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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2003  
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Contents >> Family and Community >> Living arrangements: Changing families

Living arrangements: Changing families

Between 1986 and 2001, the number of one-parent families in Australia increased by 53%. In contrast, the number of couple families with children increased by 3%.

Changes in family composition have implications for a range of government and community services including income support, aged care, health and education services, children's welfare and housing. Family structures are complex and dynamic by nature, with care and support networks often extending outside household boundaries. However, much of the emotional, financial and material support provided by families, particularly for infants, children and adolescents, takes place among family members who live together in the same household. This article focuses on families comprised of people who usually reside in the same household, and the changes occurring in the structure of these families over the period 1986-2001.


Family types
This article uses data from the 1986, 1991, 1996 and 2001 Censuses of Population and Housing. Family data have been recoded for consistency with the 2001 Census definitions. While some minor differences remain (for example, families living in manufactured home estates and self-care accommodation for the retired or aged are included from 1996 onwards) these do not affect time series comparisons at the broad level.

A household is a person living alone, or a group of related or unrelated people who usually reside together and make common provision for food or other essentials for living. A household may contain more than one family.

A family is two or more persons, one of whom is at least 15 years of age, who are related by blood, marriage (registered or de facto), adoption, step or fostering, and who are usually resident in the same household. Family type is determined by the relationship of each household member to the household reference person. This is the person listed first on the census form, or if this person is not the most suitable, is assigned based on age, marital status and relationship considerations.

A couple family is two usual residents, both aged 15 years and over, who are married to each other or living in a de facto relationship with each other.

A couple family with children is a couple family who have children (regardless of age) usually resident in the family.

A couple family without children is a couple family with no children usually resident in the family (i.e. includes families where children have left home).

A one-parent family is a parent with no resident partner (married or de facto), with at least one child (regardless of age) usually resident in the family.

Other families are families of related individuals, in which none of the individuals form a couple or parent-child relationship with any other person in the family.

A step-family is a couple family containing at least one child who is the step-child of either parent, and no children who are the natural children of both parents.

A blended family is a couple family containing both natural and step-children - i.e. at least one child who is the natural child of both parents, and one child who is the step-child of either parent.


Changing family composition
Families underwent significant shifts in structure over the 20th century.1 At the time of federation, families often had extended kin and unrelated people living with them.2 In the decades following World War II, nuclear families (i.e. families formed around couples and parent-child relationships, with no extended members) became more common.2 While this is still the case, social changes in the later part of the century saw increasing diversity in the kinds of family structures that exist within Australian society.

In 2001, 14.8 million Australians (82%) lived with at least one other family member, making up 4.9 million families in total. The number of families in Australia increased by 19% between 1986 and 2001, slightly less than the growth in the population over the same period (21%). While families comprising couples with children (of any age) remain the most prevalent type of family in Australia, the increase in the number of these families was relatively small (3%) between 1986 and 2001. In comparison, the number of one-parent families increased by 53%, and couple families without children living with them increased by 33% over the same period. Consequently, over time, couple families with children are forming a smaller proportion of all families - 47% of families in 2001, down from 54% in 1986.

DISTRIBUTION OF FAMILY TYPES
Graph - Distribution of family types
Source: ABS 1986-2001 Censuses of Population and Housing.

CHANGE IN THE NUMBER OF FAMILIES - 1986-2001
Graph - Change in the number of families - 1986-2001
Source: ABS 1986 and 2001 Censuses of Population and Housing.


In addition to these changes in family composition, changes have also occurred in other living arrangements. For example, there was a 64% increase in the number of people who lived alone, from 1.0 million in 1986 to 1.6 million in 2001.

Trends underlying family change
Shifts in the prevalence of different family types within society can be linked to a range of social and economic trends. In recent decades, trends in divorce and remarriage have contributed to changing numbers of one-parent, step and blended families, just as trends towards delayed childbearing, increased childlessness and greater longevity have contributed to an increase in the number of couple only families. Social changes not only affected the prevalence of different family types, but also the nature and composition of families. For example, the nature of couple families has changed with the increase in de facto partnering. The age profile of particular family types (such as couples with children) has shifted, as young people increasingly postpone major life events. For example, young adults are remaining in education for longer, gaining economic independence later in life and forming long-term relationships at older ages.

