 25 years”), 25–34 years, 35–44 years, 45–54 years, 55–64 years, and 75 or more years). The results for men and women are presented in Figure 1 and Figure 2 respectively.

Not surprisingly, some life events are more likely to be experienced by young adults than older groups; others are more likely to take place during middle age than earlier or later; and some are more commonly experienced by the oldest groups. Nevertheless, the likelihood of their occurrence is restricted by the fact that the focus here is on events that occurred within a specific 12-month period (from late 2009 to late 2010).

Figure 1: Proportion of men who reported occurrence of each event in last 12 months, by age

 Figure 1: Proportion of men who reported occurrence of each event in last 12 months, by age - as described in text

Note: “Formed a live-in relationship” was derived from relationships status in Wave 9 and Wave 10. Age groups were based on Wave 9 data (2009), while life events in the past 12 months were reported in Wave 10 (2010) (or approximately since Wave 9).

Source: HILDA 2009 & 2010

Figure 2: Proportion of women who reported occurrence of each event in last 12 months, by age

Figure 2: Proportion of women who reported occurrence of each event in last 12 months, by age - as described in text"

Note: “Formed a live-in relationship” was derived from relationships status in Wave 9 and Wave 10. Age groups were based on Wave 9 data (2009), while life events in the past 12 months were reported in Wave 10 (2010) (or approximately since Wave 9).

Source: HILDA 2009 & 2010

Family formation

Events that represent aspects of the family formation process—changing residence, partnering, pregnancy or birth or adoption of a new child—tend to occur to those who are relatively young.

Forming a live-in relationship was mostly likely to occur among men and women aged 15–24 and by men aged 25–34 years (reported by 6–7% in each age group). For older age groups, the likelihood of this experience decreased with increasing age and applied to fewer than 1% of those aged 65 years or more.

Consistent with general patterns of age-specific fertility rates, and associated fecundity issues that pose age limits on pregnancy and births, those who were most likely to report that they or their partner had become pregnant or had given birth to, or adopted, a new child were 25–34 years old (22–25%), followed by the groups either side of this age (7–9% of men and women aged 15–24 years or 35–44 years).

Moving to another residence was most likely to be experienced by those under 35 years (two age groups: 20–26%), and became progressively less common after these ages—applying to 12–15% of those aged 35–44 years, 6–10% of those aged 45–64 years (two age groups), and 3–5% of those aged 65 years or older (two age groups). The greater residential mobility of younger compared to older people is not surprising, given that changing residence may reflect leaving the parental home, moving in with a partner, or moving to a larger home to meet the needs of a growing family. Nevertheless, older people may also relocate when the children have moved out, and the breakdown of a live-in relationship at any age would almost always entail one partner moving to different accommodation. Again, people of various ages may need to relocate for job-related reasons.

Separation from a partner

Overall, separation from a spouse was an uncommon experience, with this event being reported by only 2–6% of men and women under 55 years, and by even fewer in the older age groups. Although also rare, being a victim of physical violence was most commonly reported by those under 25 years old (2–3%), while imprisonment of self or family member was slightly more prevalent among men and women aged 45–54 years (2%).

Retirement, injury and death

The following events were more commonly experienced by older than younger men and women: serious personal injury/illness; serious injury or illness to a close relative or friend; death of close friend; death of spouse or child; and, of course, retirement.

The likelihood of experiencing serious personal injury/illness, or the death of a close friend increased with age.Personal injury/illness was reported by 5–8% of men and women aged under 55 years, increasing to 11–14% among those aged 55–64 years, and to 19% of those aged 75 years or more. The death of a close friend was experienced by 5–9% of men and women under 45 years old, increasing to 11–12% of those aged 45–54 years, and to 27–30% of those in the oldest group. That this experience is age-related is not surprising, given that close friends tend to be of a similar age.

For men, the serious injury or illness of a close relative or family member tended to increase with age (reported by 10% of those in the two youngest age groups and 16% of those aged 75 years or more). For women, the proportion reporting this event peaked at age 55–64 years (21%).

Not surprisingly, death or spouse or child was rare. The HILDA survey did not distinguish between these two experiences. Given that the death of one’s spouse would be far more likely than the death of a child, it is not surprising that respondents in the oldest group were the most likely to report any such death (4%), followed by those in the second oldest group (1–2%).

Retirement from the workforce typically takes place when people are in their fifties and early sixties, although the employment rate for men and women aged 60–64 and 65 years and over has increased since at least 2000 (Hayes, Qu, Weston, & Baxter, 2011).3 This means that retirement after age 65 years would also be increasing. Consistent with these trends, retirement from the workforce was more commonly reported by men and women aged 55 years and over than by younger age groups (men: 6–8% vs 0–2%; women 5–6% vs 0–3%).

The two life events—death of a close relative or family member (other than spouse or child) and major worsening in financial position—exhibited an “inverted U-shaped pattern” in relation to age, although overall differences are small.4 That is, the likelihood of experiencing these events increased marginally until a certain age, then decreased marginally.

Given that many people retire when aged in their sixties, it is not surprising that very few men and women aged 65 years and over reported that they had been fired or made redundant by an employer (1% of men and fewer than 1% of women). Much the same proportions of men in younger age groups reported this experience (4–5%) and this experience was reported by 2–5% of women in younger age groups.

In general, these age-related patterns in life events continued to hold when the effects of other socio-demographic characteristics were controlled (as shown in Appendix B). Events that exhibited the strongest age-related patterns included forming a live-in relationship for single people, pregnancy (self or partner) or birth of a new child, serious personal injury/illness, death of friend, retirement from workforce, and changing residence.

Gender-related differences

Overall age-related trends were similar for men and women within the same age group. The largest gender differences, representing at least five percentage points in the proportions of men and women reporting the experience, were apparent for the following issues:

  • Among those aged 35–74 years (four age groups), women were more inclined than men to report a serious injury or illness of a family member (18–21% vs 12–13%).
  • Among those aged 65–74 years, a lower proportion of women than men reported a serious personal injury or illness (11% vs 15%).
  • Among those aged 15–24 years, a higher proportion of women than men indicated that they had moved residence (25% vs 20%).

Family background

Table 3 shows the prevalence of life events according to two family background characteristics—English-speaking background and whether the respondent lived with a sole parent when 14 years old. Here, “English-speaking background” refers to whether the respondent was born in Australia, another country in which the main language is English, or in a country in which the main language is something other than English.

Table 3: Prevalence of life events, by family background and gender

The few life events that were associated with these two variables are outlined below.

English-speaking background

Among women under 45 years old, those born in Australia were less likely than those with a non-English-speaking background to report they had become pregnant, or given birth to or adopted a child (12% vs 19%).

Men and women born in Australia were more likely than those from non–English speaking countries to report that they had moved residence (14–15% compared with 9–10% respectively). Similarly, men who were born in an English-speaking country other than Australia were more likely than those born in a non–English speaking country to have changed residence (14–15% vs 9% respectively). Of women born in an English-speaking country other than Australia, 13% had changed residence, compared with 15% of those born in Australia and 10% born elsewhere.

Whether lived with a single parent at age 14 years

Among women under 65 years old, those who lived with a single parent, rather than couple parents, at age 14 were more likely than others to experience separation from their spouse or long-term partner (6% vs 2%). Men and women who were living with a single parent at age 14 were more likely than others to experience a change in residence (17–18% vs 13%).

Although some of the other results are statistically significant, they refer to small differences and may have little meaning in everyday life. Compared with other women, a marginally higher proportion of those who lived with a single parent at age 14 reported the experience of physical violence (3% vs 1%). Among men and women under 65 years, a marginally higher proportion who had lived with a single parent, rather than couple parents, at age 14 reported that they had been fired or made redundant (men: 6% vs 4%; women: 4% vs 2%).

Multivariate analyses of these data suggest a few interesting points. Men who lived with a single parent at age of 14 were more likely than other men to have been made redundant or been fired from their job, when the effects of age and other socio-demographic characteristics were controlled. For women, no such relationship was apparent when the effects of these other factors were taken into account.

On the other hand, women who had lived with a single parent at age of 14 were more likely to report a major worsening of their financial situation, when the effects of these other factors were controlled.

The above-noted observation that women who had lived with a single parent at age 14 were more likely than other women to experience relationship separation within the 12 month period examined continued to hold when the effects of all the other factors were controlled. This is consistent with previous research suggesting that people who experience parental divorce are more likely than others to experience divorce themselves (e.g., Teachman 2002, White 1999). (See the results of these multivariate analyses as shown in Appendix B).

Socio-economic status

Table 4 shows the extent to which the experience of life events varied systematically with five indicators of socio-economic status: educational attainment (degree, other post-school qualification, no post-school qualification), employment (full-time, part-time, not employed), equivalised household income (3 levels),5 personal income (3 levels) and the main source of household income (wage/salary, government payment or other).6

Table 4: Prevalence of life events, by indicators of socio-economic status and gender

Family formation and separation

The two family formation events—formed a live-in relationship and pregnancy or birth of new child (self or partner)—were more likely to be reported by men and women who already had a high rather than low socio-economic status, as measured by three or four characteristics.

Men with full-time employment, higher educational attainment and higher personal and equivalised household incomes were more likely than other men to experience these two family formation events. For example, 12–13% of men under age 65 with a degree or some post-school qualification had formed a live-in relationship, compared with 5% of men without a post-school qualification; and 12% of men under age 55 with a degree or higher qualification indicated that their partner had become pregnant or that they and their partner had had a child together, compared with 6% of men without a post-school qualification.

Women with a degree or higher qualification, full-time employment, and higher personal and equivalised household incomes were more likely than other women to have formed a live-in relationship. For example, the following proportions of women formed a live-in relationship:

  • 14% with a degree or higher qualification and 7–8% of other women; and
  • 12% of women who ranked highest in terms of personal income and 6% who ranked lowest.

