Tyranny of distance still affects bush families

Tyranny of distance still affects bush families

Media release — 30 March 2011

Australian children growing up in major cities do better in terms of their physical development and educational outcomes than children living in regional and remote areas, according to an analysis by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

The Institute today released a new Facts Sheet – Families in regional, rural and remote Australia – that compares families living in the city, inner regional areas, outer regional areas, and those in remote and very remote areas against a range of measures.

Australian Institute of Family Studies Director, Professor Alan Hayes, said that while there are many similarities between the lives of city and country families, the overall distance from major population centres and access to services have an influence on children's lives.

"Distance can still be a tyranny and this is reflected in the fact that children in major cities tend to do better in terms of their physical development and learning outcomes, compared to children growing up in regional and remote areas," Professor Hayes said.

"Parents in major cities also have higher expectations for their children's future education levels, compared to parents in less geographically accessible regions.

"For instance in major cities, 78 per cent of parents expect their daughter to obtain a university-level qualification, compared to 59 per cent of parents in outer regional areas.

"In major cities, 62 per cent of parents expect their son to complete a university-level qualification, while this figure drops to 40 per cent of parents who are raising families in outer regional areas.

"The differences in expectations of qualifications for girls and boys is greatest in the outer regional areas," he said.

The Facts Sheet also highlights differences in the physical, economic and social environments between major cities and regional areas and the impact this has on children's development.

Drawing on data from Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children covering eight to nine year olds, the Facts Sheet revealed that:

  • children were more likely to do very well in terms of their physical development in major cities and outer regional areas compared to those in inner regional areas;
  • children were more likely to do very well in learning outcomes in the major cities, followed by inner regional areas and outer regional areas;
  • very little difference was found across the geographic areas in terms of social-emotional outcomes; and
  • fewer boys in outer regional areas participated in extracurricular activities like music or dance (17 per cent) compared to those in major cities (31 per cent), but are the most likely to participate in team sports.

"Access to services and educational aspirations are generally more limited in outer regional areas. Geographic area has some effect on how children spend their time, with increasing remoteness linked to children spending more time outdoors.  On the other hand, opportunities for extracurricular activities are higher in major cities," Professor Hayes said.

"Around 40 per cent of couple parents in outer regional areas believe they don't have access to basic services like banks and medical clinics, compared to 19 per cent in major cities.  But while geographic remoteness is an important factor in not having access to services, it's not a complete explanation.

"Even in major cities some people have experienced difficulties accessing services perhaps because of a lack of affordable transport, the cost of services, waiting lists or services are inappropriate," he said.

Other Facts Sheet findings include:

  • more than two-thirds (69 per cent) of Australians live in major cities, one in five (20 per cent) live in regional areas, one in ten (9 per cent) in outer regional areas and around one in forty (2 per cent) live in remote or very remote areas.
  • overseas-born people are more likely to live in major cities (31 per cent of people living in major cities are overseas-born) compared to inner regional areas (14 per cent), outer regional areas (14per cent) and remote areas (13 per cent).
  • the ratio of elderly people (aged 65 and over) to people of work-age (15 to 64) is greatest in inner regional areas where there are 24 elderly people for every 100 people of working age. (This in part reflects the migration of retired people from major cities to inner regional areas).
  • boys and girls living in outer regional areas spend more time outside than those living in major cities (around half an hour per day).
  • parents living in major cities believe they have higher quality parks and playgrounds than those in outer regional areas.
  • Indigenous people are more likely to live in one-parent families especially in remote and very remote areas.

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