The annual Scanlon Foundation Research Institute’s 2022 Mapping Social Cohesion study recorded the views of almost 6,000 people across all States and Territories on issues related to Australia’s social cohesion, government and community life.

The research was based on responses to an online survey (97%), telephone surveys (3%) and a set of in-depth interviews with people who live and work in local communities around Australia.

The Scanlon Foundation 2022 Mapping Social Cohesion Report provides a detailed profile of social cohesion in Australia today. The report estimates of social cohesion are based on the Scanlon-Monash Index of Social Cohesion for the following five(5) areas:

1. Belonging

This measure relates to the sense of pride and belonging people have in Australia, Australian life and culture, and the belonging they feel in their neighbourhoods.

The sense of national pride and belonging in Australia has declined over the past 15 years and are now lower than at any point since the Mapping Social Cohesion series began in 2011.

More than eight-in-ten people (85%) agree that their neighbours are willing to help each other. 83% responded that get along well with each other and with people from different national and ethnic background.

Social trust and neighbourhood cohesion remain high and resilient. Almost most half of Australians think that most people can be trusted. This is one of the highest levels in the world.

2. Worth

Measures of worth include the degree of emotional and material wellbeing. In the 2022 survey this measure was expanded to include the extent to which individuals feel respected, that the things they do in life are worthwhile, and that they have money for food.

There has been an increase in the proportion of people who strongly agree that the gap in incomes is too large from 31 % in 2019 to 36% in 2022. However the proportion who strongly agree that ‘Australia is a land of economic opportunity where in the long run, hard work brings a better life’ has declined (19 % in 2019 to 14% in 2022).

11% of people said they often or sometimes went without food in the last 12 months due to a lack of money.

3. Social inclusion and justice:

These measures include the perceptions of economic fairness and trust in government.

Perceptions of social inclusion and justice increased strongly during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic but has declined sharply since 2020. The report proposes that this has been driven by a renewed growth in the number of people who are concerned with economic inequality in Australia.

Trust in government remains at or above pre-pandemic levels. The proportion of people who believe that the Federal Government ‘can be trusted to do the right thing for the Australian people’ all or most of the time peaked at 56% in 2020 and has declined to 41% in 2022. This is still substantially higher than the average of 29 per cent recorded over the period 2010 to 2018.

4. Acceptance and rejection

This survey area reflects the lived reality of social cohesion in contemporary Australia. The measures in this area include attitudes to immigrant diversity, support for minorities, and experience of discrimination.

The 2022 report identifies that positive attitudes toward immigration and multiculturalism have become more common over time. When the 2018 and 2022 survey data are compared support for immigration, ethnic diversity and multiculturalism is high and growing. This is reflected across multiple indicators, including in the proportion of people who agree that:

  • Accepting immigrants from many different countries makes Australia stronger (63% in 2018; 78 % in 2022).
  • Multiculturalism has been good for Australia (77 % in 2018 and 88 % in 2022).
  • Immigrants improve Australian society by bringing new ideas and cultures (76% in 2018 and 86 %in 2022).

5. Discrimination and prejudice

Discrimination and prejudice towards groups from different backgrounds persists despite high levels of support for immigrant diversity and multiculturalism. Prejudiced attitudes towards particular groups in society are widely held and general concern about racism in Australian society is common.

The 2022 survey asked people ‘in your opinion, how big of a problem is racism in Australia?’ The report identified the belief that racism is a very big (14%) or a fairly big (47%) problem. This belief has become more common across demographic and socioeconomic groups, including younger and older people, and people from higher and lower socioeconomic groups.

Of those surveyed 37% did not believe that racism is a very big problem and 2% believe it is not a problem at all.

Major issues facing Australia

Every year, the Mapping Social Cohesion survey seeks to understand the issues that matter most to Australians. The first question in every survey since 2011 is ‘What do you think is the most important problem facing Australia today?’

In the 2022 survey two-in-five people (39%) cited economic issues as the biggest problem facing Australia. This reflects the importance of and uncertainties in the economy and the cost of living in 2022. Housing shortages, affordability, and interest rates were commonly cited as the most important problems facing Australia.

In 2022 moving out of the COVID-19 pandemic economic issues, national security, the environment, climate change, water, the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery also appear to be of growing importance as issues facing Australia.

Major global threats

While support for globalisation remains high the 2022 survey responses identify that most Australians are quite or very concerned about the following five (5) issues:

  • 75% are at least quite concerned about a severe downturn in the global economy.
  • 74% are at least quite concerned about a severe downturn in Australia-China relations.

The people surveyed in 2022 were are also quite or very concerned about:

  • COVID-19 and other potential pandemics (62%).
  • Military conflict involving Australia (54%).
  • Climate change (41%).

Indigenous Voice to Parliament

In the 2022 survey, people were asked for their views on the proposed Indigenous Voice to Parliament based on the Uluru Statement from the Heart:

  • 59% of people strongly agreed (31%) or agreed (28%);
  • 22% neither agreed nor disagreed; and
  • 19 % disagreed or strongly disagreed.

A majority of respondents across all states and territories indicated their support for the Voice to Parliament.

Social cohesion in Australia today

Australia is a highly cohesive nation and became even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic. However there are now signs that the boost to social cohesion during the pandemic is wearing off, leaving social cohesion in 2022 in Australia at a critical juncture.

In Australia people living in cohesive neighbourhoods have a greater sense of belonging, worth, social inclusion and justice. This suggests that if nurtured and maintained, the strengthening of neighbourhood cohesion may help to improve national level social cohesion.

Social and economic inequalities exacerbated by the current economic climate, experience of discrimination, and concern about national and global issues weigh heavily on social cohesion. The report identifies that efforts to address the sources of division, inequality and to alleviate the effects of global issues is a necessary first step in protecting and strengthening social cohesion in Australia.

Read or download the full report here.