Australia’s richer areas more likely to have people working from home in pandemic, analysis finds

Areas with higher incomes in NSW and Victoria were more likely to have a higher percentage of people working from home during the pandemic, according to a Guardian Australia analysis of census data.

The data provides further evidence of how differently people in areas with different socioeconomic backgrounds experienced the pandemic.

Socioeconomic disadvantage tracks with poorer health outcomes across a number of conditions and other health-related factors. Covid has proven no different, with Covid deaths much higher among the most disadvantaged, and a clear relationship between disadvantage and Covid cases in Victorian suburbs during the pandemic in 2020.

The 2021 census was conducted when large parts of NSW and cities in Victoria were under lockdown conditions which restricted movement except under special circumstances. One such exception was for people who were deemed to be “essential workers” and could not work from home.

Here you can see the relationship between the percentage of people working from home in an area and the median household income of that area.

Median household income v percentage of people working from home in NSW and Victoria

It’s important to note that this analysis is looking at the characteristics of areas rather than individuals. It does not say that richer people were more likely to work from home, but it does show that areas with higher incomes had much higher proportions of people working from home on the day of the census.

The highest on both measures were areas in Sydney’s northern suburbs, as the following map shows:

Working from home and median household income

At the other end of the scale are areas in regional NSW and Victoria, such as Maryborough in Victoria and Taree in NSW.

This is not likely to surprise most people, given the relationship between the type of jobs that can be done from home and the associated pay packets involved. Demonstrating the relationship is important as it can inform the government response in such situations, such as pandemic leave measures for those without sick leave.

As researchers wrote in the Medical Journal of Australia: “Reducing the impact of socioeconomic factors on exposure to Covid‐19 requires policies and practices that ensure decent conditions of work, healthy housing, social security at a level that people can live on, and education opportunities, and maximising access to health services and health information for everyone.”


Median household income is not the same thing as an index measuring disadvantage, but we won’t get the new Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (Seifa) scores until 2023

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