Women under 45 years with a degree or higher qualification and with higher personal and equivalised household incomes were more likely than their counterparts who ranked lowest on these socio-economic indicators to have become pregnant or had a child. For example, the following proportions of women under 45 years old indicated that they had become pregnant or given birth to a child:

  • 17% with a degree or higher qualification and only 10% with no post-school qualification; and
  • 15% with high personal income and 10% with low income.

As already shown, separation from one’s spouse or long-term partner occurred to few respondents within the 12-month period. It is therefore not surprising that, among men and women under the age of 65 years, the likelihood of experiencing this event varied little across the socio-economic status groups. Nevertheless, there was some consistency in the small differences that were apparent, with separation being reported by marginally greater proportions of respondents who appeared to have relatively low rather than high socio-economic status. For example, of those under 65 years old, the following proportions of men and women reported that they had separated from their spouse or long-term partner:

  • 4% of both men and women (taken separately) with no post-school qualification, and 2% of both men and women with a degree or higher qualification;
  • 3% of men with medium or high personal incomes and 1% with low personal incomes; and
  • 4% of women with the lowest personal incomes and 2% with medium to high personal incomes.

While such small differences reached statistical significance, the extent to which they hold much meaning would be clarified if the time frame for occurrence of this event were extended to, say, five years.

Illness and death

Men and women with relatively low socio-economic status were marginally more likely than other men and women to subsequently indicate that they had experienced a serious personal injury or illness, and that a close friend had died. For example:

  • The experience of a serious personal injury was reported by: 11% of men and women (taken separately) with low personal incomes and 7% with high personal incomes; and 13–15% of men and women whose income derived mainly from government support and 7–8% who relied mainly on a wage/salary.
  • The death of a close friend was reported by: 12–13% of men and women without a degree and 8–9% with a degree or higher qualification; 16% of men and women with low equivalised household income and 8–9% with high equivalised household income; and 20% of men and women (taken separately) who relied on government support as their main source of income, compared with 8% whose main income was derived from a wage/salary.

The links between these events and socio-economic status disappeared when the respondent’s age was controlled. That is, the links could be explained by the fact that these events were particularly likely to be experienced by men aged 65 years and older and women aged 55 years and older (with these respondents also tending to score relatively low in terms of the socio-economic status measured).

Although some differences in the percentages of respondents who reported the death of a spouse or child reached statistical significance, the differences appeared to be trivial, with no more than 2% in any group reporting such an experience.

The following events did not appear to be associated with men’s or women’s socio-economic status: serious injury/illness to family member, death of close relative/family member, and retired from the workforce.

Employment and housing tenure

Being fired or made redundant was not linked with prior socio-economic status and no consistent pattern emerged in the likelihood of experiencing a major worsening in finances across the socio-economics status groups.

Some variants of housing tenure—especially public housing rental and owning or purchasing one’s home—are reasonable indicators of socio-economic status, while other variants are less useful (e.g., being in rent-free accommodation). Furthermore, the availability of public housing rental is largely restricted to those who rely on government benefits for most of their income, with the latter variable being used here as an indicator of socio-economic status. Given these circumstances, housing tenure was not used here as an indicator of socio-economic status, and is therefore not listed in Table 4. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that men and women who were buying or purchasing their home were less likely than all other groups (including those who were renting privately, in public housing, or rent-free accommodation) to indicate that they had moved residence (men: 9–13% vs 26–35%; women: 12–9% vs 26–36%).

Family circumstances

Four aspects of family circumstances were examined: relationship status, number of children ever had, age of youngest resident child, and the presence or absence of any step-child (self or partner) in the household. (In most relevant cases, the male partner was the step-parent.) The extent to which subsequent experiences of life events varied with these characteristics is apparent in Table 5.

Table 5: Prevalence of life events by family circumstances and gender

Family formation

For both men and women, family circumstances were linked with the two family formation variables—forming a live-in relationship, and pregnancy or birth of new child (self or partner)—as well as relationship separation.

Among the women aged under 65 years who had been single in the earlier (2009) survey, those with a child under 5 years old in the household were the most likely to enter a live-in relationship (13%), followed by those who had no children (11%), then those whose youngest resident child was at least 18 years old (7%) and, finally, those whose youngest child was 5–17 years old (4–5%). Among men aged under 65 years, those with no children in the household were more likely than all other groups to subsequently indicate that they had formed a live-in relationship (12% vs 1–3%).

Men and women under 65 years who were in a cohabiting relationship were more likely than those who were married to subsequently report that they had separated from their partner (6–8% vs 2%). Women in households with step-children were marginally more likely than other women to subsequently report that they had separated from their partner (6% vs 3%)—a trend that reached statistical significance, but may not hold much meaning in everyday life.

Not surprisingly, partnered respondents were much more likely than single respondents to subsequently report the conception or birth of a child (men under 55 years: 14–16% vs 2%; women under 45 years: 19–20% vs 4%). Men (under 55 years) and women (under 45 years) who already had a preschool child were the most likely to subsequently indicate the conception or birth of a child. This event was reported by 25% of men and 28% of women who had earlier indicated that their youngest child in the household was under 5 years old, by 9% of men and 14% of women who had had no children in the household, and by 1–3% of men and 1–6% of women whose youngest child was at least 5 years old.

Physical violence

Although the relationship between some family characteristics and subsequent reports of being a victim of physical violence reached statistical significance, differences were small, for the experience of this event within a 12-month period was very uncommon (reported by only 3% or less of men and women in each of the family characteristic groups examined). However, it may be worth noting that this event was reported by:

  • fewer than 1% of married men, compared with 2% of cohabiting and single men and 2–3% of cohabiting and single women;
  • 2% of childless men and women, compared with no more than 1% of parents; and
  • 3% of women in a household with step-children (where the male partner was typically the step-parent).
Moving residence

Moving residence was clearly related to family circumstances. Those most likely to report this were cohabiting, followed by single respondents, childless respondents, and those with an infant or preschool-aged child in the household. In addition, respondents living in households entailing a step-parent–child relationship were more likely than others to report that they had moved residence in the previous 12 months. Specifically, this event was reported by:

  • 23% of men and women (taken separately) who were cohabiting, 18% who were single, and only 9% who were married;
  • 20–22% of childless men and women, 14% who were the parents of one child, and 7–9% with two or more children;
  • 17–20% of men and women whose youngest child in the household was under 5 years old, 8–15% of other men, and 10–13% of other women; and
  • 17–18% of men and women who were living in a household entailing a step-parent–child relationship, and 13% of those who were not in this situation.

Some of these trends are likely to reflect that fact that: (a) many single people are young and either living with their parents, in rental accommodation, or sharing accommodation; and (b) people in cohabiting relationship tend to be young, with cohabitation being more common than marriage for couples under 25 years old, and marriage being more common than cohabitation for older age groups (Weston & Qu, 2007).

Residential location

Links between experiences of life events and two aspects of residential location were examined: region—major city, inner region and outer or remote region—and an indicator of the socio-economic status of the neighbourhood in which the respondent lived. The latter refers to the “Advantage and Disadvantage Index”, one of the Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) developed by the ABS. Respondents whose area (Census collection district) fell in the lowest 20% of the index scores were classified as “disadvantaged”, while those with scores among the highest 20% were classified as “advantaged”.

Region

As shown in Table 6, men (under 55 years) and women (under 45 years) who lived in outer region or remote areas were more likely than their counterparts in inner region or major city areas to report the conception or birth of a child (men: 14% vs 7–9%; women: 17% vs 10–13%). Men and women who lived in a major city were less likely than men and women who lived elsewhere to indicate that a close friend had died (10% vs 14–15%).

Table 6: Prevalence of life events, by residential location and gender

Neighbourhood disadvantage

For both men and women, the following events were more commonly reported by those who were living in disadvantaged areas than by those living in advantaged areas, although the occurrence of some of these events was very uncommon across the groups:

  • separation from spouse or long-term partner (for those under 65 years) (3–4% vs 1%);
  • the experience of a personal injury or illness (11–12% vs 9%);
  • the death of a close friend (13–15% vs 9–10%);
  • jail detention of self or family member (2–3% vs 1%);
  • being fired or made redundant (for women under 65 years) (4% vs 2%); and
  • being a victim of physical violence (for women) (2% vs < 1%).

The link between the socio-economic status of local areas and the likelihood of these life events largely disappeared when the other demographic and socio-economic characteristics were controlled. Those that remained statistically significant were:

  • partnership separation (for both men and women);
  • jail detention of self or family member (for men); and
  • being fired or made redundant (for women).

2.6 Life events and personal wellbeing

Life events are likely to have a variety of repercussions. Even events that are anticipated with much relish call for adjustment of some kind and may entail some element of loss. Some events also represent major turning points in life, the repercussions of which can be felt across generations.7 This section examines the apparent effects of the experience of different life events on the personal wellbeing of HILDA survey respondents.

Measures of personal wellbeing

The six indicators of personal wellbeing used in this analysis are briefly described below, while more details are provided in the Appendix A. These measures are included in each survey wave, with the wellbeing data derived in Waves 9 and 10 forming the focus of the present section.

  • Satisfaction with life in general—Respondents indicated how satisfied they were currently, on a scale ranging from 0 to 10, where high scores reflected high satisfaction and low scores reflected high dissatisfaction.
  • Sense of vitality (SF-36) —Respondents rated four items, for which high average scores (from 0 to 100) indicate feeling energetic during the previous four weeks rather than feeling tired or worn out.
  • Mental health (SF-36) —Respondents rated five items, for which high average scores (from 0 to 100) reflect pleasant emotional experiences; that is, feeling peaceful and happy, rather than nervous or “down” during the previous four weeks.8
  • Sense of social isolation—Respondents rated five items, for which high average scores reflect a high sense of social isolation and unavailability of social support. Examples include: “I often need help from other people but can’t get it” and “I often feel lonely”. Scores of this scale range from 0 to 10, with higher scores indicating a greater sense of social isolation.
  • Sense of social connection—Respondents rated five items, for which high average scores reflect a high sense of social connection and availability of social support. Examples of items include: “I seem to have a lot of friends” and “I enjoy the time I spend with the people who are important to me.” No time frame covering such feelings was introduced. Scores of this scale range from 0 to 10, with higher scores indicating a greater sense of social connection.
  • Overall wellbeing—This was a composite measure based on respondents’ scores for satisfaction with life in general, sense of vitality, mental health, sense of social isolation, and sense of social connection (with scores on the isolation measure being reversed). The various scores were first standardised. Overall wellbeing is the average of these standardised scores (see Appendix A).

