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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1995  
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Contents >> Family >> Living Arrangements: Children in families

Living Arrangements: Children in families

While children are growing up in a wider variety of family structures than ever before, the majority still live with both natural parents.

Families are particularly important in the lives of children and today's children are growing up in a wide variety of household and family structures. Many children now live in very different family situations from those of their parents or grandparents. Family circumstances can affect a child's social and economic well-being, and perspectives and future expectations of family life.

Children and families

In this review, a child is any person under the age of 15. A family is defined as two or more people who live in the same household and are related to each other by blood, marriage (including de facto marriage), fostering or adoption.

ABS family data are available from a number of different sources. The Labour Force Survey provides a consistent annual time series for the 1980s and 1990s. Censuses of Population and Housing provide a more detailed classification of different family types. The 1992 Survey of Families in Australia provides a wide range of data, not available from other collections, about the characteristics of families and family members, and the nature of family support. Child Care Surveys provide data about the number of children receiving child care, the reasons for its use, and who the providers are.


How many children?
Over the past two decades, the number of children in Australia has remained fairly constant at around 3.8 million. However, the proportion of children in the population has decreased from around 30% in the late 1950s to 22% in 19931. The decline in the relative size of the child population is due mainly to the fall in fertility, from 2.5 children per woman in 1973 to 1.9 in 19932. By 2041, the proportion of children in the population is projected to decline even further, to between 17% and 19%3.

CHILDREN IN FAMILIES

1982
1992
Family type
%
%

Couple families
    Registered married
86.4
80.6
    De facto
2.7
5.2
One parent families
    Female parent
9.9
12.7
    Male parent
1.0
1.5
Total
100.0
100.0
'000
'000
Total children
3,721.8
3,804.9

Source: Survey of Families in Australia


Family types
Families vary considerably in size and structure, ranging from one parent with one child to large extended families. However, despite this wide variety of family types, most children (81% in 1992) live with both of their natural parents. Many children live in more than one family type during their childhood. For example, if a child's parents divorce and the custodial parent remarries, the child may experience three distinct family types: a couple family with both natural parents, a one parent family and a step family.

In 1992 there were 2.1 million families with children aged under 15. The majority (83%) were couple families. Family size varied according to family type. The average number of children in a couple family with children was 1.9 while the average number of children in a one parent family was 1.6.

Couple families
In 1992, 86% of all children lived in couple families; 81% with registered married couples and 5% with de facto couples. In 1982, 86% of children lived with registered married couples and 3% with de facto couples. Children living in de facto couple families were likely to be younger than those living in registered married couple families. In 1992, 45% of children in de facto couple families were aged under 5 compared to 33% of children in registered married couple families.
Step families are couple families with only one natural parent of the children present. In 1992, 2% of all children lived in step families. The majority (91%) lived with their natural mother and a step father. Blended families are couple families with both natural and step children. Blended families occur when partners with children from a previous relationship form a new relationship and have children together. In 1992, 5% of children lived in blended families.

One parent families
In 1992, 14% of children lived in one parent families, an increase from 11% in 1982. Most of these children (89%) lived with their mothers. The proportion of children in one parent families living with their fathers increased from 9% in 1982 to 11% in 1992 (see Australian Social Trends 1994, Lone fathers with dependent children).

As children grow older, the chance of them living with both their natural parents decreases. In 1992, 87% of children aged 0-4 lived with both their natural parents compared to 76% of those aged 10-14.

Extended families
Children living in extended families live with their parent(s), and also with other relatives such as grandparents, uncles, aunts etc. In 1992, 3% of children lived in extended families, down from 4% in 1982. Children living in extended families were older than those living in nuclear families. In 1992, 37% of children living in extended families were aged 10-14 compared to 33% of those not living in extended families.

Adoption
In 1992-93, there were 783 adoptions in Australia. Most adoptees were children aged under 15 and two-thirds of these were under 5 years old. Most of these adoptions were by non-relatives and almost half (43%) of all children adopted by non-relatives had been born overseas. Among children aged 5-14 who were adopted in 1992-93, 71% were adopted by relatives. Most of these were adoptions by step-parents, a reflection of the changing structure of families in Australian society4.

CHILDREN IN FAMILIES, 1992

0-4 years
5-9 years
10-14 years
Total
Parent(s)
%
%
%
%

Both natural(a) parents
86.5
81.6
75.9
81.3
Natural mother, step father
0.8
3.8
6.9
3.8
Natural father, step mother
* *
0.3*
0.8
0.4
Natural mother only
11.9
12.6
13.4
12.6
Natural father only
0.5
1.4
2.5
1.5
Other
* *
0.4
0.5
0.3
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
'000
'000
'000
'000
Total children
1,269.2
1,282.5
1,253.2
3,804.9

(a) Includes adopted or foster children.
Source: Survey of Families in Australia


International comparison
Countries with high proportions of children in their populations have greater potential for future population growth. In 1988, 23% of Australia's population was aged under 15. Australia was ranked 149th out of 173 countries in terms of the relative size of its child population. Kenya had the largest proportion of its population aged under 15.
PROPORTION OF THE POPULATION AGED UNDER 15 YEARS, SELECTED COUNTRIES, 1988
Country
Child population
Ranking
%

1
Kenya
51
84
Indonesia
40
86
Viet Nam
40
131
China
29
143
New Zealand
25
149
Australia
23
150
Hong Kong
23
154
United States
22
156
Canada
21
160
Japan
21
167
United Kingdom
19
170
Sweden
18
173
West Germany
15

Source: Kurian G.T. (1991) The New Book of World Rankings

Working arrangements
A major change affecting children is the increasing number of employed mothers. The proportion of couple families with children where both parents were employed increased from 35% in 1979 to 42% in 1994. In 1994, the father was employed full-time and the mother was employed part-time in 58% of these families. In a further 38%, both parents were employed full-time. Employed mothers were more likely to work part-time if they had young children, especially if they were under 5 years old.

