ABS data from the 2011 Census shows both male and female same-sex couples tend to live in inner-city suburbs of capital cities, but especially in Sydney. (1)
The 2011 Census recorded 33,700 same-sex couples, comprising around 1% of all couples in Australia. Of these, 17,600 are male couples and 16,100 are female couples. (2) (3)
Male same-sex couples make up only 0.4% of all couples in Australia, but in Sydney are highly spatially concentrated. They comprise 10% or more in ten suburbs in inner city Sydney (4). In Potts Point, Surry Hills and Darlinghurst they comprise around 17% of all couples (see first exhibit). The ABS notes:
Many of the suburbs with the highest proportions of (male) same-sex couples were in the inner east of Sydney, which has historically been the social centre of Australia’s gay community, particularly focussed around the western end of Oxford Street near Taylor Square in Darlinghurst. In 2011, one in every ten men in Australia living in a same-sex relationship lived within two kilometres of Taylor Square.
The ten suburbs with the highest concentrations of female same-sex couples in Australia are also in inner Sydney, although they’re all in the inner west (5). They’re not as geographically concentrated as males, though – they comprise 6% of all couples in St Peters and Newtown and 5% in Erskinville and Enmore (see second exhibit).
At the state level, NSW and (especially) the ACT have an over-representation of same-sex couples compared to opposite sex couples. Victoria and NT have comparable shares of each, while the other states have a relatively low representation of same-sex couples.
NSW has 32% of of Australia’s opposite-sex couples, but 38% of same-sex couples. It has 41% of Australia’s male same-sex couples and 34% of female ones.
Although the absolute numbers are small, the ACT has the highest relative proportion of same-sex couples of any jurisdiction – 2.6% compared to 1.7% of Australia’s opposite-sex couples (this holds for both male and female couples too).
The ABS notes that while smaller towns and cities tended to have lower proportions of same-sex couples,
there are certain towns with relatively high rates, particularly of female same-sex couples. These include Daylesford-Hepburn Springs in Victoria (where female same-sex couples made up 4.5% of all couples), and Alice Springs in the Northern Territory (where female same-sex couples made up 1.2% of all couples).</
The data shows that compared to opposite-sex couples, members of same-sex couples are more likely to be younger; more highly educated; more likely to work as managers of professionals; earn more than $2,000 per week (especially for women); report they have no religion; and to have lived elsewhere at the previous Census.
Further, same-sex couples are less likely to have children living with them and those that do (12%, compared to 54% of opposite-sex couples) have fewer children on average. The vast majority of these children (89%) reside in female same-sex families.
Given their preference for inner city areas, it’s not surprising same-sex couples are much less likely to live in a detached house. Around half of male couples (51%) live in a unit or row/terrace house, compared with 31% of female same-sex couples and 15% of opposite-sex couples.
The intense concentration of male same-sex couples in near-CBD suburbs might be diminishing. According to this paper by UNSW researcher Brad Ruting (Is the Golden Mile tarnishing? Urban and social change on Oxford St Sydney):
Recent evidence suggests that gay residents and commerce are gradually abandoning the area around gay Sydney’s most visible and central streetscape, resulting in its gradual ‘degaying.’ Growing acceptance of homosexuality in the wider community alongside increased resistance to mainstream gay culture within openly gay populations has contributed to the ‘tarnishing’ of Oxford Street’s ‘Golden Mile.’ Many openly gay men are resisting the ‘gay’ community, choosing to embrace alternative identities, live elsewhere and adopt new forms of community organisation and integration.
Many of the differences between same-sex and opposite-sex couples correlate with the attributes and preferences of younger populations. It might be that some of the dissimilarities are due to a reluctance on the part of older members of same-sex couples to declare their sexual preference.
- The ABS says same-sex couple refers to two people of the same sex who report a de facto or married partnership in the relationship question at the Census, and who are usually resident in the same household. Opposite-sex couple refers to two people who report a registered marriage or in a de facto opposite-sex relationship, and who are usually resident in the same household. See the Fact Sheet Counts of same-sex couples in the 2011 Census.
- The number of same-sex couples in Australia counted in the Census increased 32% between 2006 and 2011 and more than tripled between 1996 and 2011. The ABS attributes the increase to growing social acceptance and hence increased acknowledgement of sexual preference.
- According to the ABS National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, homosexual people are less likely than heterosexual people to be living with a partner: in 2007, 28% of people who reported they were homosexual were living in a couple relationship compared with 58% of people who reported they were heterosexual.
- The 10 suburbs with the highest proportion of male same-sex couples in Australia (as a % of all couples) are all in Sydney. They are (in descending order) Darlinghurst, Potts Point, Surry Hills, Elizabeth Bay, Redfern, Erskineville, Alexandria, Chippendale, Darlington, Rushcutters Bay.
- The 10 suburbs with the highest proportion of female same-sex couples in Australia (as a % of all couples) are all in Sydney. They are (in descending order) St Peters, Newtown, Erskineville, Enmore, Lewisham, Alexandria, Tempe, Chippendale, Marrickville, Stanmore.