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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2001  
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Contents >> Housing >> Housing and Lifestyle: Household amenities

Housing and Lifestyle: Household amenities

While virtually all households have a telephone and a television, ownership of other household amenities, such as microwave ovens and dishwashers, is lower and is concentrated among certain household types.

Owning, or having ready access to, items such as cooking facilities, fridges, washing machines, telephones, computers and cars can help make the lives of Australians easier and more enjoyable, and improve their material standard of living. A measure of access to such amenities therefore provides a valuable adjunct to fundamental indicators in other areas of wellbeing, such as health and income.

Australians have high ownership levels of household amenities, and virtually all Australian households have basic amenities such as cooking facilities, a working bath or shower connection and toilet, a fridge and a telephone. However ownership of other amenities, such as computers, microwave ovens and dishwashers, is lower and is concentrated among certain household types.

A household can be considered to be disadvantaged if it lacks the resources to participate fully in society.1 As household amenities often save time and effort, or provide access to social and work-related activities, having fewer amenities can impact on households’ ability to maintain or improve their life circumstances. This article discusses the ownership of household amenities in relation to geographical areas of relative disadvantage and across life-cycle groups.


HOUSEHOLD AMENITIES
The main sources of data for this article are the ABS 1999 Australian Housing Survey and ABS 1997 Time Use Survey.

Amenities are ‘features, facilities or services which make for a comfortable and pleasant life'.2 For the purposes of this article, amenities include items such as fridges and freezers, cooking and bathing facilities, telephones and televisions.

HOUSEHOLDS WITH BASIC AMENITIES

Year
%

Working bath/shower connection
1999
99.6
Toilet
1999
99.5
Kitchen
1999
99.7
Working cooking facilities
1999
99.6
Kitchen sink
1999
99.5
Working refrigerator
1999
99.6
Telephone
1996
97.5
At least 1 television
1997
99.2

Source: Population Survey Monitor, September 1996 (ABS cat. no. 4103.0); Australian Housing Survey, 1999 (ABS cat. no. 4182.0); ABS 1999 Australian Housing Survey and ABS 1997 Time Use Survey.


Relative disadvantage
Households in areas of relatively high disadvantage (i.e. those in the lowest SEIFA quintile) are likely to have a lower material standard of living than households in areas with relatively low levels of disadvantage (i.e. those in the highest SEIFA quintile). This is because they tend to have poorer housing conditions and fewer amenities.

Although 96% of Australian households had a sufficient number of bedrooms in 1999, 6% of households in areas of high disadvantage did not have a sufficient number of bedrooms (compared with 3% in areas of low disadvantage). Households in areas of high disadvantage were less likely to have spare bedrooms and their dwellings were also in greater need of repair, with 11% in essential need of repair (compared with 7% in areas of low disadvantage).

Households in areas of high disadvantage were less likely to own a registered motor vehicle (81%) than those in areas of low disadvantage (93%) in 1999. Those in areas of high disadvantage who did own a registered motor vehicle were more likely to have just the one, as was the case with televisions (although 99% of all households had at least one television). Almost two thirds of households in areas of low disadvantage had two or more motor vehicles, compared with one third of those in areas of high disadvantage.

Households in areas of high disadvantage were also less likely than households in areas of low disadvantage to have many other amenities. In particular, they were unlikely to own amenities which save time and effort. For example, in 1997, 74% had a microwave (compared with 84% in areas of low disadvantage) and under 20% had a dishwasher (compared with almost 50% in areas of low disadvantage).

SELECTED AMENITIES OF HOUSEHOLDS IN AREAS OF HIGH AND LOW DISADVANTAGE

In areas of high disadvantage(a)
In areas of low disadvantage(b)
All households
Year
%
%
%

Housing conditions
    Dwelling in essential need of repair
1999
10.9
6.6
7.5
    Sufficient number of bedrooms
1999
94.1
96.9
95.5
    Spare bedrooms
1999
65.2
76.2
72.6
    Heating
1999
n.a.
n.a.
79.6
    Air-conditioning
1999
n.a.
n.a.
34.7
Access and communication
    At least one registered motor vehicle
1999
81.0
93.3
89.6
    More than one registered motor vehicle
1999
32.6
58.7
48.8
    More than one television
1997
50.0
58.2
55.8
    VCR
1997
78.7
85.2
82.3
    Personal computer(c)
1997
26.1
53.0
36.2
    Internet access(c)
1997
7.3
19.8
11.6
Timesaving
    Washing machine
1999
92.7
94.3
94.8
    Microwave oven
1997
73.9
83.9
78.9
    Dishwasher
1997
16.1
46.5
29.1
    Clothes dryer
1997
42.6
64.6
51.8

(a) Households in areas in the lowest SEIFA quintile.
(b) Households in areas in the highest SEIFA quintile.
(c) Data from the ABS 1999 Household Use of Information Technology Surveys are not available for SEIFA quintiles, however figures from these surveys show that in 1999, 48% of all households owned a computer and 22% had access to the Internet.

