Australian social cohesion index is lowest in 17 years, says Scanlon report 

Dee Rudebeck Fri, 17 Nov 2023

The Scanlon-Monash Index of Social Cohesion highlights that there are many challenges facing Australian society putting strain on social cohesion, which has dropped to 79 (from the 2007 benchmark of 100), and down 4 points from last year. More than three-in-five people (62%) think that economic and housing affordability issues are the most important problem in Australia. This is the largest proportion of people citing these problems since the question was first asked in 2011. Likewise, 87% of people said they are very or quite concerned about the prospect of a severe downturn in the global economy.  

The report reflects the impact of financial pressures on people, with between 2020 and 2023, the proportion of respondents who are satisfied or very satisfied with their finances declined from 73% in July 2020 to 61%. Since November 2020, the proportion of people who are pessimistic about Australia’s future has increased from 24% to 41%, however 79% of people said they were “happy or very happy” in 2023. 

Other notable findings include a declining trust in government, with only 36% of respondents saying they trust the federal government “to do the right thing for the Australian people”. But on the flipside, a majority of Australians are engaged our democratic system, 87% having turned out for the 2022 federal election. More than half said they signed a petition in the last year. 

The year’s study received its highest number of responses, with almost 7,500 people across Australia completing the survey. They answered more than 90 questions about social cohesion, such as measuring their sense of belonging and worth. The survey also included findings from in-depth interviews and responses from 251 people from different ethnic and cultural groups, who completed a smaller survey. 

“We’re at a tipping point but not a crisis point. Social cohesion is under pressure but there are still opportunities in the strengths we can see in our communities,” said Dr James O’Donnell, from the School of Demography at the Australian National University, who presented the report, along with Anthea Hancocks, Scanlon Foundation Research Institute CEO.  

“We’re at a juncture and in the next few years, it’s going to be crucial that we manage these challenges. 

“Hopefully this sparks a national conversation. We know where the pressure points are, but we want to talk about this as a community to understand the things we can do to strengthen and recover that social cohesion.”  

On a positive note, people indicated a high connection to community, with 83% agreeing that people in their local area are “willing to help their neighbours”. The strong responses in relation to community and civic participation are a lasting knock-on effect of the pandemic, Dr O’Donnell suggests.  

While findings showed that people continue to value multiculturalism, 89% agreed that it is good for Australia, it is “still a work in progress”, with 18% of respondents having reported discrimination based on ethnicity, skin colour or religion, up from 16% from last year.  

Despite the outcome of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament, 86% of people agreed that Australia’s relationship with First Nations peoples “is very important”, including 62% who said they strongly disagreed with the Voice. A similar proportion (85%) think Indigenous histories and cultures should be included in the school curriculum. “The Voice referendum has been a difficult debate but should not be allowed to interrupt reconciliation,” the report says. 

“The biggest cause of optimism for me,” said Dr O’Donnell, “is that we are still connected, and that’s a really important resource. And the incredible support for multiculturalism is such an asset to Australia.” 

Read the full report on the Scanlon Foundation Research Institute’s website.