HILDA Spotlights Changing Attitudes to Same Sex Couples and a Love of Lotto
2 August 2017 at 8:05 am
The longest running survey of Australia’s population known as HILDA has revealed a major shift in attitudes towards equality for same sex couples, a “surprising” rise in mortgage debt, higher poverty rates among children in single parent families and Australia’s love affair with lotto.
The latest release of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey incorporates information gathered since 2001. The survey currently tracks more than 17,000 people in 9,500 households.
The report’s author Professor Roger Wilkins from the University of Melbourne’s Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research told Pro Bono News there were a few surprises in this years findings as well as some major shifts in attitudes and behaviours by Australians generally.
Wilkins said that between 2005 and 2015 there was a profound shift towards the view that homosexual couples should have the same rights as heterosexual couples.
“The proportion of women agreeing with the statement rose from 43 per cent in 2005 to 67 per cent 2015. Among men, the proportion who agreed rose from 32 per cent to 59 per cent.
“The shift has been broad based, across all ages,” Wilkins said.
“We have asked people periodically the extent to which they agree with the statement that homosexual couples should have the same rights as hetersosexual couples but it is part of a broader bank of questions on marriage and family. [But] it seems very likely that people are interpreting it as a question about marriage equality.
“For both men and women there has been this shift from on average disagreeing with the statement to agreeing with it… a clear majority for both men and women favouring equal rights for same sex couples.
“Other surveys have ascertained similar figures but HILDA would be one of the more credible sources in that we are representative of the Australian population and we go to a lot of effort to ensure our ‘representativeness’.
“I would assert that it is probably the most credible evidence yet of community attitudes lifting.”
Wilkins said that more generally the results showed a broad based shift.
“So while older people are less likely to support equal rights than younger people we have still seen quite large shifts in the attitudes of older people. It is not simply driven by a particular demographic group… the shift in attitudes is quite widespread,” he said.
Wilkins said one of the surprising findings in this year’s HILDA survey was the rise in mortgage debt on primary residences among young Australians.
The survey found that this debt almost doubled between 2002 and 2014, and the average mortgage debt among 18-39 year olds jumped in real terms from $169,201 to $336,586 over those 12 years.
“In fact, on average, young home owners are also not paying down their debt, which increased every year,” Wilkins said.
“For young home-owners the data shows that growth in home debt is not because of the initial purchase but because of subsequent borrowing. They are deciding to consume some of the increased equity that house price growth has provided with between 30 and 40 per cent of these young home-owners increasing their debt from one year to the next,” he said.
“It seems that with the development of offset accounts and redraw facilities and access to refinancing many people are availing themselves of those products to increase their debt over time, so this was something that I hadn’t expected.
“This does increase the probability of people hitting retirement with substantial mortgage debt. There is also the prospect of people using their superannuation to pay off their mortgage debt when they hit retirement and move onto the aged pension.”
The report said despite average incomes not growing since 2012, poverty had not grown, and neither has income inequality. But while poverty had continued to fall, child poverty in single-parent families had risen.
“The likelihood of this type of poverty is very high, hovering between 20 per cent and 25 per cent from 2001 to 2015,” Wilkins said.
“More broadly, many single parent families are doing it tough. They have high poverty rates, have low rates of home-ownership, and have had very high growth in child care costs which have doubled in real terms since 2001 for those using formal child-care for children not yet at school.
“And more than half of majority-care parents, many of whom are single parents, don’t receive child support from the other parent.
“In the 15 years to 2015, more than 30 per cent of men and nearly 40 per cent of women aged 18 – 50 in 2001 were in poverty in at least one year. However, only 5 per cent of men and 7 per cent of women were in poverty in six or more of the 15 years.”
Welfare peak body ACOSS said in response to the HILDA findings that the causes of rising child poverty in single parent families included inadequate and frozen family payments, lack of decently-paid jobs, unaffordable childcare and low home ownership.
“The increase in child poverty is a reality that our political leaders have known about and yet continue to make worse,” ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said.
“We can end child poverty if governments have the will to make the necessary reforms. Successive governments have instead chosen to cut social security for single parents, including single parent payments by $85 per week once the youngest child turns eight, and removing indexation of family payments to wages in 2009.”
This year’s study focused on family relationships, household finances, employment, retirement, Australian attitudes and, for the first time, gambling.
“For the first time we have included questions about gambling in the survey to help explore the impact it has on family lives,” Wilkins said.
“The report found almost 40 per cent of adults gamble at least once a month – mostly on lottery games such as Power Ball. About two per cent of those identify as ‘problem gamblers’, which is a significant number when you consider the harm potentially caused to their loved ones.”
“It’s a small percentage of population… 2 per cent of 18 million adults is 360,000 people who could be called problem gamblers. It will come out in future years what the comparisons are and the future issues.”
The HILDA Survey is funded by the Australian government’s Department of Social Services.