What can HILDA tell you about Australia?

The latest results of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey were released in a report published on 2 August 2017. The results relate to data collected from 2001 to 2015.

HILDA is a nationally representative longitudinal study of Australian households funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services and managed by the Melbourne Institute at the University of Melbourne.

The major advantage of the HILDA survey is its longitudinal nature. Since 2001, questions have been asked of the same individuals and households every year— allowing researchers to examine how aspects of these individuals and households’ lives change over time. If the survey continues long‑term, there is the potential to ask questions of current respondent’s children and their subsequent descendants.

The longitudinal nature of HILDA data allows researchers and policy makers to understand the dynamics of health and education of individuals, their labour market experiences and changes in income and spending patterns. In particular it allows analysis of whether some individuals become stuck in a persistent state of disadvantage such as relative income poverty, long term unemployment and reliance on welfare. The survey can also shed light on whether particular pre-conditions (such as low educational attainment and poor physical and mental health) contribute to disadvantage and whether experience with disadvantage entrenches or worsens pre-conditions or contributes to other negative outcomes such as marital breakdown and social exclusion.

Fifteen years of data are now available for researchers to use. Around 17,000 Australians are asked a series of questions each year. Topics include health, education and labour market participation, income, wealth, how individuals and households spend their income, what type of relationship they are in (or household composition), whether they have children and pay child care, whether they are retired and drawing on an age pension or superannuation (or a combination of both) and housing tenure (whether they are a private renter, home owner or paying a mortgage or living in public housing accommodation). The HILDA survey also provides some insights into preferences and life satisfaction of individuals.

The HILDA survey sample has been supplemented at various times due to attrition of respondents (i.e. the survey is topped up to make up for those who no longer wish to be interviewed) and to include recent migrants to make the sample and survey results more representative of the Australian population. Due to logistical issues the survey sample does not include Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians living in very remote communities.

Recent HILDA survey results

Household Income

  • Growth in household income was strongest between 2003 and 2009, when the mean (average) increased by 26.5 per cent, and the median (mid-point) increased by 29.9 per cent

  • Between 2009 and 2015, median household income fell by 1.5 per cent, while the mean grew by 2.6 per cent. Both the mean and median fell in real terms between 2014 and 2015.

Income inequality

  • There has been little net change in income inequality in Australia between 2001 and 2015. The Gini coefficient—a common measure of overall inequality— has remained at approximately 0.3 over the entire 15 years of the Survey.

Regional income growth

  • Of the 13 regions examined, Sydney experienced the weakest median household income growth between 2001 and 2015 (at 13.1 per cent). In comparison, residents of Perth recorded growth of 52.4 per cent and residents of the ACT and Urban Northern Territory (combined) experienced median household income growth of 42.3 per cent,

Relative income poverty

  • The proportion of the Australian population living below the relative income poverty line (as measured by 50 per cent of household median income) has fallen from 13.2 per cent in 2007 to 9.7 per cent in 2015

  • One of the reasons for the decline is many welfare recipients in Australia have incomes quite close to 50 per cent of median income, so relatively small movements in government benefits or the median can bring about sizeable changes in the poverty rate

  • Regionally, some the largest decreases in the proportion of the population living below the relative poverty line between 2007 and 2015 were recorded in Urban Tasmania, Adelaide, and Perth

Welfare reliance

  • The proportion of the Australian population that derived 90 per cent of their annual household income from welfare payments has fallen from around 7 per cent in 2004 to 5 per cent in 2015


  • 39.1 per cent of the Australian adult population engages in at least some form of gambling activity on a monthly basis. The incidence of gambling is higher among men than women (43.2 per cent compared with 35.2 per cent)

  • The problem gambling population is quite small—just 1.5 per cent of men and 0.8 per cent of women

Young home owners

  • In 2014, approximately 25 per cent of people aged 18 to 39 years were home owners, down from nearly 36 per cent in 2002

  • The decline in home ownership primarily occurred between 2002 and 2006 and between 2010 and 2014. This pattern is very much consistent with strong growth in house prices as measured by the Australian Bureau of Statistics during these periods.

  • The sharpest decline in home ownership has been among couples with dependent children. In 2002, 55.5 per cent of individuals in this family type were home owners, but by 2014, this proportion dropped to 38.6 per cent.

Tags: HILDA, statistics


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