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1367.5 - Western Australian Statistical Indicators, Mar 2005  
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Feature Article - Social interactions and support in Western Australia
This article was published in the March Quarter 2005 issue of Western Australian Statistical Indicators (Cat. No. 1367.5)


INTRODUCTION

Relationships and networks are at the core of society and are essential to individual wellbeing. People are linked together with family and friends, and in wider communities characterised by shared interests, sympathies or living circumstances. There is a growing interest in the ways in which social attachment may contribute to positive outcomes for individuals in areas such as health and employment, and for communities through broader opportunities for participation and safer environments.

This article explores people's social interactions and sources of support outside the home, including interactions with family, friends and the wider community in Western Australia. The article also examines potential barriers to social interactions such as feelings of safety and access to transport. Social circumstances which may impact on social attachment, such as disability, labour force status, age, geographic region and life cycle stage are also examined.

The statistics presented in this article are drawn from the 2002 General Social Survey (GSS). The GSS collected data from adults aged 18 years and over on a range of topics including: social characteristics; social interactions and participation; voluntary work; personal and financial stress; access to transport; participation in sport, culture and recreational activities; and computer and Internet use. Unless otherwise specified, the statistics presented in this article are for the usually resident adult population of Western Australia.


SOCIAL INTERACTIONS AND SUPPORT OUTSIDE THE HOME


FAMILY AND COMMUNITY SUPPORT

It is generally accepted that family members living together provide each other with economic and emotional support, and that extended family and community networks are also important sources of support and care. Many people provide support to relatives living elsewhere, such as grandparents providing care for grandchildren or children caring for elderly parents. Additionally, the daily interactions that people have with others in the wider community (such as friends, neighbours and work colleagues) help to build relationships which provide greater access to sources of information and support in times of need. There is growing recognition that the extent to which people have access to these informal networks can affect their economic, social and emotional wellbeing, as well as impact on their need for formal government and community support services.

In this article, people are described as having family and community support if they had contact with family and friends living outside the household in the week prior to interview, and that they could ask for small favours and support in a time of crisis from people outside the household. In 2002, 90% of people residing in Western Australia indicated that they had access to family and community support from outside the household. A high level of family and community support was reported by adults across differing family and households types, including lone parents, couple families with or without dependent children and people living alone.

Almost all (96%) Western Australian adults had some form of contact with family and friends living outside the household in the week prior to the survey. This high level of contact was evident for both males and females and across all age groups. Face to face contact with family and friends living outside the household was reported by 90% of adults. It is not surprising, therefore, that most adults (95%) felt they could ask people outside their household for small favours, such as looking after pets, collecting mail or borrowing equipment. Similarly, most adults (95%) felt they could obtain support in a time of crisis from people not living with them.


SOURCES OF SUPPORT

In times of crisis, people may seek support from a number of formal and informal sources. Formal support services are provided by a range of government, professional and community organisations in line with identified areas of social concern. However, a considerable amount of support is provided by less formal networks of family, friends, and work colleagues. In fact, in 2002, family (81%) and friends (74%) were the most likely sources of support from outside the home reported by Western Australian adults, followed by neighbours (35%) and work colleagues (26%). Less than 20% of Western Australian adults reported that they would seek support from Health, legal or financial professionals (18%), Community, charity or religious organisations (18%) or Local Council or other government service providers (11%).

Graph - Sources of support in time of crisis



SUPPORT FOR RELATIVES LIVING ELSEWHERE

Family networks and support roles often extend to those who live beyond the household. Support for children until they are independent is a primary responsibility for parents. With increasing numbers of parents not living with their natural children, there is an interest in their continuing relationships and the provision of support. Additionally, the ageing population has focused attention on the level and types of support provided by family members to parents. Many grandparents also contribute to the care of children for working or absent parents. The GSS asked people whether they or their partners, where relevant, had provided support to their children or other family members who lived elsewhere. In couple relationships this support could be for the children or other relatives of either partner.


