Key findings

  • In 2018, around 1 in 8 (12%, or 400,000) of young people lived in households deprived of 2 or more essential items.
  • Young people living with their parents were less likely to be living in material deprivation (10%) than those in other living arrangements (19%).
  • More than 1 in 3 (36%, or 143,000) living in material deprivation also experienced financial stress.

Material deprivation and financial stress are components of economic wellbeing that can shed light on young people’s living standards and experiences of economic hardship.

  • Material deprivation occurs when people do not have and cannot afford items or activities widely regarded as essential for participating fully in a society. It illustrates the balance between the resources available, and the living standards achieved with those resources (see Box 1) (Wilkins 2016).
  • Financial stress refers to the difficulties that people have meeting basic financial commitments due to a shortage of money. Financial stress is often associated with low income, and can have negative impacts on social participation, and physical and mental health (Steen & Mackenzie 2013).

This section builds on Income: household and individual by reporting on the prevalence and characteristics of material deprivation and financial stress among young people in Australia.

Box 1: Data sources on material deprivation and financial stress

Data on material deprivation and financial stress are from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey. The HILDA is a longitudinal household study that collects information about economic and personal wellbeing. Data on material deprivation are collected at the household level, with 1 respondent answering questions on behalf of the household. Since 2014, the module has been completed every 4 years, with the latest available data from 2018.

Data on financial stress are collected at the individual level, and responses from young people are available in each wave (except in 2010), with the latest data available for 2018.

Data limitations

Responses to questions on material deprivation may not necessarily reflect the perspectives of young people in that household about what is considered essential for an acceptable standard of living. Surveys designed specifically for young people may be better suited to report on how young people perceive and experience disadvantage.

For both material deprivation and financial stress, there are limitations to measuring a person’s individual level of deprivation or stress by counting items and experiences. Similarly, going without meals may be a better indicator of financial hardship than having to pawn or sell something for money. An alternative is to place greater weight on certain items—either those deemed essential by a larger proportion of people (material deprivation), or those with greater impacts on wellbeing (financial stress).

How many young people live in material deprivation?

According to the HILDA, in 2018:

  • 1 in 8 (12%, or 400,000) respondents aged 15–24 lived in households deprived of 2 or more essential items
  • 1 in 14 (7.2%, or 236,000) lived in households deprived of 3 or more items (see Box 2).

Box 2: How is material deprivation measured?

The material deprivation module in the HILDA is derived from previous studies conducted by the Social Policy Research Centre on material deprivation among adults (Saunders et al. 2007; Saunders & Wong 2012). The module asks a respondent from each household to specify whether they consider each of the following items essential, whether they have it and, if not, whether it is because they cannot afford it:

  1. Getting together with friends or relatives for a drink or meal at least once a month
  2. Medical treatment when needed
  3. Furniture in reasonable condition
  4. A decent and secure home
  5. Medicines when prescribed by a doctor
  6. Warm clothes and bedding, if it’s cold
  7. A substantial meal at least once a day
  8. A week’s holiday away from home each year
  9. A roof and gutters that do not leak
  10. A telephone (landline or mobile)
  11. Home contents insurance
  12. A washing machine
  13. A motor vehicle
  14. Access to internet at home
  15. Comprehensive motor vehicle insurance
  16. At least $500 in savings for an emergency
  17. A home with doors and windows that are secure
  18. Dental treatment when needed
  19. Buying presents for immediate family or close friends at least once a year
  20. When it is cold, able to keep at least 1 room of the house adequately warm
  21. A separate bed for each child
  22. A yearly dental check-up for each child
  23. A hobby or a regular leisure activity for children
  24. New school clothes for school-age children every year
  25. Children being able to participate in school trips and school events that cost money.

Of the 25 items presented in the module, 23 were considered essential by a majority of respondents in 2018. The items not considered essential by a majority of respondents were: ‘a week’s holiday away from home once a year’ and ‘buying presents for immediate family or close friends at least once a year’. ‘Access to the internet at home’ was not considered essential by a majority of respondents in 2014 but was considered essential in 2018.

This approach is often referred to as the ‘consensual’ approach as it relies on a common understanding of what constitutes an acceptable standard of living. A person’s individual level of deprivation can be determined by the number of essential items their household does not have and cannot afford. Deprivation levels can be used to calculate the average number of items people are deprived of across a group, also referred to as the mean deprivation score.

