We’re hearing a lot about young families departing big cities for regional towns, largely in NSW and VIC which is typical at the end of market booms. House prices grow too much and families decide to quit the city and go elsewhere for a seachange and a more affordable mortgage.

However, it seems that the ‘city escape’ is becoming much more to do with lifestyle than house prices. This is interesting because Australians have always loved living in capital cities – in fact, just under 70% of our entire population lives in these eight locations alone.

However, families moving to regional markets are talking a lot more about wanting an easier life. In regional areas, they can have more time with their kids because work, school and home are 10 minutes apart. They want to go to the shops, park outside the door and not have to line up in queues. Cheaper housing is also a benefit but it’s no longer the main reason to move, it seems. 

Population growth is no doubt contributing to the greater hustle and bustle of city life. You might have heard recently that Australia’s population is due to hit the 25 million mark next month – about 30 years too early based on projections published by the Bureau of Statistics in 1998.

Given most of us live in capital cities, that’s where we’re feeling this population growth most. It’s understandable that some people are feeling too crammed in and need a change of pace.

Many people would say that ‘moving to the country’ sounds nice but isn’t very realistic, mainly because it’s harder to get a job with a decent salary. But is that perception or reality?

New data just released on personal employee incomes indicates that blue collar workers and their families are the best positioned to leave Sydney or Melbourne without taking too much of a pay cut, as long as they don’t venture too far afield.

Here’s the big picture, using NSW and VIC as our examples…

NSW – city versus regional income averages

Average income Greater Sydney: $66,172

Average income Rest of NSW: $52,872

VIC – city versus regional income averages

Average income Greater Melbourne: $59,573

Average income Rest of VIC: $49,379

So, generally speaking, people living outside Sydney and Melbourne earn quite a bit less – about $13,000 in the case of regional NSW and $10,000 in the case of regional VIC.

Drill down further though and you’ll discover that the larger regional areas with closer proximity to the capitals offer very competitive incomes in exchange for a better lifestyle.

Take Sydney for example, where the average salary is $66,000. About 90 minutes south is the Illawarra, where the average salary is $59,000 – a bit below Sydney but well above the ‘rest of state’ average. About two hours north is Newcastle/Lake Macquarie, where the average salary is $58,000.

You can see in the statistics below that the further you move away from a capital, the greater the income disparity. This is because regional areas closer to capitals tend to be thriving cities in their own right, with strong and growing local economies and a broader range of employment options.

NSW – Top 6 areas outside Sydney for income

1.     Illawarra $59,182

2.     Hunter Valley (excluding Newcastle) $59,015

3.     Newcastle/Lake Macquarie $58,064

4.     Capital Region (Goulburn, Far South Coast) $54,726

5.     Central Coast $54,428

6.     Central West (Lithgow, Orange, Parkes) $53,330

VIC – Top 6 areas outside Melbourne for income

1.     Mornington Peninsula $54,055

2.     Geelong $53,849

3.     Latrobe-Gippsland $51,633

4.     Bendigo $50,352

5.     Ballarat $50,008

6.     Hume (Wodonga, Wangaratta, Seymour) $47,998 

Now, here are the stats that will really surprise you. 

We went through occupational data for people aged 35-54, which is the typical age of families; and found that some blue collar jobs paid just as much and even more in regional areas compared to cities in both NSW and VIC.

For example, labourers aged 35-44 in Sydney earn an average $47,031. In regional NSW, they earn $46,744. Technicians aged 45-54 in Sydney earn $71,476 compared to $71,991 in regional NSW.

Machinery operators and drivers in regional areas can earn more than their city counterparts. An employee aged 35-44 in Sydney earns $62,120 per year. In regional NSW, they earn $81,136.

There were bigger gaps between pay with white collar jobs.

Managers aged 45-54 in Sydney earn an average $142,265. In regional NSW, they earn $89,752. Professionals aged 35-44 in Sydney earn $103,632, while their regional equivalents earn $81,423.

Salary figures for Melbourne and regional VIC mirrored NSW trends.

This data shows that big city incomes and small town lifestyles are possible if you do your research first. In most cases, employees will have to take a pay cut but blue collar workers are more likely to earn similar money.

It’s up to you what price you put on a better lifestyle! 

*Estimates of Personal Income for Small Areas, Employee Income, 2011-16, ABS, published June 19, 2018