The rise of the City of Ipswich as the spear-tip of young, energetic, “can-do” Australia during the 2020s and beyond

It is the question everyone in business and government is asking: how will the next five years unfold? Everything seems to be in a state of flux, including trade relationships and geopolitical alliances. But amid the chaos and the churn there are some things that can be said about the early 2020s.

Originally published: The Weekend Australian 5/9/2020

Bernard Salt, Demographer

The Big Shift

And more often than not these emerging trends, behaviours and opportunities flow from the various undulations in the demographic landscape.

Official (median) projections released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in November 2018 show net growth for Australia of 2.1 million people across the five years to 2025.

This outlook will likely scale back, but this is not what I think is the key driver of business opportunity in the 2020s. That rests with the peaks and troughs of clumps of Australians as they transition between life stages and shift and shuffle across the continent.
Not quite half of Australia’s population growth comes from natural increase. A big chunk of the growth driving our biggest cities derives from Australians shuffling from the bush to the city, or indeed to the beach.

Every shift, every shuffle, every net addition to the Australian population base creates an opportunity for housing, for finance, for white goods as well as incremental demand for an array of government services.

We need to understand in loving, tactical detail where and how the bodydemographic of the Australian people is flinching, contorting, expanding and contracting in the reduced immigration, in the slimmed foreign student, in the trimmed tourist, in the diminished backpacker post-COVID world that stretches between here and the 2025 horizon.

Come with me on a journey into the deep space, into the fourth or is it the fifth dimension, of tactical demographics that drive business opportunity and services demand. At a macro level and apart from a few exceptions in the late 1940s and late 50s, there will be more Australians in every year of the life cycle in 2025 than there are today. Indeed, the number in every collective stage of the life cycle is growing. It’s simply a matter of by how much. The official (and perhaps a tad high) outlook shows three looming surges — teenagers, 40-somethings and retirees — requiring schools, sporting facilities, family-style accommodation and perhaps medical technology.

I have aggregated the ABS’s age-based projections for Australia into seven life stages, three of which will expand in the early 2020s regardless of immigration.

These surging segments include the “learning” stage of the life cycle, ages 15 to 24, up 233,000 during the five years to 2025 as compared with 145,000 during the previous five years.
This cohort is a compilation of the “one for the country” mini baby boom that gripped Australia in the early 2000s plus the kids of already-arrived immigrants.

This means in the early 2020s more secondary schools will be needed; there must be a boost to otherwise sagging university enrolments; and this surge in youth should also deliver a demographic fillip to sporting clubs across the nation. Perhaps sports equipment retailing might be a business to be in?
Then comes the great millennial migration as a new generation tips into the family or “building” stage of the life cycle (ages 40 to 54). In the five years to 2025 the family-focused “building” cohort is expected to jump by 353,000, whereas during the previous five years this increase was just 80,000. That’s a fourfold increase in the number of Aussies looking to upgrade their living arrangements, perhaps.

Singles can be hipsters for as long as they like, but add a couple of kids and Australians then tend to feel a deep primal yearning for a “bit of a back yard”. I think work-from-home knowledge-worker millennials avec enfants will migrate from their Manhattanesque apartments and terrace houses in search of space in inner middle suburbia. Some may join the nascent escape-the-city movement and colonise new lifestyle towns within striking distance of the capital.

The third ascendant life-stage segment expected in the early 2020s is the 80-and older group born during or before the war years. Between 2020 and 2025 this lot is expected to rise by 195,000, up from 123,000 during the preceding five-year period.

In the late 2020s the 80-and-olders will be joined by first-wave baby boomers.

I have always thought traditional religion could see a fervent revival as baby boomers begin to contemplate their own mortality and look at ways of assuring salvation.

Also of interest are the segments expected to grow at a reduced rate in the early 2020s. For example, those gliding or “easing” towards retirement (ages 55 to 64) will grow by 94,000 during the five years to 2025, which compares with growth of 238,000 during the preceding five years.

Businesses aimed at providing retirement advice will find it tough to secure clients in the early 2020s. Perhaps such businesses should refocus on advice to the burgeoning 40-something market. This “easing” pre-retirement segment comprises Generation Xers born in the late 1960s whose numbers were trimmed by the advent of the contraceptive pill. But there is more to this story than the rise and fall of the segments, the cohorts, the bits and pieces that comprise the Australian people and that set the macro agenda for growth, development and services delivery in the post-COVID world.

Each state prepares population projections that loosely align with the ABS’s national outlook but that are provided at the local government area level.