SELECTED INDICATORS RELATED TO CHANGING FAMILY COMPOSITION



Units

1986

1991

1996

2001



Education participation rate of 20-24 year olds

%

18.2

25.0

31.5

34.8

Proportion of 20-24 year olds living in the parental home

%

41.6

47.2

44.5

45.8

Marriage rate (per 1,000 population)(a)

rate

7.2

6.6

5.8

5.3

Proportion of couples cohabiting prior to marriage(a)

%

45.6

57.5

(b)64.7

72.0

Median age at first marriage(a)







Males

years

25.6

26.7

27.6

28.7


Females

years

23.5

24.5

25.7

26.9

Total fertility rate (births per woman)

rate

1.87

1.86

1.80

1.73

Average number of children aged 0-14 years per family(c)

no.

1.9

1.9

1.5

1.5

Median age of mothers (for all births in the year)

years

27.5

28.5

29.2

30.0

Median age of fathers where recorded

years

30.2

31.0

31.9

32.3

Divorce rate (per 1,000 population)

rate

2.5

2.6

2.9

2.8

Proportion of population (aged 15 years and over) divorced

%

4.7

5.3

6.4

7.4

Median age of the population

years

31.1

32.4

34.0

35.7

Life expectancy(d)







Males

years

72.8

74.4

75.2

77.0


Females

years

79.1

80.4

81.1

82.4


(a) Refers to registered marriage.
(b) Data are for 1997.
(c) Data are per family with children aged under 15 years, where all children were present on census night.
(d) 1996 and 2001 data are calculated using the three years of data ending in the reference year.

Source: Australian Social Trends, 1996, 2000 and 2002 (ABS cat. no. 4102.0); Australia's Families - Selected Findings from the Survey of Families in Australia (ABS cat. no. 4418.0); Births, Australia, 2001 (ABS cat. no. 3301.0); ABS 1986-2001 Censuses of Population and Housing; Deaths, Australia, 2001 (ABS cat. no. 3302.0); Marriages and Divorces, Australia, 1996, 1997 and 2001 (ABS cat. no. 3310.0); Population by Age and Sex, Australian States and Territories, 1997-2002 (ABS cat. no. 3201.0).


Couple families with children
There were 2.3 million couple families with children in 2001, an increase from 2.2 million in 1986. These families may include young children, teenage students or adult children (e.g. in some families an adult child may be providing care for elderly parents).

The number of young couple families with children (where the reference person was aged less than 35 years) has declined over time. In 2001, these families comprised 20% of all couples with children, down from 29% in 1986. This decline reflects trends toward later partnering and childbearing. For example, over the 15 years to 2001, the median age at first (registered) marriage increased by around 3 years for both men and women, as did the median age of mothers (for all births in those years).

Among couple families with children where the reference person was aged 35 years or over, the largest increase was in those families with a reference person aged 45-49 years. These families comprised 16% of couples with children in 2001, up from 13% in 1986. Again this increase reflects trends toward later partnering and childbearing, as well as the tendency for children to remain in their parents' home for longer (see Australian Social Trends 2000, Young adults living in the parental home).

DISTRIBUTION OF COUPLE FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN
Graph - Distribution of couple families with children

Source: ABS 1986 and 2001 Censuses of Population and Housing.


The majority of couple families with children have young children present. In 2001, 54% of couple families with children (where all the children were present on census night) had at least one child aged less than 10 years, the same proportion as in 1986. However, there has been an increase in the proportion of couple families in which all resident children are aged 15 years and over (29% in 2001, up from 27% in 1986).

In 2001, most couple families with children (89%) contained only the natural or adopted children of both parents. A further 6% were step-families and 4% were blended families. There were also 33,600 couple families (1%- some of which are included in the families above) which had other children, such as foster children, nieces, nephews, or unrelated children living with the family.

