Who lives in the city centre?

Key demographics, 2006 Census, Melbourne's Core and Inner City

There’s so much misinformation being put about lately regarding apartments and city centre living that I thought it would be timely to put some basic facts on the table. Fortuitously, I recently came across a paper by two academics from the School of Geography and Environmental Science at Monash University, Maryann Wullf and Michele Lobo, published in the journal Urban Policy and Research in 2009. It’s gated, but the tables I’ve assembled summarise most of the salient findings.

The authors examine the demographic profile of residents of Melbourne’s Core and Inner City in 2001 and 2006 and compare it against Melbourne as a whole i.e. the Melbourne Statistical Division (MSD). They characterise the Core as “new build” (60.6% of dwellings are apartments three storeys or higher) and the Inner City as “revitalised”.

The Core is defined as the CBD, Southbank, Docklands and the western portion of Port Phillip municipality i.e. Port Melbourne, South Melbourne and Middle Park. They define the Inner City as the rest of Port Phillip and Melbourne municipalities, plus Yarra and the Prahran part of Stonnington municipality. So what did they find? (but let me say from the outset that the implications and emphasis in what follows is my interpretation of the data, rather then necessarily theirs).

A key statistic is that the share of Melbourne’s total population who live in the Core is extremely small – just 1.7%. So however interesting the demography of the Core might be, it represents just a fraction of the bigger picture and accordingly we need to be very careful, I think, about assuming what goes on there reflects what the other 98.3% of Melburnians think, want or are doing. And the same goes for the Inner City, which has just 5.9% of the MSD population.

When the authors looked at the age profile of the Core they found it is astonishingly young. The proportion comprised of Young Singles and Young Childless Couples is an extraordinary 44.0%. The corresponding figure for Melbourne as a whole (i.e. the MSD) is 15.1%, or about a third the size. And just to emphasise the point of the previous para, note the Core has 26,486 persons in these two categories, whereas the MSD has 542,481.

Households in the Core also tend to be small with only 21.6% having children. In comparison, the MSD might as well be another country – the corresponding figure is 53.3%. Unfortunately the researchers don’t break down the large Young Singles group by household size, but given the predominance of apartments in the Core, it’s a fair bet they tend to live in one and two person households.

I expect it will surprise many to see that Mid-life Empty Nesters make up much the same proportion of the population in the Core (and Inner City) as they do in the MSD. They’re also a small group – they account for just 8.3% of the population of the Core and hence their impact on the demography of the city centre is really quite modest.

But it probably won’t surprise anyone that Core residents are far more likely to occupy Professional or Managerial occupations and to earn more than $2,000 p.w. than Melburnians as a whole. Or that the median rent in the Core is much higher than in the MSD (or the Inner City for that matter). The Inner City is a traditional location for renters and 45% of households living there rent privately, much the same as the figure for the Core (48%), but well in excess of the 19.4% figure for the MSD.

What’s very interesting though, is the relatively high proportion of Core residents who earn less than $500 p.w. This low income bulge might partly be due to the high proportion of public renters in the Core, but the authors attribute it mainly to the high proportion of foreign students living there. This interpretation is supported by looking at the composition of in-movers over the 2001-06 period. In the large Young Singles category, a whopping 54% of in-movers to the Core were from overseas. The corresponding figure for the Inner City is 38%, so young ‘migrants’ are biased to the Core.

Net migration, 2001-06, Core vs Inner City

The researchers also looked at net movements over the period i.e. in-movements to the Core minus out-movements (see second exhibit). This reinforces the earlier findings. Young Singles and Young Childless Couples together accounted for 73.0% of population in the Core in categories that recorded increases. Other households without children – older singles, Empty Nesters and Retirees – made up a further 17.6%. The number of Young Couples with Children was the only category that went down.