CHILDREN AGED UNDER 15 YEARS

Of the 58,000 people who stated that they or their partner had children aged 0-14 years who did not live with them, most (91%) had provided some form of material support for these children. Child Support Payments were the most common type of support reported (76%). Other frequently reported types of support for children in this age group were providing or paying for clothing (48%), driving them to places (39%) and providing them with pocket money or an allowance (35%).

There were 22,400 adults who lived with a partner and dependent children who also had children aged 0-14 years not living them. The majority (93%) had provided some type of support to these children living elsewhere and most (83%) were contributing Child Support Payments. Of the 9,500 people living alone who had children in this age group living elsewhere, 79% had provided support and 74% were paying Child Support Payments. Almost all of these absent parents living in lone person households were men.


CHILDREN AGED 15-24 YEARS

The age group 15-24 years is traditionally one when children move from being dependent on their parents to living independently. While some children in this age
group not living with a parent are in the care of other families, many are living on their own or in group households. Material support from parents is often important in helping these young people to establish their independence.

In 2002, there were 165,000 Western Australians who either had children aged 15-24 years not living with them or lived with a partner who did. Almost two thirds (62%) of these people (or their partner) provided some form of material support to children not living with them in the previous year.

The most common form of support provided to children aged 15-24 years living away from home was assistance with paying off debt. Almost a quarter (24%) of people in Western Australia with children in this age group not living with them, provided assistance to pay bills or meet other debts. Other commonly reported forms of support were: providing use of a car (21%); providing or paying for food (21%); providing or paying for big cost items (such as cars, computers, household appliances etc.) (21%); and driving them to places (20%).


OTHER RELATIVES

Over one in four (27%) adults or their partners had provided support to other relatives (other than their children aged under 25 years) who were not living with them. Commonly reported types of support given were driving them to places, giving money to help pay bills or meet debt and providing use of a car.

Graph - Support provided to other relatives


SELECTED INFLUENCES ON SOCIAL INTERACTIONS BY LIFE CYCLE STAGE - 2002

Family and community(a)
Voluntary work
Attendance at culture and leisure venues
Sport and physical recreation activities
Can easily get to places needed
Feels very safe/safe(b)
Victim(c)
%
%
%
%
%
%
%

Lone person aged 18-34 years
89.4
24.7
95.0
87.8
88.1
84.1
31.1
Couple only, selected person aged 18-34 years
92.8
25.4
98.4
88.8
92.3
80.5
*22.8
Couple with dependent children
91.4
40.0
96.1
80.3
90.4
81.0
21.8
Lone parent with dependent children
92.4
39.2
95.0
76.4
78.0
64.5
41.0
Couple only, selected person aged 65 years or over
89.8
31.9
77.0
69.9
87.0
70.5
*13.0
Lone person aged 65 years or over
91.4
21.6
68.1
55.9
63.5
80.1
*7.0
Total
91.3
35.0
91.7
78.1
87.1
78.4
21.8

* estimate is subject to sampling variability too high for most practical purposes
(a) Persons who had weekly contact with family or friends, could ask for small favours and able to get support in times of crisis.
(b) At home alone after dark.
(c) Of physical or threatened violence, or attempted or actual break-in.
Source: ABS data available on request, 2002 General Social Survey.


VOLUNTEERING

Many people provide support to the community by performing unpaid work in organisations and groups. Voluntary work provides significant benefits to the community and makes an important contribution to the economy. The level of volunteering is also a key indicator of the strength and cohesion of a community. The 2000 Survey of Voluntary Work showed the rate of volunteering in Western Australia to have significantly increased, from a quarter (25%) of adults aged 18 years and over in 1995 to a third (32%) in 2000.

In 2002, 36% (508,700) of Western Australian adults had undertaken voluntary work in the previous 12 months, similar to the national average of 34%. In Western Australia, the rates for men and women were similar during this period (36% and 35% respectively). A higher proportion of people in the age groups 45-54 years (45%) and 55-64 years (44%) had volunteered than those in other age groups.

