How has Covid-19 impacted Australian households?

It’s been over a year since Covid-19 became a part of every Australian household’s life. On a personal level, we have become accustomed to wearing a mask, sanitising our hands and remaining socially distant in public spaces.

But on a national level, the Australian Bureau of Statistics has conducted regular surveys to ascertain the changes that have occurred across the country. Some of the key findings that emerge from the May 2021 survey which was carried out when no part of the country was in lockdown are:
• Women (62%) were more likely than men (35%) to spend five or more hours in May on unpaid indoor housework.
• One in four (27%) people have prioritised their mental health since March 2020.
• One in four (27%) who wanted, or intended, to travel in winter, were replacing plans affected by COVID-19.

Managing their physical and mental health was a key area of concern:

• Since March 2020, 89% of people have participated in one or more activities to manage their physical health.
• The most common activities for managing physical health were walking regularly for transport, exercise, recreation or sport (60%), watching or changing diet (48%), regularly doing physical activity (excluding walking) (47%) and getting enough sleep (39%).
• Almost one third (32%) of people have placed more, or much more, priority on their physical health since March 2020.

Almost half of the respondents surveyed reported their health as excellent or very good and fewer people reported having poor or fair health. Most people rated their health as being about the same as before the pandemic but for those who were in poor health, they tended to report their health as worsening over time. Most respondents reported maintaining about the same level of mental health as before the pandemic using such strategies as organising their home, life or other things (36%), doing more of the things they enjoy (33%) and increasing their level of exercise or physical activity (31%).

Getting vaccinated

By May 2021, fewer people (68%) reported that they intended to be vaccinated when it became available, compared to December 2020 when 73% said they intended to be vaccinated. Those men aged over 70 years were far more likely to intend to be vaccinated than younger people. A steady 13% of respondents indicated that they did not intend to be vaccinated because of their concerns of side-effects and effectiveness.

Unpaid work

As might be expected, women were almost twice as likely as men to have spent 20 or more hours a week on unpaid caring and supervision of children (28% compared to 15%), as well as 5 hours per week on housework. In addition, almost two in three (64%) women spent 5 or more hours on unpaid cooking and baking, compared with almost two in five (37%) men.

Employed people were more likely to spend unpaid time supervising and caring for children than unemployed people.

Household finances

What effect did the pandemic have on household finances? Comparing the figures before the pandemic to May 2021, the majority (60%) reported their household finances remained the same with 22% reporting their finances had deteriorated but 17% reporting they had improved. However 20% reported that they had taken action to support the household because there had been a shortage of money by drawing on savings, increasing their credit card balance or borrowing money.

One of the more significant aspects of the pandemic was on the capacity of vulnerable people to pay bills as they arose:

• One in 13 (8%) Australians reported their household was unable to pay one or more selected bills on time over the last three months due to a shortage of money.
• People with disability (12%) were more likely than people with no disability (7%) to report their household was unable to pay one or more selected bills on time over the last three months due to a shortage of money.
• The majority (91%) of Australians reported their household expects to be able to pay bills received in the next three months.

ABS, Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, May 2021,