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Aussies moving less, study finds

10 April 20200 comments

Australians are moving home within the country less and less, according to a new study.

Traditionally, Australians are among the most mobile populations in the world with more than 40 per cent of people changing address every five years.

This about twice the global average but a new study by researchers at the University of Queensland found the level of internal migration – moving within Australia – has gone down over the past four decades.

The proportion of Australians changing state of residence fell by 20 per cent between 1981 and 2016, particularly after 1991.

And their movement between regions within states dropped by 25 per cent.

Lead researcher Dr Aude Bernard said the decline in migration is a feature of a number of advanced economies, including the United States.

“Policymakers have been concerned this trend heralds a less flexible economy where workers do not move to regions with jobs. If that’s the case, it could prolong recessions and reduce growth,” said Dr Bernard of the university’s Queensland Centre for Population Research.

Population ageing is one of the main explanations for why Australians are moving lees in that older people move less than young people. It accounts for 20-30 per cent of the decline in internal migration in Australia, the researchers say.

“However, the increase in the share of mobile groups – such as renters, tertiary-educated people and recently arrived immigrants – has fully compensated the downward effect of population ageing,” Dr Barnard said.

“This means the net effect on migration levels of changes in the composition of the Australian population is close to null,” she said.

It turns out the decline is not the result of overall changes in population composition. It is the result of deeper behavioural changes. People in their 20s, 30s and 40s are simply moving less today than in the past.

Information and communication technology and the changes in working arrangements brought by the internet are often thought to have contributed to lower migration levels.

But, the proportion of individuals who telework remains small. Just 5 per cent of the Australian workforce worked from home at the 2016 census.

The researchers says that more significant is the increase in dual-income households who now account for two-thirds of couples compared with 56 per cent in 2001.

“Because these couples find it more challenging to jointly relocate than traditional male-breadwinner families, this shift explains about ten per cent of the decline in interstate migration in Australia,” Dr Barnard said.

She said despite these transformations, the mix of reasons for moving hasn’t changed over the past 15 years. Australians still move mainly for family and work reasons.

The study also found that know young people are moving less than they used to.

In 2017, 56 per cent below 30 were still living at home compared with 47 per cent in 2001. Explanations for this trend include increasing housing costs and delayed union formation.

“The consequences not only bring down current migration levels but also in the future. This is because migration is self-reinforcing: having moved in the past increases the chances of moving again,” Dr Barnard said.

“So, young adults who are staying put now are less likely to move later because they have not been exposed early in life to the challenges of relocating,” she said.

But the study found no evidence Australians are less willing to relocate for their jobs, so this downward trend should not have major impacts on the economy.

“What is more concerning is that some groups have been affected more than others, particularly those in part-time work and in low-paid sectors such as retail and trade. These workers are less mobile than in the past and their share in the workforce has increased,” Dr Barnard said.

“Individuals with limited resources face greater difficulties in being mobile, particularly when faced with rising housing costs and stagnant wages. We need to ensure Australia does not evolve toward a two-tier migration system, in which some can afford to move and others are “trapped”. This could, in the long term, reinforce socio-economic inequalities,” she said.