Graph - Proportion of population who had volunteered, By age group



Adults in families with dependent children present were more likely to have undertaken voluntary work in the previous 12 months than people in other household types. Sport, recreation or hobby and education were commonly reported organisations where people volunteered, with many parents most likely volunteering around activities in which their children were involved. In 2002, 13% of Western Australian adults undertook unpaid voluntary work in sport, recreation or hobby organisations, 11% volunteered in welfare and community organisations and 9% in education, training and youth development.

Graph - Voluntary work by type of organisation



BARRIERS TO SOCIAL INTERACTION


CRIME VICTIMISATION

Being a victim of crime can impact on the physical, emotional and financial wellbeing of individuals and families. Perceptions and fear of crime can also decrease feelings of personal safety and reduce the level of trust in the community. This can lead people to modify their behaviour and may restrict their ability to freely enjoy or participate in the community.

In 2002, 23% of Western Australian adults indicated that they had been a victim of physical or threatened violence or of an attempted or actual break-in in the last year. This crime victimisation rate was higher than the national average of 18%. In particular, the victimisation rates for attempted or actual break-ins were higher in Western Australia than the national average (16% compared to 12% respectively), with only the Northern Territory (of any state or territory) having a higher rate (29%).

Victimisation rates varied according to living arrangements. Lone parents with dependent children were almost twice as likely (41%) to have indicated that they had been a victim of either an attempted or actual break-in or of threatened or physical violence in the previous 12 months compared to all Western Australian adults (23%). The victimisation rate was also higher for people aged 18-34 who lived alone (31%).

In 2002, one in ten Western Australian adults (10%) indicated that they had been a victim of threatened or physical violence in the previous year. The likelihood of being a victim of violence generally decreased with age. In 2002, 16% of 18-24 year olds in Western Australia said they had been a victim compared to less than 2% of those aged 65 years or over. Higher victimisation rates were evident among young men, with almost one in five (19%) 18-24 year olds having been a victim of physical or threatened violence in the previous year.

Graph - Victim of violence or break-in



FEELING SAFE

In 2002, over three quarters (79%) of Western Australian adults indicated that they felt safe or very safe at home alone after dark. However, just over one in ten people (11%) indicated that they felt unsafe or very unsafe when home alone after dark. The remainder felt neither safe nor unsafe or were never at home alone after dark. Women were much more likely to feel unsafe or very unsafe after dark than men (17% compared with 4% respectively).

Although they were less likely to have been a victim, adults in older age groups were more likely to feel vulnerable when at home alone after dark, than those in younger age groups. Of Western Australians aged 65 years and over, 11% felt unsafe or very unsafe at home alone at night compared to 7% of 18-24 year olds.

Feelings of safety also varied by living arrangements. Lone parents with dependent children, who had been more likely to report that they had been a victim of crime, were also less likely to report feeling very safe or safe when home alone after dark (64% compared to 79% of the total population). While a high proportion (31%) of people aged 18-34 years who lived alone had also been a victim in the previous year, the proportion who felt very safe or safe (84%) was higher than that of the total population (78%).

Graph - Feels very unsafe or unsafe at home alone after dark



TRANSPORT

A further barrier to interaction within the community can be posed by lack of access to appropriate forms of transport. For instance, lack of access to transport can limit choices and opportunities to access goods and services, gain employment, participate in cultural, sporting or community activities, and may restrict contact with family or friends.

In 2002, 89% of men and 84% women in Western Australia were able to easily get to places when needed. With the exception of those aged 35-44 years, men were less likely than women to report difficulties with transport in all age groups. The greatest difference occurred for those aged 65 years and over, with 85% of men reporting no difficulty with transport compared to 69% of women. People aged 65 years and over who lived alone were less likely than those the same age living with a partner to be able to easily get to the places needed, 64% compared to 87% respectively. Young men and women (18-24 years) also reported some transport difficulties, with 75% and 71% respectively stating that they could not easily get to places compared to 89% of all Western Australian adults.

