4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2003  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 03/06/2003   
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Contents >> Population >> Population distribution: Youth migration within Australia

Population distribution: Youth migration within Australia

Half of all people aged 15-24 years moved residence in the five years to August 2001.

The age structure of rural and regional Australia has changed significantly in recent decades. A feature of this change has been the diminishing proportion of young people (i.e. those aged 15-24 years) in many of these areas. This reflects the continuing trend for young people to leave rural areas, and relocate to larger population centres. A key factor in this movement of young people is the greater availability of employment, education and training opportunities in urban areas.1 In rural areas, opportunities in the labour force have declined as a result of technological change, economic restructuring and the relocation of businesses to regional centres.2 Further, young people in rural areas often have to choose between limited educational opportunities available locally, and moving away from family support networks to a large town or city, where the majority of post-compulsory education and training institutions are located.

Rural areas that young people are moving away from usually experience associated declines in population and increasingly older age profiles. In some areas, these population changes also coincide with a decline in key industries and the withdrawal of services, both public (e.g. schools and hospitals) and private (e.g. banking and retail). In turn, such changes may make living in rural areas less attractive to young people, and further impact upon on the wellbeing and sustainability of the remaining community.

Internal migration and young people
The main source of data for this article is the 2001 Census of Population and Housing, conducted in August. The census asked where people were usually resident one year and five years prior to the census date. This information can be compared with place of usual residence on census night to examine the migration patterns of Australian residents within Australia.

There are limitations in using this information to determine internal migration flows. The census defines usual residence at a point in time and, therefore, cannot measure multiple moves or moves occurring between periods. In addition, people who moved overseas and those who moved but died before the end of the period are omitted.

The Census of Population and Housing has some difficulty obtaining information from younger people. In 2001, it was estimated that information was not collected for 2.5% of people aged 15-24 years. Many of these people may have moved in the year or five years prior to the 2001 Census but are not included in this analysis.

Net migration is the difference between the number of persons who have changed their usual residence by moving into a given area and the number who have changed their usual residence by moving out of that area during a specified time period. This difference can be positive or negative. In this article, the effect of overseas migration has been excluded from net migration.

For this article, young people are defined as those aged 15-24 years inclusive.

Mobility of young people
Young people are typically one of the most mobile population groups. Just over half (52%) of all young people (i.e. people aged 15-24 years) moved residence in the five years to August 2001. Young people aged 20-24 years were more likely to have moved than those aged 15-19 years (64% compared with 42%, respectively).

The age profile of those who moved residence within Australia between censuses has remained relatively constant over the past 30 years and closely resembles that of those who move within other countries.3 Mobility rates increase from the mid-teens through the young adult years, peaking at 27 years of age, and falling sharply from that point, through to age 75 years.

However, most young people do not move out of their local region. In the five years to August 2001, close to a third (31%) of those who had changed residence had moved within the same Statistical Local Area and close to two-thirds (68%) had moved within the same Statistical Division. Around 11% of moves by young people were to an interstate location.

Graph - Proportion of persons who moved - 2001

(a) Those whose usual residence on census night was different to that five years prior. Excludes overseas migration.

Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing.

The age profile of urban and rural areas
In 2001, 14% of the total population of Australia were young people (i.e. persons aged 15-24 years). In the Major Urban areas young people made up a slightly greater proportion of the population (15%), with lower proportions in Other Urban areas (13%), Bounded Localities (11%) and the Rural Balance (12%).

In areas with smaller populations, young people are less likely to remain in the area as they pass from childhood to adulthood. In 2001, there were 230,100 persons aged 15-24 years in the Rural Balance of Australia - 36% less than the number of 5-14 year olds in these areas 10 years earlier. In contrast, Major Urban areas had 23% more young people in 2001 than 5-14 year olds in 1991.

The movement of young people out of rural areas and into urban locations is a long-standing demographic phenomenon in Australia.4 Most of this movement, over the last half of the 20th century, was to Capital Cities, with net inflows of young people fluctuating from 49,800 in the five years to census night in 1976, down to a low of 25,100 in 1986, and up to a high of 82,500 in 2001.

Major Urban areas
Graph - Usual resident age profile for Major Urban areas - 2001

Other Urban areas
Graph - Usual resident age profile for Other Urban areas - 2001

Bounded Localities
Graph - Usual resident age profile for Bounded Localities - 2001

Rural Balance
Graph - Usual resident age profile for Rural Balance - 2001

Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing.

Broad migration flows
There are large flows of young people between Capital Cities, Large Population Centres and Country Areas. In the five years to August 2001, the gross migration levels (numbers of arrivals plus departures) were broadly similar in each of these areas, despite the comparatively smaller numbers of young people in Country Areas. In contrast, net migration (arrivals minus departures) varies considerably between these areas. Over this period, almost three times as many young people left Country Areas than arrived in these areas (226 net departures per 1,000 young people). Nearly two-thirds of the net outflow of these young people was to Capital Cities.

