Children in Inner Melbourne. The census view
Russell Degnan

A couple of years ago I spent some time investigating whether couples with children were becoming more likely to stay in the inner area. The past 30 years - and beyond - has seen an ever increasing number of young, childless people moving to inner areas, with a concomitant move to the outer suburbs (and backyards) for those with children.

Our argument that this may change rested on three factors:
- The ever increasing distance of affordable suburban housing from young professionals place of employment.
- A tendency, as people get older, to try and stay in their local area.
- A lifestyle preference, known to exist in some European cities, for access to "cultural entertainment" at the expense of larger housing.

What we found up to 2001 was quite limited however. While there seemed to be some small increase in young children, the tendency to move remained.

Beginning with seperate housing. Melbourne wide, from 1996 to 2001 and 2001 to 2006, the number of new households grew by approximately 86,000. By contrast, the number of detached houses in the last period grew by 41,000, down from 59,000 between 1996 and 2001, giving some substance to the limited land debate.

The shortfall was made up with the growth in apartments. In inner Melbourne another 130 disappeared (presumably to development), made up for by an increase of 14,000 apartments (mostly over 4 storey - mostly in the City of Melbourne), and 1000 new townhouses (also mostly in the city of Melbourne). Melbourne continues to become denser, wparticularly with townhouses outside the inner area (22,000) and apartments throughout the city (32,000 in total).

But back to children. At this point there are no age to housing type variables, so it is hard to differentiate childless couples from retirees, and new babies from school age children. Nevertheless, a few points can be made.

Significantly, while the number of couples without children living in seperate houses increased by 14,000, those with children increased by just 2000, and one parent familes by 10,000. A lot of this is churn. Empty-nesters moving from one category to the other, with no significant increase in the number of families. Except, that the number of couples with children in apartments increased by 4,000 (mostly 1-2 storeys), and in semi-detached by 8,500.

There is an increase in medium density living amongst couples with children - albeit coming from a very low base. What is interesting is that it is occuring predominately outside the inner suburbs. That is, the increase in couples with children, living in medium or high density housing, in Inner Melbourne was just 1,600 households (percentage-wise, smaller than the increase elsehwere). The bulk of apartments continue to be filled up with lone person, group and childless couples.

What seems to be occuring then, is that the tentative thesis is true - for at least some people - and there is a preference for living in tighter accomodation closer to the CBD. But that is not being supplied in the inner suburbs. The inner suburbs are speciailising in small (1-2 person) apartments higher than two storeys, while couples with children - particularly those looking to purchasem, not rent - have a marked preference for semi-attached housing, or larger apartments in smaller buildings.

More (perhaps) when I have more data.

Sterner Matters 24th July, 2007 14:03:48   [#]