Australia's major cities are benefiting the rich more than the poor and becoming breeding grounds for inequality in the process, research suggests.
An analysis of 101 Aussie cities and towns concluded that the bigger the population, the wealthier the city.
However the incomes of wealthy people living in the biggest cities grow disproportionately faster than low-income earners, the study by University of Sydney researchers said.
Lead researcher Somwrita Sarkar said the findings suggest cities like Sydney and Melbourne have a disproportionate accumulation of the highest income earners who have the advantage of affording the best services and infrastructure while poorer people face being pushed out.
“If we think of income and population distribution as a pyramid what is true is big cities drive a lot of the innovation and economic growth for the whole nation, but what is unappreciated is that the pyramid needs a stable base of a large number of people doing normal jobs to support that innovation,” she said Thursday.
“If richer and richer people agglomerate in bigger and bigger cities, you push up the prices and you push out that large pyramid base.
“Either you are pushing them out of the city or you are forcing them to live with conditions that are not very sensitive to their wellbeing.”
The findings by Dr Sarkar and her team of researchers at the University of Sydney’s Urban Lab were based on the 2011 census and income data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Their research paper, published by the Sage journal Planning and Design, said that while Australia was not considered to be one of the most unequal countries in the world – unlike the United States, India and China – there were signs of income distribution inequality.
Sydney and Melbourne had the highest numbers of people earning $2000 or more a week, while Hobart and Cairns had fairly even income distributions.
“Because of the unique condition that a few urban areas house most of the population as well as all the economic opportunities, the costs of living (especially the largest proportion of expenditure, housing costs) are extremely high, most notably in Sydney and Melbourne,” the research paper said.
“This leads to a situation where the poor spend a substantially high proportion of their income in housing and travel costs, whereas the rich spend, comparatively, a much lower proportion of their income for the same goods and services.”
Dr Sarkar said urban planners should consider introducing more public, social and affordable housing in cities, as well as encouraging more larger companies and universities to set up in smaller cities to help drive their future expansion.
“There’s always a critical mass question – how big does a city need to be before it starts to attract people on its own?,” she said.
“But certainly concentrating all the development on the big cities is not the way forward if we want this trend to decline.”