Young Families Migrating to Non-Metropolitan Areas: Are They at Increased Risk of Social Exclusion?

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Over the past three decades, thousands of young families have moved from large cities to non-metropolitan areas of Australia (Hugo, 1996; see also Baum, Stimson, O'Connor, Mullins and Davis, 1999, ch. 4). This is one of the major demographic shifts underway in Australia and demands urgent policy attention. Despite the various impetuses towards relocation, little is known about how these families fare in their new environments, particularly in non-metropolitan contexts. Existing evidence suggests that relocation significant distances from established social networks, regardless of the reason for migration, can increase vulnerability to social isolation (Green and Canny, 2003) and further that relocation to non-metropolitan environments, in particular, can increase the likelihood of exclusion from a range of economic and social opportunities (Hugo and Bell, 1998). In this paper we report on 40 interviews with service providers working in three non-metropolitan locations undergoing substantial population growth amongst young families. The service providers in health, education and community services were working with young families who had recently moved to the location. This analysis presented in this paper is part of a larger three year study analysing population movements of young families to non-metropolitan areas of Queensland and New South Wales. The larger study includes a qualitative dimension analysing human service providers and young families' perspectives on the adequacy of service systems in health, education, child care and child welfare, these locations for promoting social capital. In this study, we use the term "non-metropolitan" to refer to locations outside the local government boundaries of metropolitan cities and can include urban fringe, regional and rural areas (see Murphy and Burnley, 1996, p. 242). In this paper we focus only the perspectives of services providers in three non-metropolitan locations to analyse their perceptions of how non-metropolitan area can affect young families' vulnerability to social exclusion. We conclude with a discussion of policy options for responding to this issue.

Families relocating to non-metropolitan areas

What motivates young families, that is, families with young children, to relocate to a non-metropolitan area? While there is little research on the young families' motivations, general studies on non-metropolitan migration shed some light on this phenomenon. While it is clear that some people, including young families, are attracted to the perceived benefits of non-metropolitan lifestyles, such as a more relaxed pace of life, there is evidence that for some families the choice to relocate arises from push factors in the metropolitan environment (Hugo and Bell, 1998). The lack of affordable housing, including the reduction in public housing stock in metropolitan areas has been shown to contribute to relocation of middle and low income people away from metropolitan centres (Randolph and Holloway, 2005; see also Hugo and Bell, 1998).

In analysing young families' reasons for relocation it is important, also, to recognise the heterogeneity of these families. Site of relocation can reflect differences amongst families in their reasons for relocating and their expectations of their new environment. Much of the non-metropolitan relocation has concentrated in areas within commuting distance to metropolitan areas or in areas of expanding employment opportunities, such as tourism locations (see Hugo 1996; see also Baum et al., 1999, ch. 5). Families who move to non-metropolitan communities within commuting distance of major metropolitan areas may seek to combine the employment opportunities of the large centres with other benefits of non-metropolitan centres, such as lower housing costs and lifestyle opportunities. By contrast, families who relocate to in-land country towns may have different motivations for relocation (see Hugo and Bell, 1998) given that their relocation goes against the increasing concentration of the Australian population in the large urban centres on the coast of Australia. …