In comparison, Large Population Centres had a net inflow of young people (9,000 net gain). This overall gain of young people comprised a relatively large net inflow of young people from Country Areas (35,100 net gain) that was offset to some degree by a net loss to Capital Cities (26,000 net loss). Between 1996 and 2001, there was a net loss of young people from each of the Large Population Centres (except Gold Coast-Tweed) to Capital Cities, while all of the Large Population Centres experienced a net gain of young people from Country Areas. Often, this influx of young people is sourced from nearby smaller towns and localities.


Net migration

Capital cities
Arrivals from
Departures to
Large Population Centres
Country Areas
All areas

Large Population Centres
Arrivals from
Departures to
Capital Cities
Country Areas
All areas

Country Areas
Arrivals from
Departures to
Capital Cities
Large Population Centres
All areas

(a) Excludes overseas migration and a small number of movements which could not be classified to a specific area.
(b) Net migration expressed as a rate per 1,000 of the 2001 usual resident population.

Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing.

Geographical classifications
This article uses a range of different geographic classifications from the Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC). For further information see Statistical Geography: Volume 1 - Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC), 2001 (ABS cat. no. 1216.0).

The Section of State classification is used to examine the age profile of four different sized types of communities and the remaining rural area of Australia. These are: Major Urban, which incorporates areas with a population of 100,000 and over; Other Urban, includes areas of 1,000 to 99,999 people; Bounded Localities, are 200 to 999 people; Rural Balance comprises the remainder (excluding those included in the Migratory category).

To examine migration patterns, Australia is divided into three areas. Capital Cities are Capital City Statistical Divisions from each of the Australian states and territories. Large Population Centres are Statistical Districts (excluding the Canberra Statistical Division), which are predominantly urban areas that contain population centres totalling 25,000 persons or more (e.g. Newcastle and Geraldton) and which are not located within a Capital City Statistical Division. The remainder of Australia is referred to as Country Areas.

Aged 15-24 years

Capital Cities
Large Population Centres
Country Areas

Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing.

Characteristics of young people who move
The ages between 15 and 24 years are a time of transition in the life cycle - from childhood to adulthood. During these years many young people move from school to further education (often combined with part-time work), and then full-time work. They are also likely to move out of the parental home to live alone or in group households, prior to many of them forming partnerships or families of their own. The order in which these milestones are reached varies considerably among young people, but when they do occur, they are often associated with a change of address. While this change of address may not always involve moving to another town or region, the characteristics of young people who move are broadly similar regardless of the distance moved.

When using census data to examine the characteristics of young people who move, the data refer to the individual only at the end of the transition period. Therefore the characteristics may not have applied at the time migration occurred and may not have influenced the move. To minimise this effect, in this article the characteristics of young people are only examined for those who moved in the year prior to the census.

Regardless of their age, young people who were not living with their parents were more likely to have moved in the past year than those living with their parents, consistent with the movement of young people being associated with the transitions occurring in their lives. In 2001, the mobility rates for young people who were living in the parental home (i.e. as either dependent or non-dependant children) was 11%, compared with 74% for those in group households, 53% for lone persons and 54% for partners in couples. Among those living as a partner in a couple at the time of the census, those in de facto couples were more likely to have moved in the last year (61%), than those who were in a registered marriage (42%). This is partly related to the growing trend for young people to cohabit before entering registered marriage (as those who were already cohabiting before marrying would be more likely to maintain the same address upon marrying). It may also reflect the less permanent nature of some de facto marriages compared with registered marriages generally.5

Young people who were in the labour force were more likely to have moved in the past year (30% of those who were employed and 39% of those who were unemployed) than those not in the labour force (23%). Mobility rates were also higher for 15-24 year olds in non-school education (e.g. TAFE and university) compared with those in secondary school (30% and 12% respectively).

Because 20-24 year olds were more likely to have left the parental home than 15-19 year olds, they were more likely overall to have moved than their younger counterparts. In 2001, 38% of 20-24 year olds had moved in the past year compared with 20% of 15-19 year olds. This pattern held regardless of their labour force status and whether or not they were attending an educational institution. However, 20-24 year olds who were not living in the parental home were less likely to have changed address in the past year than the comparatively small group of 15-19 year olds with the same living arrangements. This is likely to reflect the more permanent living arrangements of the older group who had been living outside the parental home for longer.

1 Kenyon, P., Sercombe, H., Black, A. and Lhuede, D., 2001, 'Creating Better Educational and Employment Opportunities for Rural Young People', National Youth Affairs Research Scheme, Australian Clearinghouse for Youth Studies.
2 McKenzie, F. 1996, ‘Policy Implications of Population Decline’ in Population Shift: Mobility and Change in Australia, Edited by Newton, P.W. and Bell, M., AGPS, Canberra, pp. 205-217.
3 Bell, M. and Hugo, G. 2000, Internal Migration in Australia, 1991 to 1996: Overview and the Overseas-Born, Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Canberra.
4 Hugo, G. 2002, 'Australia's Changing Non-metropolitan Population', The New Rural Health, Oxford Uni Press.
5 Australian Parliament 1998, To have and to hold, a report of the inquiry into aspects of family services, House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Can Print Communications, Pty Ltd, Parliamentary Paper 95, Canberra.

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