If I had a dollar for every time I was told that older people are downsizing in droves and leaving the suburbs for the inner city, I’d be a much richer person.
This perception has persisted despite the evidence to the contrary.
Every so often an article will appear in a newspaper that perpetuates the myth.
The most recent example appeared in the SMH and used a case study approach to illustrate how the inner suburbs are changing through in-migration of older persons, and how this might continue into the future.
While there’s little doubt that the individuals in these articles did make such a move, but is really it a trend?
Let’s have a look at the evidence, using inner Sydney as a case study.
Inner Sydney has a young age profile
Last year I published a blog showing how age structures differed across NSW.
I used Sydney Inner SA3 as an example of an area that had an age structure dominated by young adults.
This SA3 is roughly equivalent to the City of Sydney, and in 2017, almost half of the population was aged 20-34 years, compared to the NSW figure of 22%.
At the upper end of the age spectrum, the data clearly shows a lower proportion of elderly persons.
In 2017, less than 2% of the population in Sydney Inner SA3 were aged 80 years and over, compared to 4.2% across NSW.
The chart below shows how the age structure of Inner Sydney SA3 has changed over the period 2007-2017.
Over this time the total population increased from 173,900 to 239,550, representing growth of 38% over the ten years, or 3.3% per annum.
However some age groups have grown more than others.
Young adults (20-34 years) reinforced their dominance in the age structure by recording growth of 46% over the ten years, exceeding total growth.
More than half of the total volume of growth over the period 2007-17 was in this age group.
On the other hand, the growth of older children (10-19 years) and people in their forties was more modest (22% and 23% respectively).
But the age group that recorded the highest rate of growth was 65-74 years – 58% over the ten years.
However, this was from a much smaller base and the proportion of 65-74 year olds in 2017 was still only 5.1%.
This indicates that older people may be moving to the inner city, but it’s not the whole story.
The cohort of 65-74 year olds represents the oldest baby boomers and as they move through the age spectrum they continue to influence the composition of the population.
The 55-year-olds of 2007 are the 65 year olds of 2017 – give or take a bit of migration or mortality.
Internal migration trends in inner Sydney
The RIME dataset (Regional Internal Migration Estimates) provides the evidence base for internal migration in Australia on an annual basis.
Data is provided for broad age groups which roughly equate to life phases.
The 2016-17 data for Sydney Inner City SA3 is shown in the graph below.
Overall, there was a net loss of 1,041 persons through net internal migration.
This clearly shows that the main movement in and out of Sydney Inner is concentrated in the 15-44 year cohorts.
Sydney Inner gains young adults (15-24 years), but loses older adults (15-44 years) and young children (0-14 years).
The movement of these age groups is more influential in shaping demographic trends in Sydney Inner SA3.
Young adults moving into inner city areas is an established trend across Australia.
Furthermore, these young adults tend to move out of these areas when they start families, purchase their own homes or other significant life events.
The age migration profile for Sydney Inner illustrates this beautifully.
In contrast, net migration of middle-aged and elderly persons is minimal.
In 2016-17, there was a net gain of 108 persons aged 65 years and over, and a small loss of 18 persons aged 45-64 years.
If the greying of the inner suburbs were a substantial trend, then you would expect the net inflow to be much higher.
The small net inflow also suggests that the growth of older cohorts is more likely to be existing residents who are ageing in place.
This trend is not confined to Sydney Inner SA3.
There were no SA3s in Sydney that had significant net gains or losses of middle-aged and elderly persons in 2016-17.
The only other inner Sydney areas to gain persons aged 65 years and over were the SA3s of Marrickville – Sydnenham – Petersham (62 persons) and Chatswood – Lane Cove (41 persons).
This further illustrates that inner Sydney is not ageing through internal migration.
Some of you may be curious as to how Sydney Inner is growing in population if there was a net loss of persons through internal migration.
The answer is simple and relates to the components of population change.
There were gains through natural increase (1,705 persons) and net overseas migration (9,986 persons).
While there’s little doubt that some older persons are moving from their suburban homes to inner Sydney, the data shows that the numbers are small.
As such, it would be difficult to call this a trend, when the age profile of inner Sydney is dominated by young adults.
The population of Sydney Inner SA3 grew by 38% between 2007 and 2017, but more than half of this growth was attributable to 20-34 year olds.
65-74 year olds grew faster than the total population, but from a smaller base.
RIME data confirms that net migration is highest for younger adults, suggesting that the growth of older cohorts may be a result of ageing in place rather than migration.
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