Why would young Australians buck international trends and move to the country? According to our research, a growing youth population has been observed in coal seam gas (CSG) development areas within the Surat and Bowen Basin regions of Queensland in recent years.
In contrast to other rural areas of Queensland, where the youth population is not growing, those two regions taking in areas such as Chinchilla and Moranbah have seen their youth population grow.
For example, in Chinchilla there were 1,112 young people aged 15 to 29 years old in 2006; just five years later, the number of young people had increased by about 46% to 1618. Out of that total, the male youth population in Chinchilla jumped 53% (to 978 young men), while the female youth population rose by 36% (to 640 young women).
This noteworthy increase in rural youth - for both men and women - is also seen in the broader regions of the Surat and Bowen basins, where CSG development is happening.
Over the same period, family incomes have grown and overall employment has increased.
However, in studying the impacts of unconventional gas development, the one negative trend we found was that agricultural employment had decreased more than the rest of rural Queensland during the expansion of the coal seam gas industry.
A re-injection of youth
Declining populations in rural regions is a worldwide phenomenon. That’s because young people are usually the first to leave, seeking employment, training and education opportunities in cities.
After gaining new skills and experience, 20-somethings tend to stay in urban areas rather than return to their rural homelands. And women are more likely to leave rural areas than men.
The combined impact of these trends is a reduction in the skills base of rural areas and a skewed population, with more older people and far more men.
In figures 2 and 3, (see PDF attached above) we track the age group which was 15-19 in 2001 though time up until 2011. In the control group, which is made up of other comparable rural Queensland regions (dark grey line), the youth population is at its lowest when this group hits their early 20s. By contrast, for communities in coal seam gas areas (blue line) the youth population is increasing throughout their 20s as more people stay in the region and others come to the region as CSG development takes off.
Click on PDF icon above to see full report.