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Where Australia's middle class live now

Where do ‘middle class’ Aussies live these days? The answer might surprise you.

Composite image of a middle-class woman drinking coffee at a Fitzroy cafe, and a hipster man wheeling his bike into a bottle shop.
The once-working-class Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy has become middle class. (Source: Getty)

A fresh batch of census data has dropped that lets us answer the big question: where does our middle class live these days?

As our cities grow and change, new places enter the club of what’s considered the middle. Areas that were once considered “out in the sticks” now seem quite a lot closer as our city populations grow and add more suburbs even further out. Neighbourhoods that looked affordable have now become popular, and places that once seemed merely nice have become “exclusive”.

Also by Jason Murphy:

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Why is this of interest? Reputations change more slowly than reality, meaning that if you buy into an unfashionable suburb that shows certain signs, you may rapidly find yourself living somewhere very desirable, which can increase the value of your property rapidly.

So, where are the places that have risen up through the ranks? Using the data, I found the 20 places that were ranked near the bottom of their state in 2011 but have risen up quickly to be around the middle, or even higher.

The top-rising area in Australia is in the ACT: the suburb of Braddon.

Braddon used to be a suburb of car dealerships and factory outlet stores selling rain jackets and sleeping bags. Then they built a lot of new housing, and now Braddon is a hotbed of hipsters. You can buy matcha chocolate goji berries in the local organic shop for $88 a kilogram and sourdough loaves for $14 – it’s that sort of a place now.

But not all the big risers have ascended into this top tier of fanciness. Some have risen from low down to the middle. What the places in this list have in common is that they started below the 30th percentile, then rose up a lot.

A chart showing the socio-economic changes of various suburbs across Australia from 2011-2021.
ABS Socio-Economic Index for Areas, 2021, Index of relative socio-economic advantage and disadvantage. (Source: supplied) (Jason Murphy)

The table also provides population figures and, as you can see, they have all grown in size between 2011 and 2021. Some have become middle class by building houses on sheep paddocks, like Rockbank - Mount Cottrell, in Melbourne’s outer west. In other places, very little of the population is new. The status of the suburb has simply changed, like Ainslie in the ACT, or Fitzroy in Victoria.

But that’s just places that have risen up from the bottom.

The next list shows the top 20 fastest-rising middle-class places - places that started above 50 per cent in their local socio-economic ranking, then rose a lot. Again, the ACT has the top entrant - the established leafy suburb of Red Hill. It is testament to how quickly the ACT has added population and built new outer suburbs that several of its erstwhile, normal-seeming central suburbs are now considered to be fancy on a socio-economic measure.

A chart showing the socio-economic changes of various suburbs across Australia from 2011-2021.
ABS Socio-Economic Index for Areas, 2021, Index of relative socio-economic advantage and disadvantage. (Source: supplied) (Jason Murphy)

Lastly, here are the 10 most surprising new entrants to the upper middle class. The suburbs that rose most to be in the top 10 per cent in their state on the ABS socio-economic indicator.

A chart showing the socio-economic changes of various suburbs across Australia from 2011-2021.
ABS Socio-Economic Index for Areas, 2021, Index of relative socio-economic advantage and disadvantage. (Source: supplied) (Jason Murphy)

The fact is, in a growing population, even if you stand still, your area is likely to rise up the economic totem pole. The average person has to live further and further from the city, while inner-city suburbs become more exclusive. This is one reason why buying a house in the suburb your parents bought their first house in seems, for so many of us, increasingly unrealistic.

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