A life course approach to addressing disadvantage in Australia

There are more than one million Australians experiencing deep and persistent disadvantage. They are less likely to complete high school, find a good job and have stable housing, and they often suffer from poor mental and physical health and social isolation. Unlike those Australians who temporarily dip below the poverty line, their disadvantage is deep and persistent, resists simple solutions, and persists within families and across generations. The playing field is not level for all Australians and the divisions that come from a society with widening gaps between the haves and the have‐nots hurts everyone. It can undermine trust and cohesion and erode the social fabric that holds communities together.

The Life Course Centre is committed to tracking and understanding the experiences of Australians facing disadvantage in their daily lives, and to better equipping them to overcome it. Our commitment is founded in an innovative approach to identifying important life course influences, events and transitions, and developing strategic interventions to improve life opportunities and outcomes. Life course theory is a framework to understand how life pathways are shaped by interacting factors that bubble up at key life stages such as early childhood, adolescence, adulthood and parenthood. It allows investigation of how life trajectories are influenced by factors such as inherited disadvantage and the institutional systems governing how we live and work. The Life Course Centre is the first to apply life course theory to Australia’s growing social problem of disadvantage.

In Australia, we have safety nets designed to manage the symptoms of deep and persistent disadvantage but dealing with the symptoms does little to address the causes. Our research is focused on the causes. The Life Course Centre has been instrumental in introducing a life course perspective to policy debate and discussions on addressing disadvantage in Australia. We have also played a pivotal role in accessing and linking administrative data sources and records to investigate and track disadvantage over time, and to inform evidence-based policy making. We are creating a science of disadvantage that brings together Multiple research disciplines, innovative data sources, technologies and methods, in-depth investigations into lived experiences, and transformative research and translation.

The Life Course Centre is uniquely positioned to track the trajectories and lived experiences of disadvantaged individuals across their lifetimes in more detail than ever before and, in turn, pinpoint the interventions at specific stages of the life course that can make a real difference. This will inform the development of personalised and community-based solutions that can help to break the cycle for the more than one million Australians in deep and persistent disadvantage and, given the Centre’s global links, vulnerable people throughout the world.