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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1995  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 20/06/1995   
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Contents >> Family >> Family Formation: Trends in de facto partnering

Family Formation: Trends in de facto partnering

In 1992, 8% of all couples were in de facto relationships. 65% of the people in these couples had never been married.

De facto couples have always existed but remained largely unrecognised in family policy until recently. A gradual change in social attitudes since World War II has seen an increase in de facto partnering. Registered marriage is no longer seen as a prerequisite for living together or for having children. Individuals may choose to live together before, or instead of, registering a marriage and to have children outside a registered marriage. Legal and government systems are increasingly recognising, and taking into account, such living arrangements.


The ABS first collected data specifically on de facto relationships in the 1982 Family Survey. At that time 5% of all couples were found to be de facto. This rose to 8% of all couples in 1992.


Couples and dependants

De facto
couples are those who live together but are not registered as married and who identify themselves as de facto in a relationship question.

Registered married
couples are those who live together and are registered as married to each other.

Dependants
are all family members under the age of 15, and, for the 1982 Family Survey, children aged 15-19 attending education full-time, or, for the 1992 Survey of Families in Australia, children aged 15-24 attending education full-time. However, dependants who are themselves spouses or lone parents are excluded.



De facto relationships prior to marriage

The incidence of de facto relationships prior to marriage has increased markedly in recent years. 56% of couples who married in 1992 had lived together before marriage compared to 16% of couples who married in 1975.


Of couples who married between 1975 and 1992 just over one-third had lived together prior to their registered marriage. Of these, 28% had lived together for less than a year before marrying and 60% had married in less than two years. 10% of those who had lived together before marriage, had lived together for five years or more.

REGISTERED MARRIAGES(a) PRECEDED BY CO-HABITATION



(a) Most recent registered marriage only.


Source: Survey of Families in Australia



Long term de facto relationships

In 1992, 30% of de facto couples had lived together for five years or more and 11% had lived together for ten years or more. However, de facto couples represented only 3% of all couples (both married and de facto) who had lived together for five years or more.


For some de facto couples, the decision to enter a registered marriage may be associated with planning for children. However, some have children as part of their continuing de facto relationship and others bring children with them into the relationship.


The number of de facto couples with children is increasing at a faster rate than the number of de facto couple only relationships. In 1982, 8% of couple only families and 3% of couples with children were de facto. In 1992, de facto relationships made up 13% of all couple only families and 6% of couples with children. This was an increase of 88% for de facto couples with children compared to 58% for de facto couple only families.

PROPORTION OF DE FACTO COUPLES



Source: Survey of Families in Australia



Characteristics of people in de facto couples

In 1992, 5% of all people aged 15 and over were in de facto relationships. De facto relationships were most common among 25-29 year olds (12%) and 20-24 year olds (11%). These are the age groups when people begin partnering either as de facto or in a registered marriage. In 1992 the median age at marriage for all marriages (including remarriages) was 26 years for women and 29 years for men.


In 1992, 65% of people in de facto relationships had never been married, a reflection of the young age profile of de facto couples. A further 34% were divorced or separated. The remaining 1% of people living in a de facto relationships were widowed. This was probably because widowed people are more likely to be older and therefore less likely to be living in de facto relationships.


People under 35 years of age in de facto relationships were most likely to have never been married while those aged 35 and over were most likely to be divorced.

PEOPLE IN DE FACTO RELATIONSHIPS, 1992

Age group
Never married
Separated
Divorced
Widowed
All persons in de facto relationships
% De facto, all persons in couples
% De facto, all persons
(years)
%
%
%
%
%
'000
%
%

15-19
100.0
* *
* *
* *
100.0
30.1
72.2
2.3
20-24
96.8
1.5*
1.8*
* *
100.0
163.5
39.9
11.4
25-29
85.3
6.2
8.6
* *
100.0
167.2
19.2
12.1
30-34
63.4
6.4*
30.2
* *
100.0
119.0
10.7
8.2
35-44
30.2
13.1
54.5
2.2*
100.0
135.2
6.3
5.1
45-54
14.3
19.5
62.1
4.1*
100.0
73.9
4.6
3.8
55-64
11.9*
20.7*
53.0*
14.4*
100.0
16.2
1.4
1.1
65 & over
* *
* *
38.8*
* *
100.0
5.8*
0.5*
0.3*
Total
64.8
8.0
25.8
1.3
100.0
710.8
8.5
5.3


Source: Survey of Families in Australia


Births outside marriage

The increase in the proportion of births outside registered marriage, especially among older women, and the increase in the proportion which have paternity acknowledged, can be considered indicative of the increasing prevalence of permanent or long-term de facto relationships
1.

In 1963 births outside marriage made up 6% of all births and in 1976 this had increased to 10%. In 1993 they accounted for 25% of all births. The age of women bearing children outside marriage has also increased. In 1976, 38% of births outside marriage were to women aged less than 20 while 31% were to women aged 25 or more. In 1993, 18% of births outside marriage were to women aged less than 20 and 47% were to women aged 25 or more. 23% were to women aged 30 or more.


Acknowledgment by fathers of children born outside registered marriage has also increased. In 1976, 47% of certificates for births outside registered marriage recorded the father's details compared to 82% in 1993.


Fathers' details have always been more likely to be recorded for births to older women than to younger women. In 1976, over 60% of births outside marriage to women aged 25–39 had the father's details recorded. Equivalent figures for women aged 20–24 and women aged less than 20 were 48% and 34% respectively. By 1993 the proportion of births outside marriage acknowledged by the father had increased for mothers of all ages but especially for those aged less than 25.

BIRTHS OUTSIDE MARRIAGE



Source: Birth registrations

BIRTHS OUTSIDE MARRIAGE WITH PATERNITY ACKNOWLEDGED

1976
1993
Age group of mother (years)
%
%

19 and under
33.6
74.5
20-24
48.2
81.5
25-29
61.6
84.3
30-34
63.3
85.6
35-39
63.2
84.6
40 and over
54.4
76.6
Total
46.9
81.7
'000
'000
Total
10.8
53.0


Source: Birth Registrations


Endnotes


1 Sorrentino, C. (1990)
The changing family in international perspective Monthly Labour Review, March 1990.


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