The Australian Seniors Series: Modern Australian Communities
Communities are the cogs that help us feel connected to society. In cities and regional areas alike, a sense of community is crucial and often a result the efforts of its members. But while today’s Australian seniors are giving back to their local communities, they are already volunteering less time than their parents’ generation and are concerned that the modern pace of life might mean a further decline in contributed time from future generations. So, what does this mean for the future of our communities?
The Modern Australian Communities report is the ninth instalment of The Australian Seniors Series, examining the contributions of senior community members and the knock-on effects we may experience when they are no longer able to volunteer as much of their time.
Community is key
As we get older and our children move away from home, we increasingly rely on, and become more involved with, those in our neighbourhoods and immediate surroundings. So, it comes as no surprise that the majority of seniors feel connected and needed in their community (65.1%). In fact, most over-50s feel very strongly that local communities are the fabric of society (90.3%) and agree that this motivates them to volunteer or give back in some way (46.1%).
Contrary to what people might think, older seniors (aged 70+) are more likely to feel connected and needed in their community than younger seniors (aged 50–69) by a large margin (74.8% to 61.2%, respectively).
Encouragingly, most seniors feel they know their neighbours well (60.4%) and could rely on them for help if needed (74.7%), and this support appears to be well reciprocated. More than eight-in-ten (86.9%) say their neighbours could rely on them to help when needed and 71.0% agree that it is vital for neighbours to put effort into supporting one another.
Love thy neighbour
Despite this underlying feeling of neighbourly support, it seems communities are evolving but not necessarily for the better, with an overwhelming majority of seniors (80.3%) agreeing that the role of the neighbour has changed when compared to past generations. More than nine in ten (94.2%) seniors say neighbours have become less caring, connected and supportive, with nearly two thirds (64.9%) saying people are less community-minded than in the past.
Only 22.3% of Australians seniors say they expect the younger members of their community to check on them or interact with them without having to ask. This could be considered a reflection of changing generational values, with retired younger seniors being the least likely to expect this kind of interaction and older seniors being the most likely to have this expectation (16.8% and 26.9% respectively).
For seniors who think there is less community-mindedness today compared with the past, almost three-quarters (72.8%) attribute this to the pace of modern life. Many also say people are less connected with each other (59.7%), are more selfish or self-centred (58.4%), and have changing moral values (47.1%) that contribute to less community-mindedness.
One for one, not one for all
Interestingly, when asked how seniors see themselves within their communities, most identified as the ‘keep to myself’ type (36.8%), ‘make myself useful’ type (30.1%) or the ‘good neighbour’ (20.4%). Indicative of the changing face of modern communities, younger retired seniors are the most likely to admit that they are the ‘keep to myself’ type (42.1%) while older seniors are most likely to identify themselves as the ‘make myself useful’ type (37.7%).
Younger seniors are also the most likely to say they sometimes feel lonely, while older seniors are less likely to feel so (46.1% and 35.5%, respectively). Perhaps this could be linked to the fact that younger seniors are less likely to volunteer and therefore lose the sense of ‘togetherness’ that can arise from giving back to the community.
People feel safety in numbers, so communities are naturally a driving force behind helping seniors to feel safe. Most seniors feel safe in their community (84.8%), even though more than a third have experienced or witnessed crime or violence before (35.4%).
Not surprisingly, 20.6% of seniors who have experienced or witnessed crime or violence in their community would say that the experience has discouraged them from volunteering or giving back in some way. However, these experiences can also spark a positive response, with a similar percentage (18.3%) saying the experience actually prompted them to give back.
As communities change, emerging generations run the risk of feeling less connected and needed within their communities, with people keeping more to themselves instead of giving back. As the current senior generation finds it harder to give time to their communities, it is vital that younger generations step up to fill their shoes, keeping our communities together and reaping the benefits that volunteering in the community can provide.
Watch this space for the next chapter in the Australian Seniors Series.
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2 Mar 2018