The proportion of couple families with one parent employed and one not employed (which includes both unemployed and not in the labour force) declined from 48% in 1979 to 32% in 1994. However, the proportion where the mother was employed and the father was not employed increased from 0.8% in 1979 to 2.5% in 1994. This type of working arrangement is partly a result of increasing unemployment, as well as changing community attitudes towards the roles of mothers and fathers, and increased employment opportunities for women.

In 58% of one parent families with children, the parent was not employed. 60% of lone mothers were not employed and 40% of lone fathers were not employed. Lone parents with older children were more likely to be employed than those with younger children. Over half of all lone parents whose youngest child was aged 10-14 years were employed, most on a full-time basis.

In 1979, 11% of all families with children had no employed parent(s). By 1994, this had risen to 18%. Part of this increase can be attributed to increased unemployment and increased access to government pensions and benefits for lone parents (see Australian Social Trends 1994, Social security transfer payments).

LABOUR FORCE STATUS(a) OF PARENTS WITH CHILDREN AGED UNDER 15 YEARS

1979
1984
1989
1994
Family type
%
%
%
%

Couple families
    Both parents employed
35.0
35.7
45.2
42.3
    Father employed, mother not employed
47.7
42.8
33.2
29.6
    Mother employed, father not employed
0.8
1.2
1.6
2.5
    Both parents not employed
4.2
6.5
5.9
8.3
One parent families
    Parent employed
5.4
4.9
6.4
7.2
    Parent not employed
6.9
8.9
7.5
10.0
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
'000
'000
'000
'000
Total families
1,904.2
1,967.0
1,946.8
2,040.8

(a) Not employed includes both unemployed and not in the labour force.
Source: Labour Force Survey


Child care
Over the past decade there has been an increase in the proportion of children in formal and/or informal child care. This is related to the increase in the proportion of families with children in which both parents are employed. In 1984, 38% of children aged under 12 years received formal and/or informal care. By 1993, this had increased to 49%. Most child care is informal, i.e provided by other family members, friends or neighbours, or paid baby sitters (see Australian Social Trends 1994, Child care).

The 1992 Time Use Survey5 found that parents who minded their own children as a main activity spent, on average, less than 2 hours per day on it. However, often child care takes place with other activities. For example, a person may be minding their child while cooking a meal and report cooking as the main activity. Child care is then considered a secondary activity. Parents spent an average of almost 8 hours a day on child care (5 hours 9 minutes for men and 9 hours 41 minutes for women) when child minding as a main or secondary activity was considered.

Income
A child's well-being, in terms of standard of living and quality of life, depends to a considerable extent on their family's economic resources. Children are dependent on their parents for food, clothing and shelter.

Equivalent income can be used to compare the financial resources of different family types. Equivalent income adjusts for the number of adults, their labour force status, and the number of dependent children in a family.

In 1990, 44% of children lived in families whose equivalent income was $350 a week or less. 68% of children in one parent families were in this category compared to 40% of children in couple families. A further 16% of children in couple families had an equivalent family income of more than $620 a week compared to 4% of children in one parent families.

CHILDREN IN FAMILIES, EQUIVALENT WEEKLY INCOME(a), 1990

Children in couple families
Children in one parent families
Total children
Income range
%
%
%

Under $251
18.9
32.0
20.7
$251-$350
21.5
36.1
23.5
$351-$480
25.7
21.1
25.1
$481-$620
17.6
7.1
16.1
Over $620
16.4
3.8
14.7
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
'000
'000
'000
Total children
3,412.1
534.0
3,946.2

(a) Calculated using full Henderson equivalence scale accounting for housing costs.

Source: Survey of Income & Housing Costs and Amenities


Child abuse
In 1992-93, there were 23,199 substantiated cases of abuse of children aged under 15 years. Girls were more likely to have been abused than boys. This is because girls were more likely to have been sexually abused than boys. There were over 5,000 substantiated cases of sexual abuse, and three-quarters of these involved girls. For all other types of abuse, i.e physical, emotional and neglect, there was little difference between the numbers of cases involving girls and the numbers involving boys6.

Children who were sexually abused were most likely to have been abused by a friend or neighbour. However, for all types of abuse, most children were abused by a natural or adoptive parent6. Many cases of child abuse are either not reported or not substantiated, and therefore it is not possible to determine the full extent of child abuse in Australia7.


Endnotes

1 Estimated Resident Population by Sex and Age: States and Territories of Australia (cat. no. 3201.0).

2 Births, Australia (cat. no. 3301.0).

3 Projections of the Populations of Australia, States and Territories, 1993-2041 (cat. no. 3222.0).

4 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (1994) Adoptions Australia, 1992–93.

5 How Australians Use Their Time (cat. no. 4153.0).

6 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (1995) Child Abuse and Neglect, 1992–93.

7 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (1994) Child Abuse and Neglect, 1991–92.

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