It is important to note that the items on the measures that we have called “sense of social isolation” and “sense of social connection” were interspersed with each other in the questionnaire. Although the two sets of experiences may seem to reflect the opposite ends of a single dimension (ranging from social isolation to connection), it is very common for separate positive and negative dimensions to emerge in analyses of the nature of constructs being measured in scales that comprise both positively toned and negatively toned items (e.g., see Arthaud-Day, Rode, Mooney, & Near, 2005; Massé et al., 1998).

General analytic approach

This section outlines the results of two sets of analyses. The first set focuses on cross-sectional analyses concerning associations between respondents’ wellbeing scores recorded in Wave 10 and their experience of various life events during the preceding 12 months (as ascertained in Wave 10). Ordinary least squares (OLS) regression was applied to each measure in order to control for the effects of socio-demographic (including economic) characteristics on personal wellbeing. The initial models first examined the association between the socio-demographic characteristics and wellbeing, and then added the experience of life events. Each set involved separate analyses for men and women for each wellbeing measure.

The second set of analyses examined the change in wellbeing from 2009 to 2010 for those who had, and those who had not, experienced an intervening life event. (A supplementary multivariate analysis of the level of change in personal wellbeing associated with the experience of the life events is presented in Appendix F.)

It is important to point out that with only two reference points (2009 and 2010) it is not possible to determine whether any change in wellbeing experienced by those who encounter the life events examined is a function of these events or whether the change represents a longer term trend, perhaps intensified by the events. For example, unhappiness, loneliness and so on may contribute to relationship breakdown and eventual separation, resulting in further deterioration of morale. Again, those who are content with their lives may be more likely to attract certain positive events, such as finding a partner and eventually moving in with him or her, the immediate effects of which may enhance morale, despite any losses of independence and freedom entailed. For these reasons, we refer to “apparent” effects of events on wellbeing, in order to highlight the fact that the observed relationship between life events and changed wellbeing may be explained by other processes.

Results of the cross-sectional analyses of life events and wellbeing

The socio-demographic factors discussed in Section 2.5 were included in these analyses (see Tables 7 and 8), with all broad areas of interest being covered—age, both factors pertaining to family of origin (country of birth, and whether lived with sole parent when 14 years old), four indicators of socio-economic status (educational attainment, employment status, personal income, and main source of household income), two aspect of family circumstances (age of youngest child in the household, and relationship status), and both aspects of residential location (region in which lived, and level of neighbourhood disadvantage/advantage).

Table 7: OLS regressions of personal wellbeing measures, men

Table 8: OLS regressions of personal wellbeing measures, women

Where more than two subgroups were compared (e.g., there were seven age groups, and three educational status groups), one group (called the “comparison group”) is listed in parentheses. The scores of all other groups were compared with those of the comparison group. For this analysis, SEIFA scores (pertaining to level of neighbourhood disadvantage/advantage) were retained in deciles rather than divided into a very broad categories. This means that positive coefficients in Tables 7 and 8 indicate that those living in areas that were given relatively high socio-economic ratings tended to have higher scores on the domain of wellbeing in question, while negative scores indicate those living in such areas had lower scores on the domain of wellbeing assessed.9

Coefficients with asterisks alongside them indicate that differences in ratings or scores between the group in question and the comparison group were statistically significant (p < .05, p < .01, or p <.001). Among the coefficients with asterisks, a negative sign indicates that the group of interest had significantly lower scores on the measure in question than the comparison group, while positive coefficients indicate that the group in question had significantly higher scores than the comparison group. For all except the social isolation measure, negative scores with asterisks suggest that the groups in question conveyed significantly lower wellbeing (e.g., lower life satisfaction, lower sense of vitality) than the comparison group, while positive scores with asterisks suggest that the groups indicated higher wellbeing than the comparison group. The opposite applied to sense of social isolation, given that high scores for this measure indicate a high sense of social isolation and low scores indicate an absence of such experiences.

Socio-demographic characteristics and personal wellbeing

Tables 7 and 8 show the results for men and women (taken separately) of multivariate analyses of links between personal wellbeing and socio-demographic characteristics (Model 1) as well as the experience of life events (Model 2). All these measures were based on Wave 10 data. The links between indicators of personal wellbeing and socio-demographic characteristics apparent in these two tables are summarised below.

Age

For men, wellbeing tended to decline up to a certain age, then increase, although of course the pattern of results for each measure was not totally consistent.

The men under 25 years indicated significantly higher wellbeing than those aged 25–34 years (the comparison group). All other groups were older than the comparison group. The next oldest group indicated much the same levels of wellbeing as the comparison group in all except two areas: the older group appeared to have a higher sense of social isolation and lower sense of social connection.

The wellbeing of the next oldest group of men (aged 45–54 years) also seemed similar to, or worse than, that of the comparison group (25–34 years). Like those aged 35–44 years, these men indicated a significantly higher sense of isolation and lower sense of connection, but in addition, the men aged 45–54 years indicated significantly lower overall wellbeing. The latter group also indicated marginally (but significantly) lower life satisfaction.

Men’s wellbeing appeared to have “improved” by age 55–64 years, in terms of life satisfaction, mental health, and overall wellbeing.10 However, the ages of 65–74 years and 75 years and older appeared to be a particularly favourable time,11 although the oldest and comparison groups did not differ significantly in terms of sense of vitality, and men aged 65–74 years did not differ significantly from the comparison group in terms of sense of social connection. In all other areas, including overall sense of wellbeing, the two oldest groups of men indicated significantly higher wellbeing—with the coefficients for these two groups being particularly strong in terms of life satisfaction and mental health. It should be noted that 85% of the men aged 75 years and older were under 85 years.

The trends for women were not as consistent as those for men, but nevertheless suggested that, compared with those aged 25–34 years (the comparison group), the younger women and two oldest groups indicated significantly higher wellbeing in some areas and did not indicate significantly lower wellbeing in other areas. For example, compared with those aged 25–34 years:

  • all three groups indicated significantly higher life satisfaction;
  • the two oldest groups expressed significantly higher mental health and overall wellbeing; and
  • those aged 65–74 years also expressed a higher sense of vitality and lower sense of social isolation.
Country of birth

Both men and women from non-English speaking countries had slightly poorer mental health and felt more isolated and less connected than those who were born in Australia. In addition, women born in non–English speaking countries were less satisfied with their lives than their counterparts born in Australia. Thus, unsurprisingly, the overall personal wellbeing scores for women with non–English speaking backgrounds were lower than for those who were born in Australia.

Whether lived with sole parent at age 14 years

Across all measures, women who had been living with a sole parent at age 14 years had lower wellbeing than those who had been living in two-parent families.

Where significant differences emerged for men, they tended to be weaker, but followed the same direction as those for women (with those who had been living with a sole parent at age 14 years indicating lower wellbeing). Specifically, compared with other men, those who had been living with a sole parent indicated a marginally greater sense of social isolation and lower sense of connection, but no differences emerged in other wellbeing measures.

Educational attainment

Compared with men and women with a degree, their counterparts without a degree (two groups) indicated a greater sense of social isolation, but no differences emerged between these groups in their sense of social connection. Put another way, those with a degree appeared less likely than those without a degree to indicate a sense of social isolation, but were no more likely than the other groups to indicate a high sense of social connection.

No other significant differences in wellbeing scores emerged for these groups.

Employment status

Virtually all the significant differences that emerged for employment status related to the comparison of men and women without paid work and those with full-time paid work. Both men and women who were not employed had lower wellbeing than their counterparts who were in full-time employment. This pattern was apparent for most wellbeing measures.

Personal income

For the most part, no differences emerged in the wellbeing of those who varied in terms of personal income.

Main source of household income

With one exception (life satisfaction for men), those whose household incomes were mainly derived from government payments fared less well across all wellbeing measures than their counterparts whose household incomes were mainly derived from wages and salaries.

Age of youngest child in the household

Four groups of men and women with children of different ages were compared with their counterparts with no children in the household. Few differences in wellbeing were significant, and even those tended to be only marginally significant.

Relationship status

Both single men and women had lower wellbeing than their married counterparts of the same gender. This pattern was apparent for all wellbeing measures except sense of vitality. Both men and women who were in a cohabiting relationship indicated a greater sense of isolation and lower overall wellbeing than their married counterparts of the same gender. In addition, cohabiting men appeared to feel less socially connected than married men while cohabiting women indicated poorer mental health than married women.

Region in which lived

Across all measures, women who lived in major cities indicated significantly lower wellbeing than women who lived in inner regions or outer/remote areas. Unlike women, the wellbeing of men did not appear to vary according to the region in which they lived.

Level of neighbourhood disadvantage/advantage

The more advantaged the local area was, the more favourable was the apparent personal wellbeing of its residents. This pattern of results emerged across most of the measures for men and women.

Life events and personal wellbeing

Tables 7 and 8 show that each measure of personal wellbeing in 2010 was associated with the experience in the previous 12 months of at least one event examined, although some of these links were only marginally significant. In interpreting these trends, it is important to take account of the fact that some of the events listed were only experienced by a few respondents, and that proximal events are likely to have a greater effect on current wellbeing than distal events, other things being equal. Related to this issue, it is worth noting that the vitality and mental health measures asked about experiences covering the previous four weeks only. As Moloney et al. (2012) pointed out, the literature suggests that people tend to adjust to their circumstances to a considerable extent. At the same time, some events spark a pervasive set of repercussions (possibly favourable as well as unfavourable) or emerge as a consequence of chronically difficult (or favourable) circumstances. Indeed, the events themselves may have had less to do with wellbeing than such general contextual factors.

