Some notes on the 2016 Census

We are looking forward to the release of the 2021 Census results, which should be happening next week. In anticipation of those results, we thought we'd take a bit of a look at some data from the most recent census. When the latest census data comes out, it will be interesting to see what changes have happened. Key areas we are interested in are mobility in rental households, and changes in household composition.

Renter mobility in 2016 Census

We looked at the 2016 Census results regarding moves in the last 5 years and in the last 1 year. We broke results down by tenure type, comparing outright owners with mortgagors and renters.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's far more common for renters to have moved recently than owners, with outright owners the least likely to have moved. For people who own their home outright, 93% of household say that no adult residents had a different address one year ago, this falls to 79% of households when covering the last five years. For owners with a mortgage, the comparable figures are 85% and 55%. But for renters, the figures are 64% and 27%. To put it another way, about 1 in 3 renter households (36%) had at least 1 resident who was living somewhere else one year ago. 

This is a concern. People who rent should be in control of when they move home. The data show that renters move much more often than owners. To some extent, this is mere correlation, or maybe causality is in the other direction, and people choose renting because they prefer to be mobile. But from what we hear from renters, there is a growing number of people renting who want to be able to stay in their home but who are forced to move. The census data doesn't allow us to identify which moves are voluntary or forced, but we can clearly see that renters are moving more often. Other sources tell us that many renters would rather stay put.

It's hard to predict what the 2021 data will show. Some renters may have moved due to Covid-19, but they perhaps moved back home, no longer being counted as renters for the census. For people who were still renting, they were perhaps more likely to stay put. Demographic changes in the renter population will also affect this: for example, if there is a relative growth in the number of older renters, this could reduce how mobility shows up in the data. We've also heard anecdotally of lots of forced moves due to property sales, especially in the last year or so. In general, however, we would like to see the mobility of renters be closer to that of owners: stability is a key part of making a home, and this should be available to all people, regardless of tenure.

Household composition in the 2016 Census

What about household composition? This is interesting, because people often have misconceptions about the type of renter households. For example, although some may think of rental sharehouses as the archetypal rental household, "group households" were less than 10% of respondents in the census. There are three times as many "lone person households". 

Probably most interesting here is the growth in the proportion of renting households with dependent children. The 2016 census shows about one in four rental households are a couple family with children (23%), and a further 16% are single parent families. This makes about two in five rental households (39%) that include dependent children. In 1981, the figure was about 29%.

Why are there so many more renters with children? It's not so much that renters started having children. Rather, it's that economic trends made it much harder for people to become owners before the age at which people tend to start having children. As a consequence, many renters have started raising children in the rental sector, even though they'd much rather have the security that is currently limited just to owners. The growing preponderance of renters with children partly reflects how inaccessible ownership has become. It also points to the need for improved rental laws so that a generation of children growing up in rental properties can have stable, healthy homes. 

Trends in 2021

We look forward to seeing what the 2021 Census data show. On current trends, we'd expect to see more renters, fewer outright owners, and more renters with children. Ultimately though, this isn't just a numbers game. Whether the number of people in rental households is closer to 6 million or 8 million, renting is still a way of life for a vast number of Australians, and all of these people need stable, affordable, and healthy homes.