Couple families with no children living with them
There were 1.8 million couple families without children living with them in 2001, up from 1.3 million in 1986. Couple families without children tend to fall into two broad life stage groups, those with a younger reference person who have not had children, and those with an older reference person who may have children who no longer live in the family home.

Over time, the number of couple families without children living with them has increased across nearly all age groups. This increase partly reflects fertility decline, with increasing numbers of people remaining childless across the life cycle (see Australian Social Trends 2002, Trends in childlessness). It also reflects the ageing of Australia’s population. Over the 15 years to 2001, the median age of Australia’s population increased from 31.1 to 35.7 years. As older people are forming a larger proportion of the population, older couples without children are forming a larger proportion of all families. This is likely to continue, particularly as the ‘baby boomer’ generation moves into older age groups and their children leave home.

DISTRIBUTION OF COUPLE FAMILIES WITHOUT CHILDREN
Graph - Distribution of couple families without children

Source: ABS 1986 and 2001 Censuses of Population and Housing.


Increases in the number of couple families without children in the oldest age group (where the reference person was aged 75 years or over) also reflect changing living arrangements among older Australians. Since the mid-1980s, government policy has emphasised the need to support older people to live in the community with some degree of independence (see Australian Social Trends 2003, People in institutional settings). Accordingly older couples may be living together for longer in their own home, or in self-care accommodation for the retired or aged, rather than one or both partners moving into nursing homes or other institutional based care. A narrowing in the life expectancy gap between men and women, so that couples are living together for longer, may also have contributed to increased numbers of older couples. Between 1986 and 2001 the gap between men’s and women’s life expectancy declined from six years to five years.

Over the period 1986-2001, the only couple families without children which declined in number were those with a reference person aged 20-24 years. While in 1986, 8% of couples without children were in this age range, this declined to 4% in 2001. This decline reflects an overall decline in the number of couples of this age - associated with later partnering. Among those young adults who do form partnerships, an increasing proportion do not have children. In 2001, 68% of couple families with a reference person aged 20-24 years did not have children, up from 64% in 1986. Among couples with a reference person aged 25-29 years, 54% did not have children in 2001, up from 42% in 1986.

The nature of couple relationships in Australia is changing, with an increasing proportion of couple families comprising partners in de facto relationships. In 2001, 12% of all couple families were de facto couples, an increase from 6% in 1986. De facto relationships remain more common among couples without children (17% in 2001), than couples with children (9%). The increase in de facto partnering over time reflects that, increasingly, couples are choosing to live together prior to marriage, or not to marry at all. The proportion of couples who chose to live together before marriage increased from 46% in 1986 to 72% in 2001, and the marriage rate declined from 7.2 to 5.3 marriages per 1,000 population over the same period.

COUPLE FAMILIES: PROPORTION IN DE FACTO PARTNERSHIPS
Graph - Couple families: proportion in de facto partnerships

Source: ABS 1986 and 2001 Censuses of Population and Housing.


One-parent families
One-parent families increased to 762,600 in 2001, from 499,300 in 1986. This increase was largely associated with an increase in the number of separated and divorced people. While the divorce rate changed little between 1986 and 2001 (fluctuating at under three divorces per 1,000 population), new divorces occurred each year adding more people to the total number of divorcees in Australia. While some divorcees later repartner, overall the number of divorcees in Australia (excluding those who remarried) almost doubled from 0.6 million in 1986 to 1.1 million in 2001.

One-parent families also include those parents who were single at the time of the birth of their child, and did not later form a couple relationship. The proportion of births occurring outside a registered marriage has increased over time, from 17% in 1986 to 31% in 2001. However, increasingly these births include the names of both of the child’s parents on the birth certificate (88% in 2001, up from 71% in 1986). This may indicate that the increase in births outside marriage is associated with the increase in de facto relationships, rather than an increase in the number of single mothers.