Formed a live-in relationship

Women who had formed a live-in relationship within the previous 12 months indicated relatively high personal wellbeing compared with other women, in two areas: a greater sense of social connection and a higher level of overall personal wellbeing.

Separated from spouse or long-term partner

The experience of separation from a long-term partner or spouse in the previous 12 months was associated with lower wellbeing for both men and women across most wellbeing measures. Both men and women who experienced separation were less satisfied with their lives and indicated lower mental health compared to their same-gender counterparts who had not experienced this event. In addition, men who had separated indicated a lower sense of vitality, a greater sense of isolation and lower overall wellbeing than other men.

Pregnancy or birth/adoption of new child

For men, the birth of a child or their partner’s pregnancy was associated with a relatively low sense of social isolation compared with other men. For women, the experience of pregnancy or birth was associated with higher than otherwise satisfaction with life but a lower sense of vitality. Once again, it is important to point out that adoption would have been so rare that the trends would have been driven by pregnancy or birth.

Serious personal injury/illness

Unsurprisingly, men and women who had been seriously ill or injured indicated lower wellbeing in several areas (life satisfaction, sense of vitality, mental health and overall wellbeing). In addition, women who experienced such events felt more socially isolated than other women.

Serious injury/illness to close relative/family member

Men and women who reported that a family member had suffered a serious injury or illness in the preceding 12 months indicated a lower sense of vitality and appeared to have poorer mental health and lower overall wellbeing than their same-gender counterparts without this experience.

Death of spouse or child

No significant links emerged between the experience of the death of spouse or child and wellbeing scores. This is likely to be due to the fact that, as indicated above, only 1% of men and women had experienced such events (Table 1). The number was further reduced in the present analysis because some of the information relevant to these analyses was missing.

Death of close relative/family member

While 11–12% of men and women reported this experience (Table 1), it was only linked with one aspect of wellbeing for men and none for women. Men who reported this event were more likely to indicate a sense of isolation than other men.

One explanation for the limited connection between such events and wellbeing is that it is likely that the concept of “close” was here interpreted in terms of blood ties, with some respondents having had little to do with their close relative who died. Furthermore, the effects of such experiences may have varied according to whether or not respondents considered that the person who died had been suffering greatly.

Death of a close friend

Perhaps surprisingly, both men and women who experienced the death of a close friend indicated a significantly stronger sense of social connection than their same-gender counterparts who had not had such experiences. One possible explanation for this trend is that such experiences can bring together members of friendship networks, enhancing a sense of social connection. It may also be the case that those who are already strongly socially connected are more likely than others to have strong bonds with many people, and support them in times of crises, including terminal illness.

Victim of physical violence

Although only 1% of men and women indicated that they had been a victim of physical violence in the previous 12 months (Table 1), men who reported this experience indicated significantly lower wellbeing than other men across all six measures, while women who reported this experience indicated significantly lower wellbeing than other women on four of the six measures (life satisfaction, mental health, sense of isolation and the overall wellbeing measure).

These results are not surprising. Firstly, it appears that victims of violence are more likely than other people to feel unsafe (ABS, 2010). Secondly, those who reported this experience may have been victims of repeated violence, as is particularly the case with family violence (Davis & Maxwell, 2002; Weisel, 2005). It should be noted that women who have been victims of violence are considerably more likely than men to nominate a former and/or current partner, while men are more likely than women to nominate a stranger. Thirdly, other circumstances that are associated with an increased risk of having experienced violence, but not controlled for in this analysis, may contribute to lowered wellbeing..

Self or family member detained in jail

Although only 1% of all men and women indicated that they or a family member had experienced jail detention (Table 1), this event was significantly (albeit marginally) linked with an aspect of wellbeing for each gender. Women who reported this event indicated a higher sense of isolation than other women, but men reported higher (rather than lower) satisfaction with life. The latter relationship is the only one that is particularly difficult to explain. It is worth noting that men are more likely to experience incarceration than women (the proportion of men in jails in 2011 was 14 times that of women; ABS, 2011b).

Retired from the workforce

The experience of retirement from the workforce—reported by 2% of men and women (Table 1)—was not significantly related to any of the aspects of wellbeing examined. It remains possible that a link existed, but generated different outcomes, with some retired people enjoying their new lifestyle, and others finding the experience difficult to handle.

Fired or made redundant

Men and women who had been fired or made redundant indicated lower satisfaction with life compared with their same-gender counterparts who had not experienced this event. In addition, the men indicated a higher sense of social isolation and lower overall wellbeing than other men.

This gender difference is not surprising, given that men are more likely than women to have spent much of their adult life in full-time work and women tend to have played a far greater role in informal care-giving—a role that tends to develop stronger kinship networks than men.

Major worsening of finances

Men and women who reported that they had experienced a major worsening of their financial situation in the preceding 12 months indicated significantly lower wellbeing than their same-gender counterparts across all measures. For each comparison (scores on the six measures for each gender), the difference was highly significant. This is not surprising, given that the consequent worsening of financial circumstances is likely to have wide-ranging effects on lifestyles (including possible tensions within the home). It also represents an “event” from which recovery can take many years, if it occurs at all.

Changed residence

Although 13–14% of men and women had moved residence in the previous 12 months (Table 1), this experience was not significantly associated with any of the wellbeing scores.

Summary

The following life events were significantly linked with at least five of the six indicators of wellbeing for men and/or women, all suggesting lower wellbeing for those who experienced those events, relative to their same-gender counterparts. This may suggest that the links were fairly pervasive.

  • Separated from spouse or long-term partner—Significant differences emerged for five indicators for men and two for women.
  • Serious personal illness/injury—Significant differences emerged for four indicators for men and five for women.
  • Victim of physical violence—Significant differences emerged across all the indicators for men, and four for women.
  • Major worsening of finances—Highly significant differences emerged across all the indicators for both men and women.

The following events were significantly linked with three or four indicators of wellbeing for either men or women, and no more than four indicators. These suggest lower wellbeing for those who experienced those events, relative to their same-gender counterparts

  • Serious injury/illness to close relative/family member—Significant differences emerged for three indicators for men and women.
  • Fired or made redundant—Significant differences emerged for four indicators for men and one for women.

The following events were significantly linked with two indicators of wellbeing for either men or women.

  • Formed a live-in relationship—Two significant differences emerged for three indicators for women—all suggesting high wellbeing for those who experienced this event relative to their same-gender counterparts.
  • Pregnancy or birth/adoption of new child—Men indicated better wellbeing for one measure (relatively low sense of isolation) compared with other men, while womenindicated more favourable wellbeing in relation to one measure (life satisfaction) and less favourable wellbeing in relation to another (sense of vitality).

The following events were related to scores on only one or no indicators of wellbeing.

  • Death of spouse or child—No significant links were observed.
  • Death of close relative/family member—One significant link emerged for men (suggesting high sense of isolation relative to other men), while none emerged for women.
  • Moved residence—No significant links were observed.
  • Death of a close friend—One significant link emerged for both men and women, suggesting a higher sense of connection relative to their same-gender counterparts.
  • Self or family member detained in jail—One significant link emerged for both men and women, with men who reported this experience indicating a higher rather than lower satisfaction with life compared with other men, and women reporting a higher sense of social isolation compared with other women.
  • Retired from the workforce—No significant links emerged.

Longitudinal analyses of life events and wellbeing

So far, attention has been directed to the significance of any links between the experience of specific life events (occurring between Waves 9 and 10) and subsequent wellbeing (assessed in Wave 10). The longitudinal analyses in this section focus on the links between such experiences of life events and levels of apparent change in wellbeing from Wave 9 to Wave 10. Of course, unmeasured fluctuations in wellbeing may well have occurred during the 12 months. That is, lack of any difference in wellbeing recorded in the two survey waves should not be taken to suggest that level of wellbeing had remained constant.

For ease of reading, a summary of the results covering each of the six indicators of wellbeing is provided in Table 9. All results refer to the significance of any differences in the average scores on each wellbeing measure between those who experienced the event in question and their same-gender counterparts who did not experience the events. Three sets of results are presented for each wellbeing indicator: Wave 9 wellbeing, Wave 10 wellbeing, and change in wellbeing scores from Wave 9 to Wave 10. The “plus” and “minus” symbols indicate that a significant difference emerged between those who did and those who did not experience the event in question. For example, any “plus” appearing the columns referring to Wave 9 data indicates that, on average, those who subsequently experienced the event in question had already indicated significantly higher wellbeing (on the measure in question) than their same-gender counterparts who did not go on to experience this event, while a minus sign would indicate the opposite—that is, those who later encountered the event indicated, on average, significantly lower wellbeing in Wave 9 than their same-gender counterparts who did not subsequently experience the event. The same approach is adopted for the columns referring to Wave 10 wellbeing. For the columns referring to change in wellbeing scores (marked “W9–W10”), a “plus” means that those who experienced the event indicated improvements in wellbeing that were significantly greater than any improvements apparent for their same-gender counterparts who did not experience the event. A “minus”, on the other hand, means that those who encountered the event indicated a decline in wellbeing that was significantly greater than any decline that may have been apparent for their same-gender counterparts who did not experience the event. The results for men appear in the upper panel of this table, and those for women appear in the lower panel.

Table 9: Summary of differences between those who did and did not experience a life event in Waves 9 and 10, and changes between Wave 9 and Wave 10

The summary presented in Table 9 is based on the results provided in Tables 10 to 15. Each of these tables focuses on one aspect of wellbeing and provides the mean wellbeing scores in Wave 9 and Wave 10, along with the mean change in wellbeing scores (here called “change scores”) from Wave 9 to Wave 10, for those who did and those who did not experience each of the life events (taken separately). Any significant difference in the mean wellbeing scores of those who experienced the life event and others of the same gender who did not experience the event is recorded, along with any significant difference between these two groups in the level of change in their mean scores across the two survey waves (i.e., the difference between the two groups in their “change scores”). As in Table 9, the results for men appear in the upper panel of each table, and those for women appear in the lower panel.

