Moving out of the City: Why Millennials Are Escaping the Big Smoke

We often hear stories about country kids making the move to the big smoke to explore opportunities beyond the confines of their regional or rural communities - but the reality is, a lot of young people move to regional centres for a more balanced and affordable lifestyle.

In fact, in 2019, a report from the Regional Australian Institute found that more than 400,000 people moved from Australian capital cities to regional areas between 2011 and 2016 with most of these migrants aged between 20-39.

Sydney is the biggest capital city to bear the brunt of the Millennial exodus. According to 2017-2018 ABS figures, roughly 50,200 people departed Sydney for regional NSW alone.

It's difficult to pin down a single motivation for why millennials are driving this migration - millennials include people who were born between 1981 to 1996 and currently aged between 23 and 38 years old - so there are people at different life stages moving out of the city for various reasons.

Nicole Heath, for instance, who is 37, left Sydney in search of a larger and more affordable home for herself and her husband to raise their two daughters.

The high rents on small houses in the inner-city suburbs of Sydney was too much pressure for their young family.

In 2016, Nicole and her husband were paying approximately $800 a week for a three-bedroom flat in Stanmore. Staying on top of that rent and trying to break into the housing market in Sydney at the same time was simply not feasible.

In March 2016, Nicole’s family moved to the suburb of Adamstown in Newcastle.

“I felt a bit sad to leave Sydney. I was really at home. It was a socially great environment to raise kids. But all the other pressures were just too much,”

Her husband, a keen surfer, relished the idea of regular, easy trips to the beach to take on the waves. Nicole was also familiar with the area, having done a year of study at the local university. But it still wasn’t an easy move.

“I felt a bit sad to leave Sydney. I was really at home. It was socially a great environment to raise kids. But all the other pressures were just too much,” she says.

Nicole and her husband rented a three-bedroom house on 600 square metres of land for $560, with a good size deck. Just years earlier, they got by in a tiny terrace in Redfern for the same price. The $800-a-week Stanmore apartment could not compare with the space for Nicole’s children to explore and roam.

Commute times were slashed. Her husband’s work at the nearby hospital and the local kindergarten were short drives away and relatively traffic-free. Time spent drowning in peak-hour traffic crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge was now time spent relaxing with the family, soaking up the slower easy-going lifestyle that Newcastle promised.

Nicole was most concerned about job opportunities in Newcastle. Her husband had no issues landing a job as a sonographer for the health industry. The media industry yielded fewer opportunities for Nicole in the Newcastle region. She found her niche in freelance writing to get by but has considered retraining to improve her job prospects.

However, Nicole says she has no regrets about the move to Newcastle. After just two and a half years of saving they were able to buy a three bedroom house for $600,000 in Adamstown to accommodate their growing family.

“[Buying a home] probably wouldn’t happen in Sydney. If we were living in Sydney, we would be living in a much smaller space and have a much smaller budget for living expenses,” she says.

The house has been untouched since it was built in the 1960s. Nicole and her husband are currently renovating to make the house fit for purpose. But they can call themselves first-time homeowners, a title that eludes many of their friends in Sydney. With a firm base in Newcastle, Nicole feels more secure about growing their family with a third baby on the way.

She also knows she is not alone. A few of her daughter’s classmates in kindergarten had parents who fled the city life for Newcastle. She says anyone planning to do the same should do the research on schools in the areas before making the move.

“Anyone with a young family should move up here. It worked out for us and there are lots of people doing the same thing,” she says.

Rachel Oates, 26, hears similar stories working as a hairdresser in Newcastle. Many of her clients tell her about how they moved from cities such as Brisbane, Perth and Sydney.

“Some are a bit older than me. They’re in their 30s and having kids. I know a few people have moved from Sydney and say that it’s a lot cheaper to raise their kids and it’s not a busy lifestyle.”

“[Buying a home] probably wouldn’t happen in Sydney. If we were living in Sydney, we would be living in a much smaller space and have a much smaller budget for living expenses

Rachel is also a city migrant. But she made the move from Brisbane to Newcastle for a chance of adventure. She fell in love with the Newcastle region when she met her godmother and their son for a 21st birthday in nearby Maitland.

She dropped by Newcastle several times before making the move permanent 18 months ago, settling in the suburb of Waratah.

“I’ve always had this urge to live somewhere else for a little bit. I liked how close it was to the beach,” she says.

Social media also helped with the move. She made friends with her future housemate online, followed various Facebook pages and joined Facebook groups linked to activities and events in Newcastle. More importantly, she got a job as a hairdresser down in the Newcastle area before officially committing to the move.

For Rachel, being away from her immediate family in Brisbane was the biggest challenge for making the move. However, Newcastle was only an hour away by plane, and by settling into a good job Rachel could afford the occasional flights back to Brisbane to cure any homesickness.

So what does Rachel love about Newcastle? She enjoys the slower pace of the Newcastle lifestyle. People are warmer and friendlier. That was apparent even when she met her housemate online, “getting on like a house on fire”. The housemate was quick to invite her to dinner when she first moved down.

Rachel’s long commute times in Brisbane burned through a couple of petrol tanks a week. Now, she can get away with one petrol tank over two weeks in Newcastle. A $3 train ride to nearby Maitland is possible. The bus isn’t as good though for public transport, she says.

At the moment, Rachel pays $190 a week to share with housemates in a three-bedroom house with a garage and garden. It’s about $20 more than what she paid sharing a flat in Brisbane. But the extra cost seems minimal looking at the space she now enjoys.

Life in Newcastle feels perfect, except for missing her family and the vibrant nightlife scene back in Brisbane. But Rachel still sees herself staying in Newcastle for the long-term, with a small caveat.

“I’ve got a boyfriend here and I don’t see myself moving anytime soon. However, if I had kids, I think that might make me want to move back to Brisbane to be closer to family,” she says.

For any Millennials who want to make the move, Rachel says you should line up a job first. Having some savings in the bank first can also cover initial moving costs, such as changing number plates or shifting your belongings interstate.

“"I know a few people have moved from Sydney to say that it’s a lot cheaper to raise their kids and it’s not a busy lifestyle.””

Rachel also suggests that people should consider whether they are happy to live away from family for an extended period of time.

“I’ve been the kind of person to try everything once. I don’t know if it’s for everybody. It comes down to individual circumstances. It’s good to experience and it has helped me grow as a person.”