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All about the National Seniors Social Survey (the NSSS)

National Seniors’ research activities primarily revolve around the National Seniors Social Survey. But what is it and how does it differ from other surveys? This article reveals all.

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  • Health
  • Read Time: 4 mins

What is the National Seniors Social Survey?

The National Seniors Social Survey (NSSS) is managed by the National Seniors Research Team. It has been conducted annually since 2012, except 2020.

The NSSS is a snapshot of older people’s wellbeing, views and experiences and is open to anyone living in Australia who is aged 50 and over. It is primarily funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care.

Invitations to participate are advertised to National Seniors’ members and social media community, and we strongly encourage sharing the invitation with other older people living in Australia.

Each NSSS generally attracts between 4000 and 6000 participants, giving the survey strong statistical power and a wide range of older people’s experiences to report.

Occasionally the National Seniors Research Team will launch an additional, smaller survey building on a specific NSSS topic. For example, in 2021 we followed up NSSS respondents with a mini survey focused on residential aged care ideals and information needs to feed into government reform processes.

But to avoid overburdening members with survey requests, National Seniors only conducts one other annual survey – the Membership Satisfaction Survey, an internal survey to help the organisation improve service to members.

The NSSS results are public and free

NSSS findings are made public through a series of reports produced by the Research Team, which anyone can download.

Because each NSSS covers several topics, we will usually produce multiple reports from a single survey. For example, the 2022 NSSS results were published in five reports on the topics of post-retirement work, older people’s volunteering activities, the evolution of retirement income, communities and older people’s quality of life, and preparation for ageing and later life.

The NSSS has social and policy impact

The NSSS provides the evidence base for National Seniors’ advocacy work and communications, to campaign for social change and policy that benefits older Australians.

National Seniors uses NSSS results as the basis for articles in our publications Connect and Our Generation, in our engagements with the media, to produce submissions for government inquiries, to inform government committees, and to present to other stakeholders in the private, government and community sectors.

Some NSSS results directly shape National Seniors’ policy proposals. Others feed into high level discussions to determine new directions in ageing and aged care. In all cases we use NSSS findings to inform debate with the views and experiences of older Australians – you.

Your voice counts and keeps on counting when you contribute to the NSSS.

The NSSS is ethical and confidential

The National Seniors Research Team complies with the highest ethical standards when conducting the NSSS.

We submit every proposed survey to an independent ethics committee for formal review – we use the services of Bellberry Limited for this. The ethics committee scrutinises it to identify any potential risks to survey respondents and will usually suggest modifications to minimise those risks before approving the survey for release.

The standard conditions of ethics approval include:

  • Keeping all NSSS data secure. Older people are often concerned about data privacy for good reasons. We are highly committed to defending the security of NSSS data and our ethics approval requires this. NSSS data are stored on a secure server and can only be accessed by National Seniors’ researchers. Other National Seniors staff cannot access NSSS data and nor can anyone outside the organisation.
  • Maintaining confidentiality of survey respondents’ identities. NSSS respondents can complete the survey without sharing any identifying information, so are effectively anonymous. If you choose to share identifying information, we are required to redact or remove it before publishing NSSS results. For example, if we reproduce one of your written comments in a report, we’ll first redact any part of the comment that might lead to you being identified by a third party.
  • Separating contact details from survey responses. We do ask NSSS respondents if they would be interested in providing contact details for follow up studies. But these details are collected separately so your survey responses cannot be linked to them, retaining your confidentiality and privacy.
  • No follow up of individuals with sales or offers of goods. Survey respondents often fear they’ll be bombarded with sales emails if they complete a survey. However, participating in the NSSS will never result in further contact unless you grant permission for it, and then only for follow-up research projects.
  • Allowing respondents to stop at any time or skip any questions. Every question in the NSSS is optional. You can skip any question you do not want to answer or even skip a whole section or just close the survey. The sections are always clearly labelled, allowing you to easily navigate to the next section if you choose to.

How are NSSS topics decided?

NSSS topics vary each year. The Research Team has the ultimate say in them, but we welcome ideas from members and select other stakeholders.

Topics are inspired by members' interest

National Seniors is nothing without members and community so the issues that concern older Australians are front and centre of our NSSS topic ideas.

  • We work hard to ensure NSSS topics are relevant and important to older Australians and reflect the current situation in a changing landscape.
  • National Seniors is committed to representing the diversity of opinion among older people in Australia, including the views of people experiencing disadvantage, whose voices may not be as loud as others. Sometimes that will mean one section of the NSSS is not relevant to all respondents. However, every NSSS contains some questions that apply to older people of all ages, life situations, financial circumstances and demographics.

Topics are shaped by funder domains

Some NSSS topics are relevant to the domains of funders, but NSSS questions are ultimately determined by the National Seniors Research Team.

  • Being funded by the Department of Health and Aged Care, the NSSS will always include health and wellbeing questions and often questions relevant to aged care. We are also mandated by the Department to attend to the needs and experiences of diversity groups, so sometimes a subset of questions is specific to one group.
  • While the Department provides most NSSS funding, long-term partner Challenger always funds some financial questions in the NSSS ‘Money Matters’ section and occasionally financial questions placed in another section (for example some questions about the cost of living in the 2023 survey). Datasets for these questions are not for commercial use but rather provide information to help support older peoples’ financial wellbeing and financial literacy. Challenger has no input into other NSSS topics, and no access to NSSS data beyond its questions and a small set of basic demographics. No other commercial organisations contribute to the NSSS. Like all other NSSS questions, these can be skipped if you’re uncomfortable.

Topics respond to current events

While some research aims to be timeless, most National Seniors research is advocacy oriented so must respond to what’s happening now.

  • For example, in 2021 we asked a lot of questions about aged care in the wake of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. Similarly, in 2020 our research program shifted temporarily to focus on older Australians’ wellbeing during the first year of the COVID pandemic.
  • The National Seniors Advocacy Team also writes a few questions for the NSSS each year, in a designated section on ‘Current Issues’. The responses directly inform National Seniors’ policy positions and advocacy campaigns.

Topics build on current research about ageing

Unlike many other advocacy organisations’ surveys, the NSSS is informed by high quality, peer-reviewed expert research in relevant fields.

  • The Research Team is finely attuned to the kinds of topics that are relevant to the gerontology (ageing) research discipline and where to find the best research to inspire our own. Head of Research Dr Diane Hosking is a highly trained, experienced expert in this area so can judge what matters and what is outdated.
  • We also present our data to research communities to feed into their work and to test the rigor and quality of our own.

Contact us with your NSSS queries

Any further questions? We’d be happy to help!

Contact the National Seniors general enquiries team at or phone (07) 32339191 and they will forward your research queries to the Research Team.

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