Source: ABS 1999 Australian Housing Survey; ABS 1997 Time Use Survey; ABS 1999 Environmental Issues Survey.


Life-cycle stages
Over time, the composition and needs of a household change, reflecting the different life-cycle stages of its members (see Australian Social Trends 2001, Housing experience through life-cycle stages). Associated with these changes are a range of factors which influence the standard of living of a household. In particular, as financial circumstances change, so do access to amenities and overall standard of living.


SEIFA
The Socio-Economic Index for Areas (SEIFA) Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage uses a selection of weighted variables, such as income, educational attainment and employment, to determine the level of disadvantage of a geographical area. Households are allocated the index score of their geographic area. Households falling in the lower quintiles have lower index scores. This occurs when the area has a relatively high level of disadvantage, with a high proportion of people on low incomes, who have a low educational attainment, who are in unskilled occupations or who are unemployed. Households in the higher quintiles have higher scores, representing areas with relatively low levels of disadvantage, where there are smaller proportions of people with these characteristics. (See Information Paper, Census of Population and Housing - Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas, Australia 1996, ABS cat. no. 2039.0.)

Life-cycle stages
The life-cycle stages discussed in this article are:
  • young lone-person households, where the person is under 35 years;
  • young couple only households where the reference person is under 35 years;
  • young couple family households where the eldest child is under 5 years;
  • older couple family households with at least one dependent child aged 15–24 years (there may also be children of other ages);
  • one-parent households with at least one dependent child;
  • older couple only households where the reference person is 55 years or over; and
  • older lone-person households where the person is 65 years or over.


Generally households in the earlier life-cycle stages have fewer amenities, with ownership increasing as they progress through different life-cycle stages and their income increases (see Australian Social Trends 1998, Income distribution and life cycle). However, lone-parent households are an exception to the tendency for households to accumulate amenities as their members progress through various life stages, as these households have generally been disrupted by the dissolution of a marriage, resulting in the division of household assets, and do not fit the general pattern of ownership of household amenities.

Young lone-person households had low ownership levels of many amenities. Ownership was higher for couples and higher again for couple households containing children (which had the highest ownership levels). However, ownership of amenities was lower for one-parent families. Older couple only, and especially older lone-person households, were also less likely to have certain amenities than couples with children, particularly newer technologies, such as computers and Internet access.

SELECTED HOUSEHOLD AMENITIES BY SELECTED LIFE-CYCLE GROUPS

Lone person under 35 years
Couple only, reference person under 35 years
Couple with eldest child under 5 years
Couple with
at least one child 15-24 years(a)
Lone
parent with dependent
children
Couple only, reference person 55
years or over
Lone person 65 years
or over
Total(b)
Year
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%

Dwelling in essential need of repair
1999
8.7
6.9
7.5
6.5
15.3
3.0
5.8
7.5
Sufficient number of bedrooms
1999
97.0
99.8
98.2
94.9
91.8
99.8
99.1
95.5
Spare bedrooms
1999
76.4
93.1
75.9
61.1
46.3
97.4
85.9
72.6
At least one registered motor vehicle
1999
78.6
97.4
98.1
99.3
82.3
95.7
56.8
89.6
VCR
1997
67.9
90.4
95.3
95.0
85.3
82.1
42.7
82.3
Personal computer
1997
25.0
44.4
42.3
66.3
35.8
22.1
3.0
36.2
Internet access
1997
13.7
16.2
16.1
20.2
6.8
5.9
0.6
11.6
Washing machine
1999
75.0
93.3
97.7
99.4
94.9
98.6
92.6
94.8
Microwave oven
1997
67.0
87.4
91.6
87.6
76.3
78.9
58.4
78.9
Dishwasher
1997
10.4
21.3
28.5
46.0
16.6
36.0
9.7
29.1
Clothes dryer
1997
30.2
45.1
68.2
72.3
48.2
52.7
28.6
51.8

(a) Refers to dependent children only. 1999 data is limited to households with the eldest child aged 15-24 years.
(b) Includes life-cycle groups not defined above.

Source: ABS 1997 Time Use Survey; ABS 1999 Australian Housing Survey.


Housing conditions
Two of the key attributes for a dwelling to be considered appropriate for a household are that it has enough space for all members and is in reasonable condition. Using the Canadian National Occupancy Standard, it is possible to obtain an idea of the adequacy of dwelling sizes.

According to this standard, in 1999, 96% of Australian households had enough or more than enough bedrooms in their dwelling. Over three quarters of young lone-person and young couple only households and couple households with the eldest child aged under 5 years had one or more bedrooms spare. However, couple families with the eldest child aged 15-24 years were less likely to have spare bedrooms (61%). Despite these households having larger dwellings, they need more bedrooms as they have more household members (see Australian Social Trends 2001, Housing experience through life-cycle stages).

