Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) Australia's youth, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 09 February 2023.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Australia's youth. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/australias-youth
Australia's youth. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 25 June 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/australias-youth
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australia's youth [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021 [cited 2023 Feb. 9]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/australias-youth
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021, Australia's youth, viewed 9 February 2023, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/australias-youth
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Australia’s youth provides a picture of the wellbeing of young people living in Australia. It assembles the latest available data on a wide range of topics to explain how Australian young people are faring and what changes have occurred over time. It builds on previous Australian Institute for Health and Welfare (AIHW) youth reporting—including Young Australians: their health and wellbeing 2011 and the 2015 data portal National Youth Information Framework (NYIF) indicators—and is a companion report to Australia’s children. It also outlines related data gaps, thereby providing a platform to support the improvement of and need for regular reporting on young people.
Young people are defined in this report as those aged 12–24. This life stage, from adolescence to young adulthood:
The pathways from education to work, and from the parental home to independent living, have become more varied and complex for young people, and often take longer than in the past (AIHW 2015). The challenges these pose make resilience a key life skill to develop during adolescence, to cope with difficult or stressful situations. Resilient people who know their own strengths and use them to achieve their goals have been reported to have higher wellbeing scores (APS 2016).
Since early 2020, COVID-19 has emerged as a major health threat and disrupted almost all parts of society worldwide, including Australia. Data until 16 June 2021 has shown that although case numbers are high among young Australians, deaths have been low compared to older age groups. However, it has had a substantial social and economic impact on young Australians, particularly in relation to psychological distress, educational disruption, unemployment, and housing stress and safety.
At the time of publication, data suggest some outcomes for young people have returned to pre-COVID-19 levels. However, the full impact of COVID-19 on young people is likely to be complex, long term, and will not be fully understood for some time. As many life trajectories are set in place during adolescence and young adulthood, having regular data collection in place to monitor the wellbeing of young people over time and across domains has become even more important.
The topics included in Australia’s youth are based on the 7 domains of the AIHW people-centred data model—health, social support, education, employment, income and finance, housing, and justice and safety. A separate section on the impact of COVID-19 on young people is also included (see COVID-19 and the impact on young people). The report supports comparisons across different groups and internationally, where possible.
As a starting point, the following policy and national documents were used to identify areas of ongoing policy relevance, and issues considered important to young people:
The selection of final topics for the report was based on advice from the AIHW’s Child and Youth Information Advisory Group, members of the Wellbeing, Health and Youth (WH&Y) Commission aged between 15–21, and data availability and/or suitability. The report is not meant to reflect all major topics important to young people. For more information, see The voice of young people.
Each topic section outlines the importance of the subject to youth wellbeing and, wherever possible, presents data on established measures over time and for particular population groups. International comparisons are included where available, and sources with more information are given. Available national or state or territory data sources have been used for those topics with no established measures to give some insight into the topic.
A companion PDF report, (Australia’s youth: in brief), presents a high-level summary of key statistics and findings from the report.
Where COVID-19 data for 2020 and early 2021 were available from the data collections underpinning this report, they are included. However, data were not yet available for many of these collections.
An additional section, COVID-19 and the impact on young people, overviews the emerging picture of the impact of COVID-19 on young people across the 7 domains of the report. It draws on several new surveys conducted since the pandemic began that were specifically geared to assessing the impact of COVID-19. Some of these data have limitations (for example, the sample size of young people included). Given the nature of the data available and their limitations, the COVID-19 information included is not always nationally representative; it does, however, represent the best available data.
Definitions of the age range for young people vary across Australian and international data collections and reporting. For this report, youth are defined as those aged 12–24. This age range complements that in Australia’s children and the Children’s Headline Indicators aged 0–12, noting there is 1 year of overlap for young people aged 12.
Where data for young people aged 12–24 are not available or readily published, or the numbers are too small for robust reporting, a different age range (most commonly 15–24 years) is reported. This is especially the case for health-related data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
Regardless, the age range reported in Australia’s youth complements that used for equivalent indicators in Australia’s children. For example, if data were reported for children aged 0–14 in Australia’s children, the age range reported in Australia’s youth will be 15–24 (Figure 1). (Summary demographic information is given for young people aged 12–24 in Demographics of Australian young people and their families).