Table 10: Mean ratings of life satisfaction in Waves 9 and 10 and change between waves, by whether experienced life event, and gender
Wave 10: Life events in previous 12 months Experienced event Did not experience event Test
Wave 9 Wave 10 Change Wave 9 Wave 10 Change
Men
Formed a live-in relationship (single < 65) 7.66 7.92 +0.25 7.68 7.73 +0.04  
Separated from spouse or long-term partner (partnered < 65) 7.61 7.25 –0.36 7.89 7.86 –0.03 b
Pregnancy or birth/adoption of new child < 55 7.89 7.99 +0.10 7.73 7.73 0.00 b
Serious personal injury/illness 7.63 7.45 –0.18 7.90 7.91 +0.01 a, b, c
Serious injury/illness to close relative/family member 7.77 7.83 +0.06 7.90 7.88 –0.02  
Death of spouse or child 1              
Death of close relative/family member 7.70 7.75 +0.05 7.90 7.89 –0.02  
Death of a close friend 7.77 7.79 +0.01 7.89 7.88 –0.01  
Victim of physical violence 7.27 7.07 –0.20 7.89 7.88 –0.01 a, b
Self or a family member detained in jail 7.47 7.79 0.32 7.89 7.87 –0.01  
Retired from the workforce (45+) 8.10 8.13 0.02 7.95 7.90 –0.05  
Fired or made redundant (< 65) 7.50 7.34 –0.17 7.82 7.83 +0.01 a, b
Major worsening in finances 6.70 6.33 –0.37 7.92 7.92 0.00 a, b, c
Changed residence 7.63 7.71 0.08 7.92 7.89 –0.02 a, b
Wave 10: Life events in previous 12 months Experienced event Did not experience event Test
Wave 9 Wave 10 Change Wave 9 Wave 10 Change
Women
Formed a live-in relationship (single < 65) 7.85 8.01 +0.16 7.54 7.57 +0.04 a, b
Separated from spouse or long-term partner (partnered < 65) 7.03 7.24 +0.20 8.00 7.92 –0.08 a, b
Pregnancy or birth/adoption of new child < 45 8.13 8.06 –0.07 7.79 7.74 –0.05 a, b
Serious personal injury/illness 7.52 7.34 –0.18 7.94 7.90 –0.04 a, b
Serious injury/illness to close relative/family member 7.84 7.77 –0.07 7.92 7.87 –0.05  
Death of spouse or child 8.29 7.95 –0.33 7.90 7.86 –0.05  
Death of close relative/family member 7.70 7.71 +0.01 7.93 7.87 –0.06 a, b
Death of a close friend 7.92 7.91 –0.01 7.90 7.85 –0.05  
Victim of physical violence 7.25 6.93 –0.32 7.91 7.87 –0.04 a, b
Self or a family member detained in jail 7.29 7.60 +0.31 7.91 7.86 –0.05 a
Retired from the workforce (45+) 8.10 8.28 +0.18 7.98 7.92 –0.05  
Fired or made redundant (< 65) 7.35 7.42 +0.07 7.84 7.79 –0.05 a
Major worsening in finances 6.83 6.34 –0.49 7.94 7.91 –0.03 a, b, c
Changed residence 7.71 7.80 +0.10 7.93 7.86 –0.07 a, c

Notes: Higher ratings mean more life satisfaction, with scores ranging from 1 to 10. a Difference in the wellbeing measure in Wave 9 by the experience of event is statistically significant (p < .05). b Difference in the wellbeing measure in Wave 10 by the experience of event is statistically significant (p < .05). c Difference in change in the wellbeing measure (Wave 9 and Wave 10) by the experience of event is statistically significant (p < .05). 1 The number of men who experienced this event is too small and results are not shown.

Source: HILDA 2009 & 2010

Table 11: Mean scores of vitality (SF-36) in Waves 9 and 10 and change between waves, by whether experienced life event, and gender
Wave 10: Life events in previous 12 months Experienced event Did not experience event Test
Wave 9 Wave 10 Change Wave 9 Wave 10 Change
Men
Formed a live-in relationship (single < 65) 63.65 65.11 +1.46 63.38 62.30 –1.08  
Separated from spouse or long-term partner (partnered < 65) 60.62 62.35 +1.73 63.59 63.05 –0.54  
Pregnancy or birth/adoption of new child < 55 65.36 62.61 –2.76 63.30 62.96 –0.34 c
Serious personal injury/illness 56.45 51.30 –5.15 63.73 63.18 –0.54 a, b, c
Serious injury/illness to close relative/family member 60.56 59.37 –1.19 63.50 62.61 –0.89 a, b
Death of spouse or child 1              
Death of close relative/family member 62.92 62.91 –0.02 63.13 62.09 –1.04  
Death of a close friend 61.62 59.16 –2.46 63.30 62.57 –0.72 b, c
Victim of physical violence 55.80 53.56 –2.24 63.20 62.29 –0.91 a, b
Self or a family member detained in jail 57.77 58.34 +0.57 63.15 62.21 –0.94  
Retired from the workforce (45+) 59.71 58.96 –0.75 62.26 61.09 –1.17  
Fired or made redundant (< 65) 61.71 61.22 –0.48 63.56 62.87 –0.69  
Major worsening in finances 53.86 49.33 –4.52 63.35 62.49 –0.86 a, b
Changed residence 61.73 61.93 +0.20 63.28 62.21 –1.08  
Wave 10: Life events in previous 12 months Experienced event Did not experience event Test
Wave 9 Wave 10 Change Wave 9 Wave 10 Change
Women
Formed a live-in relationship (single < 65) 61.67 59.63 –2.03 57.41 57.21 –0.21  
Separated from spouse or long-term partner (partnered < 65) 53.52 54.56 +1.04 59.19 58.05 –1.14  
Pregnancy or birth/adoption of new child < 55 57.65 54.68 –2.97 58.94 58.50 –0.43 b, c
Serious personal injury/illness 48.27 42.85 –5.41 59.46 58.87 –0.58 a, b, c
Serious injury/illness to close relative/family member 55.17 54.35 –0.83 59.19 58.15 –1.04 a, b
Death of spouse or child 55.01 50.26 –4.75 58.55 57.58 –0.97 b
Death of close relative/family member 57.70 55.60 –2.10 58.63 57.77 –0.86 b
Death of a close friend 57.33 55.43 –1.90 58.65 57.76 –0.88 b
Victim of physical violence 51.12 45.53 –5.59 58.59 57.65 –0.94 a, b
Self or a family member detained in jail 54.31 52.10 –2.20 58.56 57.57 –0.99 b
Retired from the workforce (45+) 57.45 56.18 –1.26 58.30 57.05 –1.25  
Fired or made redundant (< 65) 53.90 53.30 –0.60 58.68 57.90 –0.79 a, b
Major worsening in finances 46.66 42.42 –4.24 58.92 58.01 –0.91 a, b
Changed residence 56.68 57.33 +0.65 58.75 57.53 –1.22 a, c

Notes: Higher scores mean higher level of vitality, with scores ranging from 0 to 100. a Difference in the wellbeing measure in Wave 9 by the experience of event is statistically significant (p < .05). b Difference in the wellbeing measure in Wave 10 by the experience of event is statistically significant (p < .05). c Difference in change in the wellbeing measure (Wave 9 and Wave 10) by the experience of event is statistically significant (p < .05). 1 The number of men who experienced this event is too small and results are not shown.

Source: HILDA 2009 & 2010

Table 12: Mean scores of mental health (SF-36) in Waves 9 and 10 and change between waves, by whether experienced life event, and gender
Wave 10: Life events in previous 12 months Experienced event Did not experience event Test
Wave 9 Wave 10 Change Wave 9 Wave 10 Change
Men
Formed a live-in relationship (single < 65) 76.22 77.96 +1.74 73.11 72.82 –0.29 a, b
Separated from spouse or long-term partner (partnered < 65) 75.04 69.34 –5.70 76.85 76.87 +0.02 b, c
Pregnancy or birth/adoption of new child < 55 77.62 77.34 –0.28 74.68 74.65 –0.03 a, b
Serious personal injury/illness 73.50 70.22 –3.28 76.13 76.21 0.07 a, b, c
Serious injury/illness to close relative/family member 74.28 73.68 –0.60 76.13 76.02 –0.12 a, b
Death of spouse or child 1              
Death of close relative/family member 74.69 75.54 +0.85 76.03 75.72 –0.32  
Death of a close friend 75.34 74.48 –0.85 75.97 75.84 –0.12  
Victim of physical violence 68.26 64.10 –4.16 76.01 75.84 –0.17 a, b
Self or a family member detained in jail 68.29 71.50 +3.21 75.97 75.74 –0.23 a
Retired from the workforce (45+) 75.02 74.97 –0.05 76.95 76.60 –0.35  
Fired or made redundant (< 65) 73.10 70.24 –2.86 75.57 75.56 –0.01 b, c
Major worsening in finances 64.51 60.42 –4.09 76.21 76.10 –0.11 a, b
Changed residence 74.23 73.82 –0.40 76.12 75.94 –0.18 a, b
Wave 10: Life events in previous 12 months Experienced event Did not experience event Test
Wave 9 Wave 10 Change Wave 9 Wave 10 Change
Women
Formed a live-in relationship (single < 65) 73.49 73.81 +0.33 69.52 70.10 +0.57  
Separated from spouse or long-term partner (partnered < 65) 65.06 64.17 –0.89 74.88 74.06 –0.82 a, b
Pregnancy or birth/adoption of new child < 55 76.28 75.45 –0.83 72.31 71.48 –0.83 a, b
Serious personal injury/illness 66.45 64.26 –2.19 74.26 73.80 –0.46 a, b
Serious injury/illness to close relative/family member 71.46 70.23 –1.23 74.04 73.56 –0.48 a, b
Death of spouse or child 73.27 69.18 –4.09 73.62 73.08 –0.54  
Death of close relative/family member 71.72 70.41 –1.31 73.87 73.35 –0.51 a, b
Death of a close friend 73.21 72.44 –0.77 73.63 73.09 –0.54  
Victim of physical violence 61.95 55.85 –6.10 73.74 73.21 –0.54 a, b, c
Self or a family member detained in jail 65.86 65.41 –0.45 73.69 73.09 –0.60 a, b
Retired from the workforce (45+) 74.04 71.72 –2.32 74.44 74.15 –0.29  
Fired or made redundant (< 65) 68.92 67.07 –1.84 73.02 72.71 –0.31 a, b
Major worsening in finances 59.99 55.35 –4.64 74.07 73.58 –0.48 a, b, c
Changed residence 70.01 71.24 +1.23 74.08 73.24 –0.84 a, b, c