Over 4% of households were overcrowded, i.e. did not have a sufficient number of bedrooms. One-parent households were the most the likely to be overcrowded, with 8% needing more bedrooms and under half having spare bedrooms. Over three quarters of older couple only households had more than one spare bedroom. This is likely to be the result of the couple’s grown children having left the parental home. However, lone-person households aged 65 years and over had fewer spare bedrooms. As they tended to also have fewer bedrooms it is likely that they had moved into a smaller home more suited to their needs.3


Housing occupancy
The Canadian National Occupancy Standard for housing appropriateness assesses the bedroom requirements of a household according to its size and composition and specifies that:
  • there should be no more than two persons per bedroom;
  • children aged under 5 years of different sexes may reasonably share a bedroom;
  • children aged 5 years or older of opposite sex should have separate bedrooms;
  • children aged under 18 years and of the same sex may reasonably share a bedroom; and
  • Single household members aged 18 years or over should have a separate bedroom, as should parents or couples.

Households living in dwellings where this standard cannot be met are considered to be overcrowded, i.e. in need of more bedrooms.


While 69% of Australia’s households in 1999 reported that either the inside or the outside of their dwelling, or both, had no need for repairs, 7% reported that their dwellings were in essential need of repair. This included 2% for which the need of repair to either the inside or the outside of the dwelling, or both, was urgent. With the exception of lone-parent households, whose dwellings were in the greatest need of repair, the need for repairs decreased with progression through the life-cycle stages.

Climatic conditions impact on the need for, and existence of, heating and cooling in dwellings. Where temperatures regularly drop below freezing, heating is essential. While nationally 80% of households had heating in 1999, almost all dwellings in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory were heated. Similarly, where high temperatures are common, cooling is more necessary. While the proportion of households in the Northern Territory which had air-conditioning was more than twice the national average, 16% of households in the Northern Territory remained without it.4

NEED FOR REPAIRS TO DWELLING(a), 1999

(a) Refers to inside or outside of dwelling, or both. The inside of the dwelling may have a different level of need for repairs than the outside.

Source: ABS 1999 Australian Housing Survey.


Access and communication
A household’s access to the outside world, either through transport, media or other communication, increases educational, employment and other opportunities, including greater social interaction. Without these, a household may not have access to vital services and opportunities.

Ready access to transport provides a link with social and work-related activities. While public transport can adequately provide this link for some households, for others this access is achieved through owning a car. In 1999, motor vehicles ownership was highest for couple households, with and without children, of whom over 95% owned one or more registered motor vehicles. Couple family households containing older children, with more residents of driving age, tended to have the most cars. However, over 40% of lone person households 65 years and over and almost 20% of one parent households had no motor vehicle.

Having access to a telephone or the Internet provides a means of communicating with friends and family, as well as services, employers and schools. In 1996, virtually all households had at least one telephone connection.5 In 1999, 48% of households owned a computer, and in the March quarter 2000, a further 7% of households intended to purchase a personal computer.6 Access to the Internet was lower, at 22% in 1999. Ownership of computers and Internet access were concentrated among couple families with children and, to a lesser extent, households with the reference person under 35 years. However, ownership of computers and access to the Internet have been growing rapidly across many household types.

Time and effort saving
Many appliances in modern Australian households are designed to save time and effort, particularly for labour-intensive tasks such as cooking and cleaning. While some of these items are now very common and are seen more as essentials, others, such as microwave ovens and dishwashers, are less common and are thought of only as timesaving devices.

Ownership of microwaves (79%), clothes dryers (52%) and dishwashers (29%) in 1997 was lower than that of more essential items, but the pattern of variation with life-cycle stages remained similar. Couples with children were the most likely to have these amenities, followed by couple only households. This also reflects the higher incomes of such households. Lone persons were the least likely to have these items, which could be due to reduced financial ability, or the potentially lower need for these items in a lone-person household.

As with other household amenities, these time and effort saving appliances were not distributed evenly across the geographic regions. For example, clothes dryers were more common in the cooler States.4 An indication that these items are not essential is the fact that of the households with clothes dryers, one third were rarely if ever used while another 40% received only seasonal use, and 10% of households with dishwashers rarely or never used them.4

Endnotes
1 Townsend, P. 1987, 'Deprivation', Journal of Social Policy, vol. 16, pp. 125-146.

2 The Macquarie Library Pty. Ltd. 1997, The Macquarie Dictionary, Third Edition, Macquarie University, New South Wales.

3 National Housing Strategy 1992, Housing for Older Australians, Background paper no. 8, AGPS, Canberra.

4 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1999, Environmental Issues, Australia, March 1999, cat. no. 4602.0, ABS, Canberra.

5 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1996, Population Survey Monitor, September 1996, cat. no. 4103.0, ABS, Canberra.

6 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2000, Population Survey Monitor, November 1999, cat. no. 4103.0, ABS, Canberra.

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