Hundreds of Newcastle residents are leaving in search of cheaper houses in Maitland and other parts of the Lower Hunter each year as they have children, according to a Hunter Research Foundation Centre analysis.
HRFC lead economist Anthea Bill presented figures to the foundation's biannual breakfast on Friday that showed net internal migration for the Newcastle local government area in 2017-18 was negative 763 in the "family-formation and family-raising" age group of 25 to 44.
In the same year, Maitland added 586 people in that age segment. The rest of the Lower Hunter, excluding Port Stephens, added 691 and western Lake Macquarie 321.
Dr Bill said Newcastle house prices had risen 60 per cent from 2012 to 2017.
"I think the main picture is a picture of housing affordability, so we can see that in Newcastle, which has worn a very sharp house price boom," she told the audience.
"Great if you're someone who is in the housing market already. Not so great if you're someone looking to come into the housing market.
"In that family-formation and family-raising age group Newcastle has lost out in net terms, and particularly Maitland has gained there.
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Maitland is one of the fastest-growing regional areas in Australia with a median house price about $120,000 below Newcastle's.
"We know house prices are much more affordable than Newcastle, and Maitland has some of those advantages of good links to the Upper Hunter and Lower Hunter in terms of employment opportunities," Dr Bill said.
She said inner Sydney and Melbourne were also losing residents in the 25 to 44 demographic to the outer suburbs.
Across all age segments, Newcastle and Lake Macquarie lost 293 people in net internal migration while the rest of the region added 2264.
Dr Bill said inner Sydney and Melbourne were also losing residents in the 25 to 44 demographic to the outer suburbs.
"Households are really aggressively seeking out more affordable housing, which is not surprising," she said.
Newcastle and Lake Macquarie more than made up for their negative internal migration by adding 2455 in net overseas migration, compared with 696 in the rest of the region.
Dr Bill contrasted Newcastle's net internal migration, a measure of people moving between Newcastle and another Australian location, with that of Geelong, Australia's fastest-growing city.
The Victorian city, which is 75 kilometres from Melbourne, recorded net internal migration of 4507, plus net overseas migration of 2073.
"Geelong has had some government employment come through and offices relocate," Dr Bill said.
"It's also opened up its transport networks and improved its transport networks to Melbourne and beyond.
"It secured a City Deal in March and it has a Committee for Geelong which works hard to advocate for the region as a global knowledge-based centre."