Young people are a vital resource

This section examines demographic trends: The number of young people Their diversity Their wellbeing Their transitions to adulthood

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The Overview

Young Australians are increasingly diverse

Australia’s young people are diverse, coming from a range of backgrounds and socioeconomic circumstances

In an increasingly globalised world, it is not just the growing numbers of young Australians that will be our strength, it is also their diversity.  Diversity creates new and interesting cultures, fosters ideas and innovation, and builds relationships with others around the globe.  There are two intersecting types of diversity in Australia: diversity of background/identity; and of socioeconomic status.  The former provides significant opportunities while the latter represents a waste of resources for Australia.

Diversity of backgrounds is a core strength

Australia has been fortunate to have had waves of migrants from a range of backgrounds settle here. Coupled with our increasing number of Indigenous young people, we have a diversity of backgrounds that creates our unique culture, generates new ways of doing things and adds to our quality of life.  In 2011, 18% of young people in Australia were born overseas and 40% had at least one parent born overseas (ABS 2011a). Most recently, the majority of young migrants have come from China, New Zealand, England, India, South Africa and the Philippines (ABS 2011a).

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See Australia’s population count and look at who lives in your state or local area using census data

Watch FYA’s young people taking action to innovate and promote inclusion in their communities

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snake project breaking down the door
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Further reading including detailed graphs and analysis

Some young Australians experience racism

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Further reading including detailed graphs and analysis

Some Australians experience homophobia

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Diversity in socioeconomic status is a key challenge

The second type of diversity, in socio-economic status, presents a challenge for Australia.  In 2013, Australia was ranked amongst the tenth richest countries in the world (IMF 2013; CSRI 2013).  Despite two decades of economic growth and rising average incomes, income inequality in Australia has also been rising (OECD 2014).  Inequality has been shown to:

  • hamper economic growth (for example, a recent International Monetary Fund study has found lower inequality in countries is “robustly” correlated with faster and more durable growth) (Ostry et al 2014)
  • create health and social problems (for example, a study found lower inequality in countries is correlated with better health and social development (Wilkinson and Pickett 2009)

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Young people growing up in lower socioeconomic status households can be deprived of the material (housing, income), human (education, health) and social (participation, including in governance) capital resources that determine whether they can reach their full potential in life (Pope 2011a).  It has been estimated that around 14% of Australian families live in poverty (ACOSS 2014).  The Brotherhood of St Laurence’s Social Exclusion Monitor reported 3.4% of young Australians aged 15-24 years in 2011 experienced “deep social exclusion” which is characterised by multiple, overlapping problems, such as unemployment, poor health and inadequate education (down from 5.6% in 2002) (BSL 2013).  Deep and persistent disadvantage is more likely to be experienced by: lone parents; Indigenous Australians; people with a long-term health condition or disability; and people with low educational attainment (McLachlan et al 2013).

Many other Australians, over and above those in poverty, live on low incomes and have less chance to reach their full potential.  50 percent of Australian households lived on less than $68 800 pre-tax income per year in 2009-10 (latest ABS figures), and fifty percent of individuals lived on a taxable income of $50 054 or less in 2011-12 (ATO 2013; Cowgill 2013).

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taxable income

Socioeconomic disadvantage is not evenly distributed in Australia but clusters in geographic areas.  This can be seen in maps of Australia that show the most disadvantaged states/territories and smaller areas within regional areas, towns and cities.

Make maps of Australia’s socioeconomic data for Australia, your state/territory, or local areas

How rich are you?  Find out where you rank in the world’s incomes

Further reading including detailed graphs and analysis

There is still inequality in women's incomes

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Watch FYA’s young people taking action to combat disadvantage

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Older young people are moving to cities

One of the most well reported geographic differences in socioeconomic status is that between urban, rural and remote communities.  Residents of remote and rural areas have overall lower incomes and less access to jobs and educational opportunities (PHIDU 2014).  The restructuring of the Australian economy over the past few decades has seen agriculture transformed – from many small farms to few very large technologically driven ones – and this has meant many small rural towns that used to service farming communities lost their purpose (for an accessible description of regional economic restructuring see Barr 2009).  Manufacturing in some places is also in decline, and overall, rural areas have lost jobs (Pope 2011b).  With the decline in economic opportunities, young people have moved to cities where a larger range of jobs, larger universities and more social opportunities are located (Hugo et al 2013).  Around three quarters (72%) of young Australians now live in cities (ABS 2011a).  It should be noted that some regional areas, those a commutable distance from cities, are experiencing an influx of older young people in search of cheaper housing (Pope 2011a).

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Read more about young regional Australians in FYA’s Change It Up initiative evaluation

  1. Young people are a vital resource
  2. Future challenges for young people
  3. The transition from school to work
  4. Contributing to and leading change