Notes: Higher scores mean better mental health, with scores ranging from 0 to 100. a Difference in the wellbeing measure in Wave 9 by the experience of event is statistically significant (p < .05). b Difference in the wellbeing measure in Wave 10 by the experience of event is statistically significant (p < .05). c Difference in change in the wellbeing measure (Wave 9 and Wave 10) by the experience of event is statistically significant (p < .05). 1 The number of men who experienced this event is too small and results are not shown.

Source: HILDA 2009 & 2010

Table 13: Mean scores of sense of social isolation in Waves 9 and 10 and change between waves, by whether experienced life event, and gender
Wave 10: Life events in previous 12 months Experienced event Did not experience event Test
Wave 9 Wave 10 Change Wave 9 Wave 10 Change
Men
Formed a live-in relationship (single < 65) 2.46 2.39 –0.07 2.82 3.12 +0.30 b
Separated from spouse or long-term partner (partnered < 65) 2.75 3.76 +1.01 2.59 2.77 +0.18 b, c
Pregnancy or birth/adoption of new child < 55 2.33 2.58 +0.25 2.71 2.95 +0.24 b
Serious personal injury/illness 2.87 3.13 +0.26 2.64 2.87 +0.23 a, b
Serious injury/illness to close relative/family member 2.69 3.07 +0.38 2.65 2.87 +0.21  
Death of spouse or child 1              
Death of close relative/family member 2.75 3.06 +0.31 2.64 2.87 +0.23  
Death of a close friend 2.89 3.17 +0.28 2.63 2.86 +0.23 a, b
Victim of physical violence 3.23 4.06 +0.82 2.65 2.88 +0.23 a, b, c
Self or a family member detained in jail 3.52 3.37 –0.14 2.65 2.89 +0.24 a
Retired from the workforce (45+) 3.30 2.92 –0.38 2.75 2.97 +0.22 a, c
Fired or made redundant (< 65) 3.08 3.28 +0.20 2.65 2.88 +0.23 a, b
Major worsening in finances 3.50 4.00 +0.50 2.64 2.86 +0.23 a, b
Changed residence 2.94 3.06 +0.12 2.63 2.87 +0.25 a
Wave 10: Life events in previous 12 months Experienced event Did not experience event Test
Wave 9 Wave 10 Change Wave 9 Wave 10 Change
Women
Formed a live-in relationship (single < 65) 1.99 2.25 +0.26 2.75 2.84 +0.09 a, b
Separated from spouse or long-term partner (partnered < 65) 3.26 3.33 +0.07 2.36 2.49 +0.13 a, b
Pregnancy or birth/adoption of new child < 55 2.18 2.50 +0.32 2.44 2.59 +0.15  
Serious personal injury/illness 3.03 3.08 +0.04 2.45 2.58 +0.13 a, b
Serious injury/illness to close relative/family member 2.65 2.84 +0.19 2.46 2.57 +0.11 b
Death of spouse or child 3.39 3.39 +0.01 2.49 2.61 +0.12  
Death of close relative/family member 2.79 2.93 +0.15 2.46 2.58 +0.12 a, b
Death of a close friend 2.69 2.82 +0.13 2.47 2.60 +0.13 a, b
Victim of physical violence 3.73 4.18 +0.45 2.48 2.60 +0.12 a, b
Self or a family member detained in jail 3.55 3.63 +0.08 2.48 2.61 +0.13 a, b
Retired from the workforce (45+) 2.78 2.96 +0.18 2.57 2.65 +0.07  
Fired or made redundant (< 65) 2.94 3.10 +0.16 2.49 2.60 +0.11 b
Major worsening in finances 3.53 3.74 +0.20 2.46 2.58 +0.12 a, b
Changed residence 2.59 2.67 +0.08 2.48 2.61 +0.13  

Note: Higher scores mean feeling more isolated, with scores ranging from 0 to 10. a Difference in the wellbeing measure in Wave 9 by the experience of event is statistically significant (p < .05). b Difference in the wellbeing measure in Wave 10 by the experience of event is statistically significant (p < .05). c Difference in change in the wellbeing measure (Wave 9 and Wave 10) by the experience of event is statistically significant (p < .05). 1 The number of men who experienced this event is too small and results are not shown.

Source: HILDA 2009 & 2010

Table 14: Mean scores of sense of social connection in Waves 9 and 10 and change between waves, by whether experienced life event, and gender
Wave 10: Life events in previous 12 months Experienced event Did not experience event Test
Wave 9 Wave 10 Change Wave 9 Wave 10 Change
Men
Formed a live-in relationship (single < 65) 7.48 7.57 0.10 7.18 7.11 –0.07 b
Separated from spouse or long-term partner (partnered < 65) 7.30 7.02 –0.27 7.27 7.22 –0.05  
Pregnancy or birth/adoption of new child < 55 7.51 7.37 –0.14 7.20 7.14 –0.06 a,
Serious personal injury/illness 7.02 7.22 0.20 7.26 7.19 –0.07 c
Serious injury/illness to close relative/family member 7.29 7.19 –0.10 7.23 7.19 –0.04  
Death of spouse or child 1              
Death of close relative/family member 7.21 7.19 –0.02 7.24 7.20 –0.05  
Death of a close friend 7.31 7.28 –0.03 7.23 7.18 –0.05  
Victim of physical violence 6.89 6.48 –0.41 7.24 7.20 –0.04 b
Self or a family member detained in jail 7.02 7.10 0.09 7.24 7.20 –0.05  
Retired from the workforce (45+) 7.25 7.29 0.04 7.13 7.13 0.00  
Fired or made redundant (< 65) 7.14 6.98 –0.17 7.25 7.19 –0.05  
Major worsening in finances 6.72 6.46 –0.26 7.25 7.21 –0.04 a, b
Changed residence 7.18 7.19 0.01 7.25 7.19 –0.05  
Wave 10: Life events in previous 12 months Experienced event Did not experience event Test
Wave 9 Wave 10 Change Wave 9 Wave 10 Change
Women
Formed a live-in relationship (single < 65) 8.20 8.28 0.08 7.64 7.66 0.02 a, b
Separated from spouse or long-term partner (partnered < 65) 6.99 7.50 0.51 7.79 7.72 –0.07 a, c
Pregnancy or birth/adoption of new child < 55 7.87 7.85 –0.02 7.80 7.76 –0.04  
Serious personal injury/illness 7.54 7.62 0.07 7.77 7.75 –0.03 a
Serious injury/illness to close relative/family member 7.74 7.70 –0.04 7.76 7.75 –0.01  
Death of spouse or child 7.89 8.12 0.23 7.76 7.74 –0.02  
Death of close relative/family member 7.80 7.75 –0.04 7.75 7.73 –0.02  
Death of a close friend 7.89 7.92 0.03 7.74 7.71 –0.03 b
Victim of physical violence 7.29 6.99 –0.29 7.76 7.74 –0.02 a, b
Self or a family member detained in jail 7.07 7.29 0.22 7.76 7.74 –0.02 a, b
Retired from the workforce (45+) 7.93 7.74 –0.19 7.69 7.70 0.01  
Fired or made redundant (< 65) 7.71 7.76 0.05 7.74 7.71 –0.04  
Major worsening in finances 7.09 7.07 –0.02 7.78 7.76 –0.02 a, b
Changed residence 7.72 7.73 0.01 7.76 7.74 –0.02  

Notes: Higher scores mean feeling more connected with others, with scores ranging from 0 to 10. a Difference in the wellbeing measure in Wave 9 by the experience of event is statistically significant (p < .05). b Difference in the wellbeing measure in Wave 10 by the experience of event is statistically significant (p < .05). c Difference in change in the wellbeing measure (Wave 9 and Wave 10) by the experience of event is statistically significant (p < .05). 1 The number of men who experienced this event is too small and results are not shown.