One-parent families may also be formed through the death of a spouse. However, the proportion of one-parent families formed through widowhood has declined (in 2001, 18% of lone parents were widows, down from 27% in 1986). This is partly because life expectancy has increased for both men and women, and, over the long-term, the proportion of relationships ending through divorce rather than death has increased.3

Lone mothers comprised 83% of lone parents in both 1986 and 2001. Lone mothers tended to have younger children living with them than lone fathers. In 2001, 22% of lone mothers had at least one child aged 0-4 years living with them, compared with 9% of lone fathers. In 56% of male one-parent families the children present were all aged 15 years or over, compared with 39% of female one-parent families.


ONE-PARENT FAMILIES: AGE OF YOUNGEST CHILD(a) - 2001
Graph - One-parent families: age of youngest child - 2001

(a) Families with children temporarily absent on census night are excluded.

Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing.


Other families
Most families are formed around couple or parent relationships. Over the 15 years to 2001, families other than couple or one-parent families consistently comprised around 2% of all families. The majority of these families are made up of adult siblings living together (70% of the family members in other family types in 2001).

Multi-family households
While most Australian families live in a household by themselves, a small proportion share their dwelling with other families. In 2001, 3% of families lived in multi-family households, down from 5% in 1986. One-parent families were the most likely to live in multi-family households (5% in 2001), followed by couples without children (3%). Multi-family households tend to be built around extended kin relationships. In 2001, 93% of the second and third families present in multi-family households were related in some way to the first family.

Other relatives in families
A range of single relatives may be part of a couple or one-parent family, without forming a separate family within the household. In 2001, 1% of couple families with children included other related children aged less than 15 years (such as nieces, nephews or grandchildren). In addition, 3% of couple families with children, 3% of couple families without children, and 6% of one-parent families had other kinds of relatives aged 15 years and over living with them. These family members were most likely to be the parent of one partner in a couple family (50% of other relatives living in couple families with children, and 41% of those in couple families without children). In one-parent families, 42% of other relatives were the parent of the lone parent. These parents may be living with their child’s family for a variety of reasons, including to receive care and support in their older years, following widowhood or divorce, or while their own partner is in non-family based care (such as nursing homes or respite care). Such relatives may also provide care and material support to the families they live with, for example the care of grandchildren, or accommodation or other financial support.

OTHER RELATIVES(a) AGED 15 YEARS AND OVER LIVING WITH FAMILIES - 2001
Family type
Couple family
with children
Couple family
without children
One-parent
Other
Total
Relationship in household(b)
‘000
‘000
‘000
‘000
‘000

Brother or sister
20.9
14.7
15.2
132.8
183.5
Father or mother
44.7
21.2
22.9
-
88.8
Grandchild
2.9
6.2
3.5
9.2
21.9
Nephew or niece
8.5
2.7
4.1
6.0
21.3
Cousin
2.0
1.1
1.9
9.6
14.7
Grandfather or grandmother
1.1
0.4
0.6
8.6
10.7
Uncle or aunt
1.6
0.7
1.1
5.5
8.9
Other related individual
7.3
4.8
4.6
17.0
33.7

Total
89.0
51.9
53.9
188.7
383.6

(a) Excludes partners in couple families, lone parents in one-parent families, and children (of any age).
(b) Relationship to the household reference person, which is one of the partners in a couple family and the lone parent in a one-parent family.

Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing.


Brothers or sisters (of one partner in the couple, or of the lone parent) were the second largest group of other relatives (23% of other relatives living in couple families with children, and 28% in couple families without children and in one-parent families). Adult grandchildren (aged 15 years and over) formed a higher proportion of other relatives in couple families without children (12%) than in one-parent families (6%) and couple families with children (3%).

People who are not relatives may also live in family households. In 2001, 151,200 people aged 15 years and over (1% of all people living in family households) lived with a family to which they were not related.

Endnotes
1 Hugo, G. 2001, 'A century of population change in Australia' in Australian Bureau of Statistics 2001, Year Book Australia, 2001, cat. no. 1301.0, ABS, Canberra.
2 Gilding, M. 2001, 'Changing Families in Australia, 1901-2001', Family Matters, No. 60, pp. 6-11.
3 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2001, Marriages and Divorces, Australia 2000, cat. no. 3310.0, ABS, Canberra.

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