Study shows trends in Australian economic and population patterns


The Grattan Institute has released a working paper examining the regional patterns of Australia's economy and population as part of a broader analysis of why the vote for minor parties has risen rapidly over the past decade, particularly in regional electorates.

The paper examines trends in incomes, employment, and demographics across Australia over the past decade, under the influence of economic forces such as the mining investment boom and the shift of consumption and employment from agriculture and manufacturing to services.

The working paper finds that while many people believe that capital cities get a better deal compared with regional areas, the reality was more 'nuanced'.

Using demographic and economic from the 2016 Census as well as income data from the Australian Taxation Office and employment data from the Department of Employment, the paper identifies a range of patterns:

  • High-skilled service jobs have grown particularly quickly, and these tend to cluster towards the centres of the capital cities. As a result, the inner suburbs tend to have higher average incomes, more income growth, more and faster-growing income inequality, higher population growth and the highest concentrations of people with tertiary education and migrants, particularly from English-speaking countries.

  • Outer suburbs in the capital cities tend to have lower levels of income growth and tertiary education, but very high population growth and more migrants.

  • Most regional areas in non-mining states have lower incomes, fewer people with tertiary education, older populations, less population growth and fewer migrants. However, income growth per person in most regional areas has kept pace with the average in their State over the past decade. While unemployment varies between regions, it is not noticeably higher in the regions overall.

  • The east coast “sea change” towns often have different patterns to inland regions of eastern states. Their incomes have grown more rapidly – and are more unequal. Their populations have grown faster, they are older, more have tertiary education, and more have migrated from English-speaking countries and Europe. However, unemployment is relatively high.

  • In mining regions of Western Australia and Queensland. Incomes are higher, and have grown faster, across these states. In mining regions such as the Pilbara, incomes, income inequality, and tertiary education levels are particularly high, and populations grew faster over the past decade.

The Working Paper is available here.

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