Social inequality and water use in Australian cities: the social gradient in domestic water use

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This paper explores the impact of social inequality on household water use in urban communities in first-world contexts, an under researched field. We report on an in-depth qualitative study of six communities in two Australian cities to determine the connections between levels of social advantage and household approaches to water use. The different meanings, materials and understandings that underpin domestic water use in each of these communities are documented. We found these elements were influenced by socio-economic status alongside broader systems and infrastructures, technologies and biophysical influences in each city context. Socially advantaged communities used water for leisure and luxury while disadvantaged communities struggled to meet their health and welfare needs. We propose that there is a social gradient in urban water use, which influences the types of sustainability and levels of resilience and liveability people can achieve in cities. The implications for ensuring socially inclusive urban sustainability are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)351-364
Number of pages14
JournalLocal Environment
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • disadvantage
  • Domestic water use
  • social inequality
  • sustainability

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