Wherever possible, this report presents data for sub-age groups. The age range for sub-groups is based on robustness of the data and alignment with relevant guidelines (for example, legal age for drinking, physical activity and nutrition guidelines).
The ecological approach to youth reporting adopted for this report considers how factors that shape people’s health interact within and between different social and ecological ‘levels’. The specific approach taken derives from existing frameworks for children and young people used in Australia: The young person is at the centre and their development and wellbeing occurs within dynamic concentric circles of influence exerted by different settings, namely:
The many influences on young people of these spheres can be organised into information domains. As mentioned earlier, this report is structured around the 7 domains of the AIHW’s people-centred data model, developed to measure and report on the health and welfare of the general population. Modified for youth reporting, it includes 7 information domains across the health and welfare sectors: individual health, social support, education, employment, income and finance, housing, and justice and safety. The interrelationship of these domains in the context of youth wellbeing is highlighted in Figure 2.
While the 7 domains are represented separately in Figure 2, they are not mutually exclusive, but rather interconnected in the lives of young people.
Currently, data are mostly available from separate and disconnected sources. This makes it difficult to undertake regular national reporting on many topics that cut across different domains—such as physical and mental health within the context of education or work, homelessness or unstable housing, or of young people in the justice system. Regular national reporting on such cross-cutting themes requires regular national multi-sectorial data linkage. For more information, see Data gaps.
According to Mission Australia Youth Survey report 2020, young people aged 15 to 19:
For this report, the AIHW sought the perspective of some young people through collaboration with the Wellbeing, Health and Youth (WH&Y) Commission. The Commission, which was established as part of the Wellbeing, Health and Youth NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Adolescent Health:
The Commission also provided input into the topic selection for Australia’s youth, and drafted 3 topic sections of particular importance to members and for which only limited data are currently available. For more information, see Contributions from young people for information pieces on Climate change, Discrimination, belonging and health and LGBTIQ+ young people.
Providing children and young people with a voice on their experiences is a role undertaken by the National Children’s Commissioner, and state and territory children’s commissioners. For more information, see Where do I find more information?
The AIHW’s people-centred data model approach supports reporting on inequities in health and wellbeing outcomes that are influenced by the social determinants of health. Groups of young people at increased risk of experiencing health inequities who may need additional support include those:
Being among one of these groups does not equate to inherent vulnerability. It is increasingly recognised that vulnerability exists on a continuum and arises from circumstances and contexts, rather than from intrinsic qualities of individuals or groups (NHMRC 2020). Neither are these groups mutually exclusive; there can be overlap between them. Young people who experience multiple forms of vulnerability are likely to be particularly at risk of poor outcomes.
To help to identify where health inequity exists, the report aims to present data for each domain disaggregated by young people from selected population groups, wherever possible. However, this is one area where there is an overarching critical data gap (see Data gaps). Due to current data availability, reporting has generally been limited to young people:
At times, due to small sample sizes of young people in a number of surveys, data disaggregated for these 3 populations are not possible (see also Data gaps).
It should be noted that young people living in rural and remote areas face unique challenges due to their geographic location and often have poorer health outcomes than young people living in metropolitan areas. They also have poorer access to, and use of, primary health-care services (AIHW 2020). Due to the limited length of this report and extensive coverage of Indigenous young people and young people with disability in other recent AIHW publications, these 2 priority populations are not included in this report.
This report does include some overarching information on young people living in out‑of-home care; however, additional data on this group of young people from other sources are very limited. For information on specified indicators relating to out-of-home care, see the National Standards for Out-of-Home Care (the National Standards) under the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009–2020.
Reporting data for different groups is important for high-level national reporting; however, as each sub-group is reported separately, insight on the multiple disadvantages that children may experience is not given.
