'Future career' concerns created the greatest anxiety for both men and women. Photo: JESSICA SHAPIRO
Australians spend more time worrying about work than war, the environment, politics or any other broader issue.
In the first major study of the everyday worries of Australians, researchers from Macquarie University found ''future career'' concerns created the greatest anxiety for both men and women, while fear about ''the future'' and ''achievements'' also ranked in the top five.
Researchers from the psychology department found it surprising that matters dominating the media, such as climate change and politics, were not at the forefront of people's minds.
''Worries were much more personal, and at high levels that people said affected their lives and their health,'' said Associate Professor Jennifer Hudson, from the Centre for Emotional Health.
''A lot of people tended to worry about work, social interactions, their appearance and those sorts of areas.''
People were asked in an online survey about their level of worry across categories including health, society, work and relationships. More than 60 per cent of the 791 women said work and study worried them ''moderately'' to ''a lot''. The figures were slightly higher for the 287 men who responded, at about 70 per cent.
Of respondents under 30, more than 80 per cent worried about work and study moderately to a lot and about a third said it affected sleep, mood and physical health. When quality of life was affected, Professor Hudson said, anxiety became a disorder, leading her to believe clinical anxiety was under-diagnosed.
Worries about weight ranked highly for women only. That was not surprising, given the cultural obsession with the appearance of women, Professor Hudson said. ''But it is really alarming that 60 per cent of women said they worried about appearance at levels that interfered with their quality of life.''
The executive director of The Australia Institute, Richard Denniss, said the results reflected the think-tank's research that career and getting ahead were key concerns of those between 28 and 35.
''It is probably a combination of people being worried about their job security, and also the measures people feel they have to go to in order to get ahead,'' Dr Denniss said. ''People feel anxious that other people appear to be working longer and harder than them, because at 11pm their colleague will send out an email copying in everyone in the office so that everyone knows they are still working late at night.''
Technology should create more flexibility, Dr Denniss said, but in reality created a culture of ''presenteeism'' - giving the impression of being at work at all hours. ''You try being the person saying you will only work nine-to-five and will not be responding to emails on the weekend,'' he said.
The acting director of the Centre for Work + Life, Sara Charlesworth, said the results highlighted the desire of women to have strong careers and they were just as ambitious as men. ''Yet we know that among male and female graduates, despite women being as highly educated and qualified, men are still earning more straight out of uni.''