Source: HILDA 2009 & 2010

Table 15: Mean scores of overall wellbeing in Waves 9 and 10 and change between waves, by whether experienced life event, and gender
Wave 10: Life events in previous 12 months Experienced event Did not experience event Test
Wave 9 Wave 10 Change Wave 9 Wave 10 Change
Men
Formed a live-in relationship (single < 65) 0.05 0.20 0.15 –0.11 –0.12 –0.01 b, c
Separated from spouse or long-term partner (partnered < 65) –0.11 –0.36 –0.26 0.04 0.04 0.00 b, c
Pregnancy or birth/adoption of new child < 55 0.15 0.12 –0.03 –0.06 –0.06 0.00 a, b
Serious personal injury/illness –0.20 –0.32 –0.12 0.021 0.022 0.00 a, b, c
Serious injury/illness to family member –0.08 –0.11 –0.03 0.014 0.010 0.00 b
Death of spouse or child 1              
Death of close relative/family member –0.06 –0.04 0.02 0.01 0.00 –0.01  
Death of a close friend –0.05 –0.10 –0.05 0.01 0.00 0.00  
Victim of physical violence –0.47 –0.73 –0.25 0.01 0.00 –0.01 a, b, c
Self or a family member detained in jail –0.39 –0.19 0.20 0.01 –0.01 –0.01 a
Retired from the workforce (45+) –0.10 0.01 0.11 –0.01 –0.02 –0.02  
Fired or made redundant (< 65) –0.21 –0.31 –0.10 –0.01 –0.01 0.00 a, b
Major worsening in finances –0.72 –0.97 –0.24 0.02 0.02 0.00 a, b, c
Changed residence –0.15 –0.10 0.04 0.02 0.00 –0.02 a, b
Wave 10: Life events in previous 12 months Experienced event Did not experience event Test
Wave 9 Wave 10 Change Wave 9 Wave 10 Change
Women
Formed a live-in relationship (single < 65) 0.20 0.23 0.03 –0.19 –0.15 0.04 a, b
Separated from spouse or long-term partner (partnered < 65) –0.61 –0.41 0.20 0.08 0.05 –0.02 a, b
Pregnancy or birth/adoption of new child < 55 0.14 0.07 –0.07 –0.02 –0.02 0.00 a
Serious personal injury/illness –0.41 –0.49 –0.08 0.04 0.05 0.00 a, b
Serious injury/illness to close relative/family member –0.11 –0.14 –0.04 0.03 0.03 0.00 a, b
Death of spouse or child –0.10 –0.21 –0.11 0.01 0.01 0.00  
Death of close relative/family member –0.11 –0.13 –0.02 0.02 0.02 0.00 a, b
Death of a close friend –0.02 –0.02 0.01 0.01 0.01 0.00  
Victim of physical violence –0.62 –0.92 –0.30 0.01 0.01 0.00 a, b, c
Self or a family member detained in jail –0.52 –0.46 0.06 0.01 0.01 0.00 a, b
Retired from the workforce (45+) 0.01 –0.02 –0.02 0.01 0.02 0.01  
Fired or made redundant (< 65) –0.30 –0.27 0.03 –0.02 –0.01 0.00 a, b
Major worsening in finances –0.84 –1.03 –0.20 0.03 0.04 0.00 a, b, c
Changed residence –0.14 –0.05 0.09 0.03 0.01 –0.02 a, c

Notes: Higher scores mean better overall wellbeing (scores: mean = 0 and SD = 1). a Difference in the wellbeing measure in Wave 9 by the experience of event is statistically significant (p < .05). b Difference in the wellbeing measure in Wave 10 by the experience of event is statistically significant (p < .05). c Difference in change in the wellbeing measure (Wave 9 and Wave 10) by the experience of event is statistically significant (p < .05). 1 The number of men who experienced this event is too small and results are not shown.

Source: HILDA 2009 & 2010

Complementing these analyses, Appendix C shows, for each wellbeing measure in each of the two survey waves, the proportions of men and women with scores that we classified as reflecting “high wellbeing”, according to whether they experienced the various life events. For example, Figure C1 depicts the proportions of men who indicate high satisfaction with life in Waves 9 and 10, according to whether they experienced each of the events (taken separately). These results are presented as examples of alternative ways of assessing differences in the wellbeing scores of those who did and did not experience the various events.

The discussion below presents the general findings concerning changes in wellbeing. It should be noted that any mention of a significant difference refers to the difference in mean (i.e., average) scores on a wellbeing indicator of those who reported the experience of the event in question and their same-gender counterparts who did not. (To avoid repetition, the fact the comparisons are restricted to those of the same gender is not always mentioned.)

The discussion first focuses on the two events “formed a live-in relationship” and “pregnancy or birth/adoption of a new child”, the experience of which tended to be mostly associated with higher than otherwise wellbeing. The discussion is then arranged from the life events that were associated with the most indicators of lower wellbeing to those that were not found to have any particular association with the wellbeing measures.

Life events associated with higher wellbeing

As was apparent in Wave 9 (before the events occurred), respondents in Wave 10 who had experienced the following events indicated higher wellbeing in some areas (although women indicated lower wellbeing in one area in relation to pregnancy/birth).

Formed a live-in relationship

General wellbeing—Women who experienced this event indicated significantly higher wellbeing in four areas, both before and after the event took place in terms of: a relative absence of any sense of isolation and a higher sense of social connection, satisfaction with life and overall wellbeing. Men who experienced this event indicated significantly higher mental health before and after the event took place, and higher wellbeing in three other areas post-event in terms of: a relative absence of sense of isolation, and a higher sense of connection and overall wellbeing.

Change in wellbeing—Given the tendency for these respondents to indicate higher wellbeing before and after forming a live-in relationship, it is not surprising that only one comparison of levels of change reached statistical significance: men who formed a live-in relationship indicated a greater (positive) change in overall wellbeing than other men. This does not mean that forming a live-in relationship was more beneficial for men than women. Rather, the partnered men’s average score in Wave 10 increased to the level derived for women in Wave 9 (from 6.05 to 6.20), while women’s mean scores in each survey wave were very similar (from 6.20 to 6.23).

Pregnancy or birth/adoption of new child

General wellbeing—Women who experienced these events indicated higher wellbeing in two areas in both Waves 9 and 10 (life satisfaction and mental health) and higher overall wellbeing in Wave 9, but in Wave 10, they also indicated a significantly lowersense of vitality. Men who experienced these events indicated higher wellbeing in three areas in Wave 9 and four in Wave 10. In both survey waves they appeared to have higher mental health and overall wellbeing, while in Wave 9 they indicated a higher sense of connection. In Wave 10 they indicated higher life satisfaction and a lower sense of isolation.

Change in wellbeing—Significant differences in the level of change in the wellbeing of respondents who experienced these events and those who did not emerged in only one area: sense of vitality. This decreased for both men and women who experienced such events, and changed little for those who did not.

Life events associated with lower wellbeing

For most of the other events examined, respondents who experienced them tended to have already indicated lower wellbeing (in Wave 9) in at least some areas than those who did not experience them. The number of indicators of wellbeing associated with the experience of an event varied. The following discussion therefore focuses first on events that were significantly associated with the largest number of indicators of lower wellbeing for both men and women in Wave 9 (i.e., before the events took place), followed by events associated with decreasing numbers of indicators of lower wellbeing.

Major worsening of finances

General wellbeing—As was the case for Wave 9 wellbeing, both men and women who experienced this event indicated significantly lower wellbeing in all six areas.

Change in wellbeing—Despite the fact that respondents who experienced this event already indicated lower wellbeing across all measures, those who experienced this event tended to have become even more demoralised by Wave 10, with significant differences in levels of change emerging for life satisfaction and overall wellbeing (both men and women), and for mental health (women only).

Serious personal injury/illness

General wellbeing—Women who experienced this event indicated significantly lower wellbeing in all six areas in Wave 9 and in all except sense of social connection in Wave 10. In both Waves 9 and 10, men who experienced this event indicated significantly lower wellbeing across all wellbeing areas except sense of connection.

Change in wellbeing—Given that respondents who reported that they had experienced a serious illness or injury indicated significantly lower wellbeing across most indicators in both the pre- and post-event periods, it is perhaps surprising that any differences in levels of change in wellbeing emerged between those who experienced such events and those who did not. In fact, both men and women who reported such events indicated significantly greater falls in sense of vitality than their same-gender counterparts who did not experience this event. In addition, men who experienced such events reported significantly greater falls in satisfaction with life, mental health, sense of connection and overall wellbeing compared to other men.

Victim of physical violence

General wellbeing—In both survey waves, women who experienced this event indicated significantly lower wellbeing than other women in all six areas examined. The same trends applied to men, with the following exception: in Wave 9, men who subsequently experienced this event did not indicate a significantly lower sense of connection than other men.

Change in wellbeing—Despite their already significantly lower wellbeing, men and women who became victims of physical violence between the two survey waves indicated a significant fall in overall wellbeing scores, relative to their same-gender counterparts. In addition, men who became victims of physical violence reported a significant increase in their sense of social isolation (relative to other men) and women who experienced such circumstances reported significantly poorer mental health (relative to other women).

Self or family member detained in jail

General wellbeing—In both survey waves, women who experienced this event indicated lower wellbeing in terms of: lower mental health, a higher sense of social isolation, a lower sense of social connection and lower overall wellbeing. In Wave 9 only, they also indicated a lower satisfaction with life, while in Wave 10 only, they indicated a lower sense of vitality. Men indicated, prior to the event, a significantly higher sense of social isolation and lower mental health and overall wellbeing, but in Wave 10, the wellbeing of men who experienced this event did not differ significantly from that of other men.

Change in wellbeing—No significant differences in levels of change were apparent for respondents who experienced this event and their same-gender counterparts.

Fired or made redundant

General wellbeing—In both survey waves, women who experienced this event indicated lower wellbeing in terms of: a lower sense of vitality, poorer mental health and lower overall wellbeing. In Wave 9 only they also indicated a lower satisfaction with life, while in Wave 10 only, they indicated a higher sense of isolation compared with those who did not experience this event. Men who were fired or made redundant indicated lower life satisfaction, a higher sense of isolation and lower overall wellbeing in both waves. In addition, men who experienced this event indicated poorer mental health than other men in Wave 10, but not in Wave 9.

Change in wellbeing—The only significant change in wellbeing associated with being fired or made redundant occurred for men who experienced this event, who indicated a significant fall in mental health (or emotional wellbeing) from Wave 9 to Wave 10.

Changed residence

General wellbeing—In Wave 9, women who experienced this event indicated lower wellbeing in four areas: satisfaction with life, sense of vitality, mental health and overall wellbeing, but in Wave 10, they only indicated lower wellbeing in the area of mental health. In both survey waves, men who moved house indicated lower satisfaction with life, poorer mental health and lower overall wellbeing. In addition, men who experienced this event also indicated a greater sense of social isolation than other men in Wave 9 but not in Wave 10.

