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Sex Ratios and the Fading Bush

Bernard Salt raised some alarm bells for Australians this week in Sydney when promoting his latest book, ‘The Big Picture’. He has noted discrepancies developing between the number of men and women in their thirties -there are about 2% more women than men (and it’s even worse in the bush and New Zealand). The normal sex ratio (the ratio of males to females) at younger ages is about 1.05 – i.e. 5% more men than women – this is the typical ratio at birth. The last time it was at this level for thirty-somethings was in the mid 1970’s.

Bernard Salt blames this reversal on young people obtaining degrees here then chasing adventure and more challenging and rewarding jobs overseas. Now this is nothing new – baby boomers did this, but they came home and got married in mid twenties and got on with pumping up the economy. Their Generation X & Y offspring are deferring marriage indefinitely and they are not coming home from overseas so fast – particularly the men. One barrier to them not returning is HECS debts, currently over $11 billion (3 years ago they were $8 billion). When people go overseas, the Tax Office makes not attempt to collect HECS from overseas employment so the debt just keeps mounting.

The other trend Salt notes is our lack of attachment to the bush. Today only 15% of people live in rural areas and the outback. When the first of the baby boomers were born, 32% of the population lived in the bush. Whilst many of them headed for the city for careers, they remained country boys and girls for many years and headed ‘home’ for Christmas and Easter. Those days are gone and the picture books on the city coffee tables are about the coast and Tuscany and Provence, not Tenterfield and Tocumwal. Many rural villages’ populations are static or declining and city travellers in their four wheel drives see them from a distance on the bypass, hurrying on to get to the real outback where there are no villages. Crises in water supply management are likely to make these trends worse.

Posted Saturday, 22 April 2006

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