This section uses a 2-item measure of deprivation to allow for responses errors. A person is considered to be living with material deprivation if they do not have, and cannot afford, at least 2 essential items.

This approach gives equal weight to each item and does not account for the seriousness of different forms of deprivation. The impact of not being able to afford ‘getting together with friends or relatives for a drink or meal at least once a month’ may differ substantially from being deprived of ‘getting medical treatment when needed’ (McLachlan et al. 2013).

How is material deprivation commonly experienced?

In 2018, the mean deprivation score for young people was 0.5 items. The most common essential household items young people did not have and could not afford were:

  • at least $500 in savings for an emergency (13%, or 430,000)
  • home contents insurance (9.5%, or 308,000).

Has material deprivation changed over time?

Between 2014 and 2018:

  • a greater number of items were considered essential by Australians (see Box 1)
  • the proportion of young people deprived of 2 or more essential items was similar (15% in 2014 and 12% in 2018).

Is material deprivation the same for everyone?

In 2018, material deprivation among young people varied across household types and socioeconomic areas:

  • 10% (263,000) of respondents who lived with their parents as either a dependent student or non-dependent child were deprived of 2 or more essential items, compared with 19% (137,000) of those not living with their parents
  • 20% (109,000) of those in the lowest socioeconomic areas were deprived of 2 or more essential items compared with 2.9% (20,300) in the highest socioeconomic areas (Note that the estimate for those in the highest socioeconomic areas has a relative standard error over 25% and should be interpreted with caution).

For young people, the differences in experiences of material deprivation according to remoteness areas or country of birth were not statistically significant.

Financial stress

Financial stress indicators can be used to illustrate how a person experiences economic hardship (Box 3). Financial stress is often associated with low income, and can have severe short- and long-term consequences for individuals, families and the community. Young people, in particular, are at increased risk of financial stress, and have lower financial literacy to navigate cash flow problems or difficulties (Steen & Mackenzie 2013).

Box 3: How is financial stress measured?

In the HILDA survey, financial stress is measured by asking respondents over 15 years of age: ‘Since January [survey year], did any of the following happen to you because of a shortage of money?

  1. Could not pay electricity, gas or telephone bills on time
  2. Could not pay the mortgage or rent on time
  3. Pawned or sold something
  4. Went without meals
  5. Was unable to heat home
  6. Asked for financial help from friends or family
  7. Asked for help from welfare/ community organisations.

Respondents are asked to indicate which of these 7 events had occurred. Experience of any 1 of these events can be considered an experience of financial stress, although some events (such as going without meals) can indicate more severe stress than others (such as inability to pay bills on time). Two or more of the indicators must be experienced for a person to be classified as being in financial stress (Wilkins et al. 2019).

How many young people experience financial stress?

According to the HILDA, 1 in 10 (10%, or 337,000) of respondents aged 15–24 experienced financial stress in 2018.

How is financial stress commonly experienced?

In 2018, the most common forms of financial stress experienced by young people aged 15–24 were:

  • asking for financial help from family or friends (14%, or 447,000)
  • not being able to pay electricity, gas or telephone bills on time (9.2%, or 288,000)
  • not being able to pay rent or mortgage on time (5.7%, or 177,000). (Note that this estimate has a relative standard error over 25% and should be interpreted with caution).

Has financial stress changed over time?

Between 2008 and 2018, the proportion of young people experiencing financial stress remained steady (10.4% to 10.0%, respectively).

Is financial stress the same for everyone?

For young people, financial stress varied according to household type and socioeconomic area:

  • 7.3% (186,000) of respondents living with their parents experienced financial stress compared with 21% (151,000) of those not living with their parents
  • 14% (72,500) of those living in the lowest socioeconomic areas experienced financial stress compared with 3.8% (26,800) in the highest socioeconomic areas (Note that the estimate for those in the highest socioeconomic areas has a relative standard error over 25% and should be interpreted with caution).

Financial stress was also higher among those living in material deprivation:

  • 36% (143,000) of respondents living in households deprived of 2 or more essential items experienced financial stress, compared with 6.8% (194,000) of those who were not deprived.

The differences in financial stress according to remoteness areas, country of birth or Indigenous status were not statistically significant.

Where do I find more information?

For information on:

For information on how material deprivation can affect children aged 0–14, see:

For general technical notes relating to this report, see also Methods.


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