27 January 2012

Study reveals happiness levels in Indigenous teens

The first study to investigate the happiness of Indigenous Australian teenagers has revealed a story of resilience in the face of adversity.

The RMIT University study involving 504 Indigenous adolescents found their levels of subjective wellbeing (SWB) – the scientific term for happiness – were on average comparable to that of non-Indigenous Australian adults.

Lead investigator Dr Adrian Tomyn said while there had been extensive research conducted on disadvantage among Indigenous young people, this study was the first to measure happiness – a human trait related to resilience.

“There is an assumption that because Indigenous Australians score poorly on objective measures of quality of life such as health, education, employment and housing, they would have equally poor levels of subjective wellbeing,” Dr Tomyn, a lecturer in RMIT’s School of Health Sciences, said.

“But our study has revealed that Indigenous adolescents are, on average, as happy with their lives as the general Australian population – a sign of great resilience in the face of adverse circumstances.

“While the average Indigenous teen is doing well, it is clear there is room for improvement, with our research showing that those who do struggle to cope with challenges in their lives score quite poorly on our happiness index.”

Commissioned by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, the study surveyed 504 Indigenous Australians aged 12-19 involved in DEEWR’s program for disengaged young people, “Youth Connections”.

The survey used an established measure of SWB, the Personal Wellbeing Index School Children, which asks respondents to indicate their level of happiness with seven important life ‘domains’. Scores are combined and then averaged to produce an overall happiness score. Key findings were:

  • The mean happiness score for the 504 young Indigenous Australians was within the expected Australian adult normative range.
  • Indigenous adolescents were almost twice as likely as non-Indigenous adults to score in the “high-risk” range for happiness (an indicator of depression).
  • Indigenous adolescents scored lower than non-Indigenous Australian adults on the domains of “standard of living”, “achieving in life” and “future security” but higher on the domains of “community connection” and “safety”.
  • Female Indigenous teens have significantly lower SWB than Indigenous males, and are four times more likely than males to score in the “high-risk” range.

The study has been published in Social Indicators Research.

For interviews: Dr Adrian Tomyn, 0439 988 740.

For media enquiries and copies of the paper: RMIT Marketing and Communications, Gosia Kaszubska, (03) 9925 3176 or 0417 510 735.

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