By Matt Palmen | 20 Dec 2021

New research shows inequality has a postcode: where a person lives should not dictate their chances in life.

A new report by Future State, the strategic advisory arm of Urbis, highlights for the first time the extent of spatial inequality in Australia’s two major cities: Sydney and Melbourne.

Prompted by the geographic disparities evident in the health and economic outcomes from COVID-19, report author and Director, Future State – Urbis, Matt Palmen developed a measure of spatial inequality based on a household’s access to social and economic opportunities – or ‘spatial wealth’.

The new measure adapts the Quintile Share Ratio – a common measure of income and resource inequality – to estimate inequality of access across five dimensions: jobs, education, healthcare, social support and everyday goods and services.

Across each of these dimensions, the study finds a stark spatial divide in both cities.

For example, the most geographically advantaged neighbourhoods in Sydney have access to four times more jobs and ten times more education opportunities than the most geographically disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

In Melbourne, the most geographically advantaged neighbourhoods have access to ten times the number of doctors and social support workers than the most disadvantaged.

The study also found lower-income households to be disproportionately represented in neighbourhoods with lower levels of access. A combination of income, wealth and geographic disparities can create a vicious cycle of inequality that can entrench disadvantage and limit opportunities for social mobility across generations.


As the world reflects on the inequalities laid bare by COVID-19, the report highlights the spatial dimension of inequality and the ‘left-behind places’ that have borne the brunt of the pandemic and the need for new measures and policies to achieve inclusive growth.

Matt Palmen said “COVID-19 has exposed and amplified the inequalities in our cities, and it’s time to look at the underlying growth management practices and policies that got us here in the first place.

Leaders across all sectors have an opportunity to reshape the value system that has led to these gaping inequalities and give credence to the Australian maxim that everyone in life deserves a fair go. Inequality is not inevitable.”

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