Young woman packing clothes into a box wearing a volunteer badge

Australian unpaid social contributions valued at $287 billion

15 March 2023
Those traditionally undervalued contribute the most to social production, new report finds
Australians generated at least $287.86 billion in value through unpaid social contributions in 2021, according to a new report from the University of Sydney's Mental Wealth Initiative.
Associate Professor Jo-An Occhipinti

Associate Professor Jo-An Occhipinti

The report, A Contributing Life: A Snapshot of the Value of Social Production, shines a spotlight on the unseen value Australians contribute to national prosperity in terms of social production – value that traditionally lies outside of the boundary of gross domestic product (GDP).

Social production is made up of unpaid contributions to society through activities such as volunteering, the education and care of children, building community infrastructure, ecological restoration and caring for country, providing a crowd service, or informal mentoring.

“These contributions are essential to the integrity of the social fabric of our nation and bolster economic productivity and national resilience,” said Associate Professor Jo-An Occhipinti, Co-Director of the Mental Wealth Initiative.

Social production is important because it’s the glue that holds society together. It’s an essential element of a wellbeing economy – an economy that prioritises an inclusive, holistic, and balanced approach to social and economic progress.
Associate Professor Jo-An Occhipinti

Women, over 65s and unemployed made largest contributions

Professor John Buchanan

Professor John Buchanan

To reach their figure, researchers applied a universal value (based on median hourly earnings) of $36/hour to every hour spent undertaking activities that fall under Australian Bureau of Statistics social contribution categories. These are taken from the ABS Time Use Survey 2020-21 and the Mental Wealth Initiative's independent research.

They found that the largest contributing groups to social production were those that are underrepresented in the formal economy: women, people aged over 65, and unemployed people.

People over 65 contributed $7.56 billion in social production through voluntary work; the largest of any age group. The total figure of $287.86 billion equates to 14 per cent of Australia’s GDP in 2021.

Mental Wealth Initiative Co-Director Professor John Buchanan said it is important to measure social production to promote a more inclusive narrative of a contributing life. 

Considering social production rebalances our perspective from an overemphasis on our individual rights towards more of a focus on our collective responsibilities.
Professor John Buchanan

“Tackling national and global challenges, including climate change, energy and food insecurity, and conflict, requires social cohesion and strong democracies. Investing in our nation’s mental wealth will provide us with the capacity, resources and resilience to face these challenges more successfully.”

Associate Professor Occhipinti said: “The figure is most certainly an underestimate. Improving data collection to get a more accurate and complete picture of the value of social production and its contribution to Australia’s Mental Wealth is a national priority. We hope to see it as part of the government’s commitment to Measuring What Matters.”

The Mental Wealth Initiative was established to measure, monitor and forecast the mental wealth of nations. It works with research and industry partners to understand how coordinated policies and investments across health, social and economic systems could boost brain capital, and improve the resilience, mental health and overall mental wealth of nations. 

Declaration: This work was undertaken under the Mental Wealth Initiative supported by seed funding and philanthropic gifts provided to the Brain and Mind Centre, University of Sydney, and additionally supported by Computer Simulation & Advanced Research Technologies. The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Media contact

Harrison Vesey

Media Advisor (Business)

Related articles