Young Women Turning Their Backs On Rural Australia

It's a drought ... of sorts.

What you need to know
  • Regional Australia is grappling with a population that's ageing faster than cities
  • New research finds young women are more reluctant to return to their home towns than young men
  • Experts say rural policies and programs need to be geared towards educated women who want a career

Twenty three-year-old Rachel Field left her home town of Dubbo as soon as she became an adult, keen for a life on stage and drawn to the big lights of Sydney.

"I wanted to pursue professional dancing and study dancing and performing arts full time and that wasn't something I could do in Dubbo, obviously," said Field.

For those of you not familiar with Dubbo (or it's pretty famous zoo), it's a town 380km northwest of Sydney and has a population of 39 000. The regional centre is also known for its lamb exports.

"I do get asked when I'm coming back and I've always maintained I won't go back. Maybe it won't always be Sydney, like when I start a family, but not Dubbo," she told ten daily.

"Dubbo is a wonderful community to be a part of and if my career path was different I would definitely have no hesitations in returning one day to settle down."

Field's experience is no anomaly, there's an exodus of young people from remote, regional and rural communities.  Australia  has a declining  population in rural areas, and the ones that still live there are older than those living in urban areas.

Rachel's passion for dance and performance lead her to Sydney. IMAGE: Supplied.

Academics from Western Sydney University and the University of New England interviewed  18-to-24 year olds who had left regional NSW  bound for the city.

Young women were less enthusiastic about the prospect of returning to their home towns.

"What did differ was that women felt much less optimistic about returning to these towns and weren't confident they'd find work, and thought their careers would suffer. Men were like 'I can make it work'", said Dr Rae Dufty-Jones,  Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at Western Sydney University.

Dufty-Jones said both men and women saw the appeal of regional lifestyles, which involved being closer to family and nature, less congestion and more affordable housing.

Yet these factors are doing little to bring them back to address the ageing population.

Men also felt more strongly about returning to regional Australia for family  reasons.

"Male respondents were more unequivocal about the idea of return migration for family," said Dufty-Jones.

The researchers found men felt “ownership” and “responsibility” for the their local community.

According to the latest census figures, in  NSW 44 percent of 20-29 year olds who left regional or rural towns migrated to Sydney.

Of those who left Sydney, in the same age group, only 4 percent went to regional or rural NSW.

The researchers found men were more likely to want to return to their home town to have a family. IMAGE: Getty Images

Dufty-Jones said regional programs should be geared at employment and lifestyle options that appeal to educated women. These could include ways to transfer their corporate skills into starting a small business.

"These women often enjoy working and want a fulfilling career. Young women are untapped assets who could help build rural and regional areas.

If rural communities don't change, they could be missing out on 50 percent of the population since women don't see the appeal the same way men do," she said.

She said women are also often key "mobility-decision makers" when it comes to relocating a family.

Rachel and her sister had a "great childhood" but didn't have career good prospects in regional NSW. IMAGE: Supplied.

Finch visits Dubbo three to four times a year and says she gets nostalgic about her childhood.

"I'm happy to go home, it's so easy to get around, no traffic and all my relatives are still there and like you go to the local shopping centre and see your preschool teacher so it's a nice community feel.

But having said that I'm happy to leave after a two week visit."

In the long-term she thinks she'll settle in a smaller city like Wollongong or Newcastle.

Contact the author at alattouf@networkten.com.au.

Featured Image: Getty Images.