Social Determinants

WH&Y authors: Doctor Melanie Andersen
  • The physical and social conditions in which teenagers live, learn, love, work and play have a profound impact on their health and wellbeing.
  • Many Australian teenagers enjoy good living conditions, but those who do not often experience multiple forms of adversity, which can have a cumulative effect on their development and life opportunities.
  • In Australia every night 27,680 young people aged 12-24 years are homeless.


The social and physical conditions in which we live, learn, love, work and play are sometimes referred to as ‘social determinants of health’. These can affect our wellbeing, determine our material opportunities, and shape our behaviours and attitudes, particularly when we’re teenagers.

In the Teenage Decade, the social determinants that have the greatest impact include our access to decent housing, quality education, safe and efficient transport, nutritious food and neighbourhood environments that support recreation and physical activity; as well as our relationships with family and peers, and our income and employment opportunities.

The rapid changes we experience as teenagers tend to generate new responsibilities and behaviours that highlight the social determinants at play in our lives, and increase our awareness of social and material inequalities.

At the same time, what we need from the world changes. For instance, as our need for privacy increases during the teenage years, the experience of living in a crowded house can become even more difficult than it was during early childhood. Our growing need to travel independently to school and work can be impeded by a lack of access to safe, efficient, affordable transport.

Sometimes, teenagers face particular difficulties specifically because of their age. For instance, young people can have more difficulty accessing the housing market than other groups because of their comparatively low incomes and limited rental histories.

It’s important to recognise that not all teenagers experience the negative impacts of social determinants to the same extent, and that some groups are much more likely than others to experience adversity. Those that are challenged by social determinants often battle multiple disadvantages that have a compounding impact on their health and wellbeing. 


  • Many of the factors that shape the health experiences of teenagers take place outside the health sector. It follows, then, that making improvements in areas including housing, transport, education and employment for teenagers will have a significant impact on their health and wellbeing.
  • The distribution of wealth and resources in our communities is the product of socially constructed choices. It makes sense for health professionals who are passionate about improving the health and wellbeing of all teenagers to join with young people in being vocal advocates for a fairer and more equitable society.



About The Authors


Dr Melanie Andersen is a Research Fellow at the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at th...