Responsibility at the national level for services and/or policies to support core elements of youth wellbeing—health, development, learning and safety—cuts across different sectors, and across different government departments of:
At a national level, several initiatives, developments and/or publications have specifically recognised the importance of supporting young people, including:
As a result of the shared responsibility for youth health and wellbeing, national reporting frameworks have been developed by different government departments as well as by non-government agencies to support decision making. Some are youth specific and broad in scope; some focus on an aspect of child and youth wellbeing (such as child safety). Others cover whole-of-population, or specific population groups (for example, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people) and either include indicators relevant to youth and/or disaggregate for youth. Figure 3 categorises the current frameworks.
ARACY’s (Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth) The Nest Wellbeing Framework and The Nest Report Card: the wellbeing of young Australians
Education and employment
(a) The Australian Health Performance Framework subsumes the National Health Performance Framework and the Performance and Accountability Framework. A core set of indicators has been agreed.
(b) The National Strategic Framework for Chronic Conditions Reporting Project, being developed by the AIHW, is expected to be finalised later in 2021.
(c) Children and young people are a priority cohort under the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement.
(d) The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s children expires in 2021. A successor plan is being developed.
Some variation exists across the frameworks in relation to the:
Key national indicators of youth health, and wellbeing (National Youth Information Framework indicators)
Age group, gender, Indigenous status, CALD, remoteness, SES, some international
4-yearly to 2015
ARACY The Nest Report Card
National Framework for Protecting Australia’s children
Age, gender, Indigenous, CALD (for some indicators)
National Standards for Out-of-Home Care
Indigenous, remoteness (for selected indicators)
Australian Health Performance Framework
Australia’s Welfare Indicator Framework
National intergovernmental agreements
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan: Implementation Plan goals
Abbreviations: ARACY (Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth); CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse); SES (socioeconomic status).
Of the 7 domains in the AIHW people-centred data model, in relation to young people, the Health domain has the most established measures across the various frameworks while the Income and finance and Employment domains have the fewest (Table 2).
National core maternity indicators
Australia's Welfare Indicator Framework
NHA NDA NIRA
Abbreviations: ARACY (Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth); NHHA (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement); NSRA (National Schools Reform Agreement); NYIF (National Youth Information Framework).
There is growing interest in Australia and internationally in developing positive indicators for wellbeing. However, historically many national well-established indicators, including some presented in this report have a deficit, rather than a strengths-based focus. This can potentially reinforce negative stereotypes about young people.
Australia’s youth aims to present a national overview of how Australian youth are faring at a particular point in a way that can be regularly updated and allow for progress to be tracked. It therefore focuses on data that are nationally representative, collected periodically, and that support population-level comparisons.
The report draws predominantly on:
A mix of administrative by-product data and data collected directly from young people is included. See Data sources for a full listing of data sources used. However, for some topics of interest, where nationally representative data collected periodically are not available, other national data sources, or sub-national data sources, have been used to further insight on a topic.
In future, data integration could enable improved national reporting. For example, data could be brought together from multiple sources on select population groups (such as young people in out-of-home care and young people with disability) to better understand their use of services across multiple sectors (such as education, health and justice) and their transitions over time (such as from school to work). Data integration would also facilitate improved understanding of topics that cut across different domains, such as mental health.
For more information on Children’s Commissioners in Australia, see:
The guidance and feedback on this report from the following groups is gratefully acknowledged.
Professor George Patton, The Royal Children’s Hospital
Government and institutional members
AHRC (Australian Human Rights Commission) 2017. Children’s rights report 2017 National Children’s Commissioner. Sydney: AHRC.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2015. Australia’s welfare 2015. Australia’s welfare series no. 12. Cat. no. AUS 189. Canberra: AIHW.
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AIHW 2020. Australia’s health 2020: Australia’s health snapshots. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 5 March 2021.
APS (Australian Psychological Society) 2016. APS Compass for life: wellbeing survey. Melbourne: Australian Psychological Society.
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Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 2017. Final report: Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, preface and executive summary. Sydney: Government of Australia. Viewed 15 April 2021.
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