Change in wellbeing—Any change in wellbeing for men who experienced this event did not differ significantly in wellbeing from other men. However, women who experienced this event indicated significantly improved wellbeing in four areas: life satisfaction, sense of vitality, mental health and overall wellbeing.

Separated from spouse or long-term partner

General wellbeing—In both survey waves, women who separated from their partners indicated significantly lower wellbeing than other women in terms of life satisfaction, mental health, social isolation and overall wellbeing. In addition, the women who experienced this event indicated significantly lower social connection than other women in Wave 9, but not Wave 10. No significant differences were apparent in the wellbeing of men who subsequently experienced this event compared with other men. However, in Wave 10, men who had experienced this event indicated lower wellbeing in four of the six areas (life satisfaction, mental health, social isolation and overall wellbeing).

Change in wellbeing—Women who experienced separation indicated significant improvements in their sense of connection relative to other women. Men who separated from their partners indicated a significantly greater sense of isolation and lower mental health and overall wellbeing.

This was the only event that was associated with contrasting changes in wellbeing for men and women (improved wellbeing for women, albeit in only one area, and deterioration for men).

Death of close relative/family member

General wellbeing—In both survey waves, women who experienced this event indicated significantly lower wellbeing in the following areas: life satisfaction, mental health, sense of social isolation and overall wellbeing. In addition, women who experienced this event indicated a lower sense of vitality in Wave 10. No significant differences emerged in the wellbeing of men who experienced this event in either survey wave.

Change in wellbeing—No significant differences in levels of change were apparent for respondents who experienced this event and their same-gender counterparts.

Serious injury/illness to close relative/family member

General wellbeing—In both survey waves, women who experienced this event indicated a significantly lower sense of vitality, mental health and overall wellbeing. By Wave 10, they also indicated a higher sense of social isolation. Men who experienced this event indicated a significantly lower sense of vitality and mental health in both surveys. By Wave 10, men who experienced this event also indicated lower overall wellbeing.

Change in wellbeing—No significant differences in levels of change were apparent for respondents who experienced this event and their same-gender counterparts.

Death of a close friend

General wellbeing—Both men and women who experienced this event indicated a significantly higher sense of social isolation in both waves. In addition, men and women who experienced this event indicated a lower sense of vitality in Wave 10. Perhaps surprisingly, women who experienced this event also indicated a higher sense of social connection than other women. This may be due to women’s tendency to confide in others when under distress.

Change in wellbeing—No significant differences in levels of change were apparent for women who experienced this event and those who did not. Men who reported that a close friend had died indicated a significant fall in sense of vitality compared with other men.

Retired from the workforce

General wellbeing—The experience of retirement was not significantly related to women’s wellbeing in either Wave 9 or Wave 10, and while men who experienced this event indicated a higher sense of isolation in Wave 9, no such difference was apparent in Wave 10.

Change in wellbeing—No significant differences in levels of change were apparent for women who experienced this event. Men who retired from the workforce indicated a lower sense of isolation before retirement than afterwards. Their fall in sense of isolation was greater than any fall apparent among other men. This is the only issue in which an event was associated with improvements in wellbeing from a base that was low relative to other men.

Death of spouse or child

General wellbeing—Whereas non-significant wellbeing differences were apparent for women in Wave 9, in Wave 10, women who experienced this event indicated a significantly lower sense of vitality than other women. However, no other differences were apparent between these two groups of women. No significant differences were apparent in the Waves 9 or 10 wellbeing of men who did and did not experience this event.

Change in wellbeing—No significant differences in levels of change were apparent for respondents who experienced this event and their same-gender counterparts.

Summary

Some aspects of wellbeing were more likely than others to be linked with the experience of events. For example, the mental health measure (which as mentioned earlier focuses on emotional wellbeing) was among the most likely of measures to be linked with the experience of an event—with women’s scores on this measure in each survey wave being associated with the experience of 10 events and with men’s scores on this measure being associated with 8–9 events.

Women’s sense of isolation was associated with 8 life events in Wave 9 and 10 events in Wave 10, while for men, this measure was associated with 8 life events in both survey waves. Women’s overall wellbeing was associated with 11 life events in Wave 9 and 9 in Wave 10, while for men, overall wellbeing was associated with 7 events in Wave 9 and 9 in Wave 10.

Men’s Wave 9 scores on the sense of social connection measure were related to only two subsequent life events, while the women’s scores were related to six events. In Wave 10, the difference was less marked (three aspects of men’s wellbeing and five of women’s).

Such gender differences may relate to the fact that, compared with men, women are more inclined to define themselves in terms of their interpersonal relationships and to seek intimacy, self-disclosure and emotional support through their friendships (see Cross, Hardin & Gercek-Swing, 2011; Felmlee, Sweet & Sinclair, 2012). However, it is also worth noting that significant differences in wellbeing were more apparent for women than men overall.

In summary, the events with apparent negative effects on personal wellbeing included:

  • separation from spouse or a longer-term partner;
  • serious injury/illness to oneself;
  • a major worsening of financial circumstances;
  • death of spouse or child; and
  • being a victim of physical violence.

The wellbeing of respondents who experienced these types of events had already indicated in 2009 (i.e., before the events took place) lower wellbeing than those who had not experience these events. Two events were associated with marginal improvements in personal wellbeing: forming a live-in relationship and moving residence.

Links between the experience of multiple life events and personal wellbeing

The experience of unsettling multiple life events appeared to accentuate any negative effects on personal wellbeing.12 This became particularly apparent when people reported three or more events over the 12-month period, as shown in Figures 3 and 4.

Figure 3: Proportions of men with high life satisfaction, feeling isolated, feeling social connected and high overall wellbeing in Waves 9 and 10, by number of events experienced

Figure 3: Proportions of men with high life satisfaction, feeling isolated, feeling social connected and high overall wellbeing in Waves 9 and 10, by number of events experienced - as described in text 

Note: High satisfaction refers to ratings of 8–10 on a scale of 0–10. Feeling isolated refers to scores of 6–10 on a scale of 0–10. Feeling connected refers to scores of 6–10 on a scale of 0–10. High overall wellbeing is defined as the top quartile of the overall wellbeing score.

Source: HILDA 2009 & 2010

Figure 4: Proportions of women with high life satisfaction, feeling isolated, feeling social connected and high overall wellbeing in Waves 9 and 10, by number of events experienced

Proportions of women with high life satisfaction, feeling isolated, feeling social connected and high overall wellbeing in Waves 9 and 10, by number of events experienced - as described in text

Note: High satisfaction refers to ratings of 8–10 on a scale of 0–10. Feeling isolated refers to scores of 6–10 on a scale of 0–10. Feeling connected refers to scores of 6–10 on a scale of 0–10. High overall wellbeing is defined as the top quartile of the overall wellbeing score.

Source: HILDA 2009 & 2010

Specifically, respondents appeared to become less satisfied with their life overall and to experience declines in overall wellbeing, although as noted above, such change may represent a longer term process not captured in this analysis.

Consistent with the earlier discussion, compared with other respondents, those who experienced three or more events had expressed lower wellbeing before the events took place. This finding supports the above-mentioned argument of a need to focus on those who are vulnerable to diminished wellbeing rather than to rely solely on those who have experienced unsettling life events.

This concludes the analysis of the HILDA data. The next section examines life events using LSAC data. In Section 4 we return to highlight the key findings that emerged from the analyses presented in these two sections.

Footnotes

2 All members in the households in Wave 1 are original sample members.

3 Hayes et al. (2011) showed that the employment rate for men aged 60–64 years increased between 2000 and 2010, returning to a level similar to that apparent in the late 1970s (close to 60%), while that for women had quadrupled over the last 30 years (from 10% in the early 1980s to 41% in 2010). Since 2000, there has been a steady increase in employment rates (from 9 to 16% for men and from 3% to 7% for women).

4 The first of these items in the questionnaire was worded as follows: “Death of other close relative/family member (e.g., parent or sibling). This item appeared immediately after “Death of spouse or child”. The wording for the other item was: “Major worsening in financial situation (e.g., went bankrupt)”.

5 Equivalised household income is an estimate of financial living standards in which disposable incomes of different households are adjusted according to estimates of their costs, taking into account economies of scale. The estimate of relative household costs used in this derivation of equivalised household income is based on the scale used by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This scale gives a weight of 1.0 to the first adult in the household, a weight of 0.5 for each additional person aged 15 years and over, and a weight of 0.3 for each children under 15 years. The total household income is then divided by the household weight.

6 This measure comprised three categories and was based on an assessment of whether more than 50% of the total household income was derived from: (a) salaries/wages, or (b) government transfers. If neither of these applied, then the main source of income was classified as “other” (the third category).

7 This is often graphically illustrated in the episodes of the popular television series, Who Do You Think You Are?

8 The sense of vitality and mental health measures represent sub-scales of the Short-Form (36) (SF-36) Health Survey, a self-report questionnaire that is designed to assess various dimensions of health status (Ware, Snow, Kosinski, & Gandek, 1993). We are mindful that the so-called “mental health” measure focuses exclusively on indicators of certain pleasant or unpleasant emotional states, whereas definitions of mental health or mental health problems refer to emotional, cognitive or behavioural disorders, with a key defining feature being that they interfere with the person’s life (e.g., see Australian Health Ministers, 2003; Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2011).

9 Note that for one wellbeing domain (social isolation), high scores indicate low wellbeing.

10 Changes in wellbeing with age can really only be identified through longitudinal analyses. It remains possible that, as they enter the next age brackets, the younger cohorts will not indicate the same level of wellbeing that is currently expressed by those in these older age brackets.

11 Again, we need to emphasise that our analysis is cross-sectional in nature. By the time they reach 65–74 years, the wellbeing of younger groups may differ from that currently apparent for those aged 65–74 years.

12 Multiple life events here exclude forming a live-in relationship.