New report reveals Australia’s changing attitudes towards wealth

What does it mean to be wealthy? The word ‘wealth’ is an important one for Australians. Important enough, at least, to feature in the lyrics of our national anthem:

We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil

In other words, work hard and you’ll be rewarded with the wealth our land has to offer. But those lyrics don’t define ‘wealth’. Perhaps a dictionary will help:

wealthy a. & n. 1 Possessing well-being; happy; comfortable. 2 Of a person, country, etc: possessing (esp. financial) wealth; rich, affluent, prosperous.

My copy of the Oxford Dictionary is admittedly a 1993 edition, but it’s unlikely the current definition will have changed much since then.

To get a better understanding of what it means to be wealthy in our country in 2023, financial services company AMP has combined forces with renowned demographer Bernard Salt to produce a new report: What wealthy means to Australians in 2023: An exploration of cultural preferences and change.

The report, launched last month, concludes that there has been a shift in the attitude of Australians towards the concept of wealth.

“One of the most important social shifts has been the rise of the individual,” Mr Salt says in the report.

“In a direct comparison between the way Australians live in 2023 with the way we lived 60 years ago in 1963 it is evident that that there is now more ‘alone time’ across the lifecycle.”

Mr Salt points to the mid-1960s as when the “zenith of the Australian home ownership ideal was reached”. Since then, his report says, a number of significant cultural shifts within the country, along with other global forces, have reshaped the concept of ‘wealthy’.

The cultural shifts began in the late 1960s, Mr Salt says, citing the release of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch as a signal for change, with the 1970s sprinkled with other relevant milestones such as Indigenous Australians first being included in the census in 1971, the introduction of ‘no fault divorce’ under Gough Whitlam’s leadership in 1975 and the first Sydney Mardi Gras in 1978.

Such events heralded a shift in the general attitude of Australians.

“Modern Australia as captured by the 2021 Census is a fusion of cultures, ages, ethnicities, sexual orientations, skills and living arrangements,” says Mr Salt.

“There is no one-size-fits-all community today as there was in 1966 when those who didn’t fit in were excluded.”

Changing attitudes and a falling home-ownership rate in the decades since have redefined the concept of wealthy.

“Wealthy doesn’t mean living in Toorak or Point Piper,” says Mr Salt.

“For some it may mean having the freedom to take a holiday, to visit the kids, to buy groceries, to stream a movie that takes their fancy. I think wealthy equates with freedom.”

Mr Salt believes Australia, as a whole, thinks that way. “Australians today, I think, reading long-term trends at a big picture level, regard ‘wealthy’ as having the freedom to live the lifestyle that they want. And that includes lifestyles both before and after retirement.”

Mr Salt’s full report can be found on AMP’s website.

What does being wealthy mean to you? Has your concept of wealth changed over the years? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

Also read: Why the housing wealth gap between generations is getting wider

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


  1. Wealth means different things to different people. For many it does not equate to being rich in a financial sense. In fact the idea of striving to become as financially wealthy as possible is IMO not the ambition of many people any more. Most have realised life is not a game of monopoly and I see rising resentment towards those who treat it that way because when ownership of things, especially property, becomes too concentrated in too few hands it does social harm.
    For me wealth is owning my home and having sufficient income to do the things I like doing. I have never wanted more than that or tried to gain more than I need to be comfortable and secure.

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