Between 2020 and 2025 Australia may add (up to) 328,000 residents aged 0 to 14 but the biggest chunk of this extra “kid” population will be added in the City of Ipswich (up 15,000) on the southwestern edge of Brisbane. Or, to put this another way, Ipswich will be the fastest growing nappy-valley and schoolkid place on the continent in the next five years. But Australia’s unabashed Ipswichian surge doesn’t stop with kids. In the nationally ascendant 15 to 24 “learning” segment, Ipswich is expected to tie with the Gold Coast and Melbourne’s Ipswich-like City of Wyndham to add 9000 residents (in this age group) between 2020 and 2025.

I do hope there are university campuses and vocational training facilities in these places. Otherwise a mayor could say: “But Minister, my municipality is adding more people in this age group than any other place on the Australian continent. Surely
you wouldn’t deny them a local facility?”

In the “partnering” or young first-home buying segment (ages 25 to 39) the leaders in the early 2020s are the City of Melbourne (up 26,000) and the City of Ipswich (again) (up 15,000). Melbourne City is awash with knowledge workers living in apartments. I’ll come back to the rocket propellant behind Ipswich later. The family-focused “building” segment, millennials (with kids) tripping into their 40s and early 50s, will stream towards the light and space and modernity, and affordability of city-edge living at Wyndham (up 18,000 by 2025) and in Sydney’s Blacktown (up 15,000). Some will move to these municipalities; others will age in
situ and upgrade to accommodate a growing family.

The biggest number of net additional pre-retirement “easing” Australians aged 55 to 64 is already clustering in lifestyle municipalities of southeast Queensland. This may be linked to some kind of “life planning” schedule where 30-something and 40-something Sydneysiders and Melburnians move interstate with an eye to eventually retiring up north.

The clustering of the retirement segment (ages 65 to 79) in southeast Queensland shows that the sunbelt drift, the allure of a beach lifestyle and possibly the added impetus of a largely contagion-free state will remain a powerful force in shaping Australia in the 2020s. And so it follows that the frail elderly (aged 80-plus) and the demographic pipelines that sustain this segment will remain largely concentrated in southeast Queensland.

It is true that the official population outlook as developed by the ABS and by the states and territories at the local government level may be a tad high in places. But the demographic shape of the future is already established; it depends not on immigration or on student numbers but on the ageing of existing, younger, cohorts.

In the 80s and 90s, the fastest growing place on the continent was the City of the Gold Coast as Australians embraced the ideal of the sea-change lifestyle. But in the early 2000s new forces shaped our nation. City-based knowledge workers and a new generation of Australians — the millennial kids of baby boomer parents — relegated coastal living and elevated a metropolitan way of life. The McMansion emerged. Hipsters commandeered the inner city. Wyndham usurped the Gold Coast as the fastest growing municipality in Australia.

The shape of the first five years of this decade from a demographic perspective is preordained. The expected numbers may rise or fall (most likely fall). The ranking of the most popular municipalities for each stage of the life cycle may change. But the pattern is set. Australians will continue to pursue lifestyle in the centre of, on the edge of, and from lifestyle idylls positioned within striking distance of, our biggest cities.

What is exposed by this analysis is the rise of the City of Ipswich as the spear-tip of young, energetic, “can-do” Australia during the 2020s and beyond. And in many respects this Ipswichian ascendancy was always going to happen. Brisbane evolved as a north-south city centred on the Bruce and Pacific highways, which is all well and good for a metropolitan area of two million to three million residents. But as Brisbane morphs into the three million to four million category it requires, like Sydney and Melbourne, a third corridor that spills and grows the city to the southwest.

The flexing demographic muscle of metropolitan Brisbane is being channelled southwest and is spilling beyond the behemoth City of Brisbane into the loving home-building arms of Ipswich. Ipswich is to Brisbane what Wyndham is to Melbourne and what Blacktown is to Sydney. Post-COVID Australia is Ipswich’s time in the demographic sun. The bigger point is that there are opportunities for business growth and development, as well as a very real requirement for a range of government services, right here regardless of immigration levels.

Australians will reproduce, transition from one stage of the life cycle to another, many will move from the bush to the city, some will move from the city centre to the city edge, pre-retirees will move between states, some may even be motivated to pursue the space and the serenity of low-density living in what they consider to be a contagion-free community.

And that is surely the beauty and the opportunity of the lifestyle options on offer to those of us lucky enough to live in Australia.

Bernard Salt is managing director of The Demographics Group; research by HariHara Priya Kannan.