NCLS Research

Urban and rural dwellers

According to the Australian Community Survey (ACS), some 63% of adults live in urban areas. Of the remaining 37%, 10% live in large regional centres (population greater than 20,000 people), 15% in centres of between 2000 and 20,000 people, 8% in centres between 200 and 2000 people, and 3% in centres of 200 people or less.

Personal characteristics

  • The social mix in urban and rural environments is different. As children grow up, many move from rural to urban areas in search of employment or to undertake courses of study. This is reflected in the age profile of rural areas, with 20–29 year olds being under-represented (19%) compared with urban areas (24%). Overseas migrants are also strongly attracted to urban areas. This is reflected in the ACS data, with urban dwellers (73%) being less likely to have been born in Australia than their rural counterparts (86%).
  • The mix of occupations in urban and rural areas is also different. There are only half as many people with a university degree in rural areas compared with urban areas. Of people in the workforce, blue-collar workers are over-represented in rural areas (21% compared with 16% in urban areas), while employers, managers and professionals are under-represented (29% compared with 35% in urban areas). Farmers and agricultural workers comprise just 5% of workers in rural areas beyond the major metropolitan areas.
  • The ACS indicates that people in rural areas generally have lower incomes than people in urban areas, a situation that can only be exacerbated by droughts and floods. In 1997 48% of people in rural areas received less than $30,000 per annum compared with 39% of people in urban areas. Only 10% of people in rural areas received over $70,000 per annum, compared with 21% of people in urban areas.

Work and leisure

  • Farmers work longer hours. Working hours are similar for people in urban and rural areas, although workers in urban areas (52%) are more likely than people in rural areas (37%) to commute more than 6 hours per week. Farmers and agricultural workers work much longer hours than other occupational groups. Nearly half (45%) work more than 50 hours per week, compared with 11% of the population.
  • More access to recreational facilities in urban areas. People’s involvement in leisure activities varies between urban and rural areas and reflects the greater availability of recreational facilities in urban areas and larger rural towns. For instance, people in urban areas are more likely to go to the cinema at least monthly than people in rural areas (37% compared with 24%), to attend concerts at least monthly (12% compared with 7%) and to dine out at least monthly (56% compared with 41%). Consequently, these activities are also more important for urban dwellers as places to meet with friends.
  • Rural communities are more close-knit. Rural areas are often said to be places where everyone knows everyone else. This is reflected in some of the ACS data, although not strongly. Rural dwellers are more likely than urban dwellers to say that most of their close friends know each other (52% compared with 45%) and that all or most of their close friends live in the local area (15% compared with 11%).
  • Rural dwellers have a more local focus. The more local focus of rural dwellers is also reflected in ACS data. Among rural dwellers 44% mentioned that they read local newspapers several times per week, which is significantly higher than among urban dwellers (28%). By contrast, rural dwellers are less likely to read major newspapers several times per week (28%) than urban dwellers (37%). Rural dwellers are also more likely than urban dwellers to be interested in local events (54% compared with 49%).
  • Rural dwellers volunteer more often. There is greater involvement in volunteer work in rural areas. Some 52% of rural dwellers report that they have been involved in volunteer activities to assist people, compared with 41% of urban dwellers. Rural people are more likely than urban dwellers to be involved in school groups (19% compared with 16%), emergency services groups (12% compared with 6%), hobby groups (22% compared with 18%), sporting groups (37% compared with 30%) and welfare groups (13% compared with 10%).

Beliefs and church attendance

  • Church attendance is average, though farmers go more. Reported church attendance among people in urban and rural areas is similar, with 20% of urban dwellers attending frequently compared with 19% of rural dwellers. However, farmers and agricultural workers have much higher levels of frequent church attendance (28%) than others. This could be because churches provide opportunities for social interaction, although other community organisations do this too. Alternatively, the higher attendance levels among farmers could be because the way of life of farmers and their work in providing the necessities of life receives greater affirmation from the churches than most other occupations (Why People Don’t Go to Church, 2002, p 20).
  • Christian belief is average. Urban and rural dwellers are just as likely to hold a range of traditional Christian beliefs (30%). Rural dwellers (12%) are less likely to be interested in alternative or New Age spiritual practices than urban dwellers (15%). Urban dwellers are a little more likely to value spirituality, freedom and an exciting life than rural dwellers. But rural dwellers place more importance on national security than urban dwellers (69% compared with 62%).

Ministry needs and opportunities

  • Friends who are church attenders. The likelihood that rural dwellers have at least some close friends who are church attenders is only a little more than among urban dwellers (61% compared with 56%). This is true even in small rural settlements of under 200 people.
  • The local focus of rural areas. The more local focus of rural areas means that the churches should be able to gain a greater profile through local newspapers, tapping into local social networks, running local events and supporting voluntary activities than their urban counterparts.
  • Urban churches can be more cosmopolitan. Churches in urban areas need to work harder than those in rural areas to create a sense of community among people who would otherwise have no contact with each other and to create a more regional profile. The ACS data suggests that social events organised around recreational facilities and major cultural and sporting events are likely to be more significant points of outreach for urban churches than for rural churches.
Source: Profiling Australians (2003)

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