The Stats Guy: Who’s moving, who’s staying put? You’ll be surprised who wants to know

What share of the population in a given location have lived there one year ago, have lived there five years ago?

What share of the population in a given location have lived there one year ago, have lived there five years ago? Photo: AAP/TND

When I am not writing columns on demographics, I am travelling the country presenting on demographics.

The range of conferences is huge and pushes me to view the world through the perspective of all types of industries and businesses.

In preparing my presentations I often go down rabbit holes and create findings that I don’t end up using on stage.

As a good German, I love recycling – nothing goes to waste on my watch. So this week I cooked up some leftovers of a recent presentation given a conference for furniture removalists.

We are talking about population turnover. What share of the population in a given location lived there one year ago, lived there five years ago?

You can see why furniture removalists might be interested in that. A suburb with high population turnover is more lucrative than a suburb where everyone stays put and hardly anyone moves in or out.

Who, besides furniture removalists, might be interested in this data? Real estate agents and councils are obvious candidates. Place-makers would also be keen to learn about this.

How do you create a local identity in a place where the population completely turns over every few years?

New residents need to be educated about local customs, be it something mundane like how and when garbage is collected, or something more serious like bushfire emergency procedures.

When people move is somewhat predictable. The lovely chart below should tell the story of your life pretty well.

You left the parental home once you finished your secondary (or increasingly tertiary) education. You then moved into a share house or lived by yourself until you found a partner. You two love birds eventually moved into a little starter home. One or two bedrooms were enough at this stage. You might even have moved interstate in your 20s and 30s for a job opportunity. Once you reached your 30s you added 1.7 children to your household. Your small apartment became a bit crammed, and you moved into family-sized home on the urban fringe. If your career progressed nicely you might’ve upgraded to a larger house in your 40s or 50s. You shunned the idea of downsizing but once you reached your 80s the family home became a bit of a hazard to live in and you decided it was time to downsize.

While this might not have been exactly your story, it certainly is the average Australian story. We move home more frequently today compared to a decade ago. The housing affordability crisis is to blame here. People are forced to rent for longer and renters tend to stay in their properties for shorter periods.

The housing lifecycle also dictates the geography of population turnover. Let’s imagine a series of rings around the Central Business District (CBD) of all capital cities in Australia. People close to the action move frequently. Over 59 per cent of the residents in the inner circle (0-5km from the CBD) lived at a different address five years prior. The population turnover is astonishing. It’s no surprise that the inner city is the most transient area of our big cities. After all, this is where international students and young workers cluster. Few families or retirees live that close to the CBD. The further away we go from the CBD (but still within the capital city borders) the more permanent the settlement patterns become. The exception here is the urban fringe (defined as 25km from the CBD). This is for many residents, the only area of our capital cities they can afford. Consequently, this is where all these Greenfield developments take place.

What about regional Australia? What about minor cities? Where can we find the highest population turnover? In resource towns, in functional towns. Port Hedland and Karratha turnover more than two-thirds of the population in a five-year period. Urban planners in these towns pace the massive challenge of creating a sense of place and cultivating a stable local identity.

On the other end of the spectrum, we find more remote, even isolated, cities like Broken Hill, Whyalla, Port Pirie, or Kempsey where less than a third of the population moved home in the last five years.

On a national level 41 per cent of residents have moved home within the last five years and 14 per cent of the population moved with the last 12 months. Add record high population growth into the mix and you see that any business or social challenge linked to high population turnover will only increase in the coming decade.

Demographer Simon Kuestenmacher is a co-founder of The Demographics Group. His columns, media commentary and public speaking focus on current socio-demographic trends and how these impact Australia. Follow Simon on Twitter, FacebookLinkedIn for daily data insights in short format.
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