The second exhibit also shows a remarkable difference between the Core and the Inner City. The trend in the latter region is strongly biased toward people younger than 44 years. The Core, on the other hand, made absolute gains in all categories except, as mentioned above, Young Couples with Children (notwithstanding that it was still heavily biased toward younger singles and couples without dependents).

Thus living in the Core is an attractive option for one and two person households without dependents. Young singles are a particularly significant part of the market, especially overseas students. Rents are very high compared to the MSD. On the other hand, households with children positively eschew the Core.

In my view, Wullf and Lobo’s research tells us we should be very careful about assuming the living patterns in the Core offer a template for how to manage growth in suburban Melbourne, especially in Growth Areas. If nothing else, it would be wise to keep the Core’s miniscule 1.7% share of MSD population front-of-mind and to note that even combined, the Core and Inner City have less than 10% of Melbourne’s population.


11 Comments on “Who lives in the city centre?”

  1. Richard Peterson says:

    I wonder is it possible to delete from this data, that for those living in the ‘western portion of Port Phillip municipality i.e. Port Melbourne, South Melbourne and Middle Park’ and concentrating on CBD, Southbank and Docklands, which is of a different character? If so the points you make may be even more striking.

    • Alan Davies says:

      That’s a good point but unfortunately the paper doesn’t permit this. The authors don’t explain why they included Port Phillip West SLA in their definition of the Core, although I imagine it’s because there’re so many “new build’ apartments in the area.

  2. Andrew says:

    With such a huge number of foreign students in apartments who come and go, any interpretation of statistics must take this into account.

  3. Bob says:

    “Inner Melbourne” looks remarkably similar to the ABS’s “Inner Melbourne (Statistical Subdivision)” except that the ABS says in 2006 it had a population of 293,246, not 210,765. Still less than 10% of Melbourne overall though.

  4. Oz says:

    The people who want to live and walk amongst the young and vibrant, tend to live in the inner areas. Significantly more than 50% now fall into that category in most of the CCDs of inner Melbourne. For the current majority of the MSD cohort seeking the comfort zones of nuclear family neighbourhoods it is necessary to live further out. The existing living and demographic pattern distributions are clear in the Wullf and Lobo research.
    In a free market economy people will eventually follow the trend to choose to live where their aspirations are met. My bet is the majority of people of all ages will choose vibrancy in the long term.
    However there will always also be some people who will want to live in the “country” while living in a town, so policy and planning needs to allow it…

  5. jack horner says:

    On the one hand, if different areas of a city serve different market segments, is that a problem?

    On the other hand, something still makes me think that our cities would be better places if these contrasts were not quite so strong – in other words, if medium density and city style living could be made more attractive to people at all stages of life, including the family stage.

    Why do I think this? Partly because a city centre has, or should have, an important place in the culture of the entire metropolis, regardless of who lives there. It’s where the cenotaph is, and the parliament, and similar places of unique ritual significance. Everyone in the metropolis should feel that it is their city, which has things of value that the local mall can’t offer (even if they don’t shop there regularly as their grandparents did); but this is less likely if the demographics of the residents are too exclusive.

  6. Simon says:

    Rich people live in the place with the most expensive real estate? Amazing.

    And why is it so expensive? Cos it’s in short supply. Build more of it and the demographic profile might change.

  7. heritagepoliceman says:

    The figures do look unexpectedly small, worth noting the figures are from 2008, its now three years later, and lots more been built since then, and more on the way (2000 apartments on old Lonsdale St power station alone) so numbers must be increasing in both ‘core’ and ‘inner city’, be interesting to see numbers in next census or study, though even if pop. of ‘core’ doubles, still be only small proportion.

  8. […] increasingly have to forgo space and accept a smaller dwelling, often a town house or apartment. As illustrated here, those leading this trend are young, small households without dependents – they’re less […]

  9. […] fails to observe that the inner city – defined roughly as the area within 5 km of the CBD – is a different world. Relative to the suburbs, the inner city has an emphatic over-representation of younger, well […]


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