Graph - Can easily get to places when needed



ACCESS TO MOTOR VEHICLES

Most (90%) adults in Western Australia had access to a motor vehicle to drive for personal use. However, older people aged 65 years or over, were less likely to have access to motor vehicles to drive than other age groups. Across most age groups, men were more likely than women to have access to a motor vehicle to drive. A significantly lower proportion of women aged 65 years and over had access to a motor vehicle to drive than men the same age (53% compared to 89%).

Graph - Has access to a motor vehicle to drive



INFLUENCES ON SOCIAL INTERACTION

Many factors influence an individual's social interaction. While social participation is to some degree a matter of choice, personal circumstances can affect interaction with others and involvement in social activities. Some groups in the community are at greater risk of disadvantage or social isolation compared to the rest of the population. Disabilities or long-term health conditions which restrict everyday activities can be barriers to social participation. Similarly, the inability to understand or speak English can cause social isolation and limit interactions. Employment status affects the number of social networks a person has and their income levels, while remoteness and population size can limit the opportunities for social interaction and access to services and support networks.


DISABILITY

In 2002, similar proportions of people with a disability or long-term health condition had family and community support and attended culture and leisure venues or volunteered, compared to those with no disability or long-term health condition. However, only 68% of those with a disability or long-term health condition participated in sport or physical recreation activities, compared to 81% of others in Western Australia. People with disabilities were also less likely to be able to easily get to places needed (80%) compared to others in the community (91%).


LABOUR FORCE STATUS

In the main, employed people were more likely to have family and community support, participate in sport and recreation, attend culture and leisure venues, be easily able to get to places and to have undertaken voluntary work than those who did not work.

Similar proportions of unemployed people had attended culture and leisure venues and participated in sport and recreation activities as employed people. However, a lower proportion of unemployed people had access to family and community support than those who were employed (78% compared to 92%). Unemployed people were less able to easily get to places needed than those who were employed (68% compared to 92%). Also, a lower proportion of unemployed people felt safe when home alone after dark than employed people (71% compared to 84% respectively).

Persons not in the labour force were less likely to have attended a culture and leisure venue (80%) or participated in a sport and physical recreation activity (68%) than employed persons. This may partly be explained by the fact that a large proportion of those not in the labour force were aged over 65 years or had a disability or long-term health condition.

SELECTED INFLUENCES ON SOCIAL INTERACTIONS - 2002

Family and community(a)
Voluntary work
Attendance at culture and leisure venues
Sport and physical recreation activities
Can easily get to places needed
Feels very safe/safe(b)
Victim(c)
Population characteristic
%
%
%
%
%
%
%

Disability status
    Has disability or long-term health condition
88.5
35.6
87.3
68.5
79.8
73.9
25.4
    Has no disability or long-term health condition
91.2
35.4
93.7
81.4
91.0
81.9
20.5
Labour force status
    Employed
92.0
39.8
95.6
80.0
92.0
83.5
24.6
    Unemployed
77.8
*24.4
96.5
75.5
67.0
71.4
23.6
    Not in the labour force
87.8
28.2
80.3
67.8
77.2
69.0
17.7
Proficiency in spoken English
    Speaks language other than English at home
      Very well/well
85.3
31.9
90.6
69.6
77.8
71.6
24.3
      Not well/not at all
70.9
*13.9
62.6
72.1
71.0
45.7
*14.7
    Speaks English at home
91.1
36.6
91.7
77.1
88.0
80.2
22.4
Age group
    18-24 years
89.5
29.8
98.5
83.9
73.5
83.1
28.4
    25-64 years
90.3
37.9
93.0
77.4
90.8
78.7
23.7
    65 years and over
89.6
29.6
73.6
62.0
76.5
73.7
10.5
Remoteness(d)
    Perth
90.6
33.3
92.2
76.6
86.3
77.4
23.1
    Inner Regional
86.9
34.4
87.3
75.2
85.7
81.1
21.9
    Other
90.9
49.5
87.8
74.5
90.4
83.5
19.8
Western Australia
90.0
35.6
91.1
76.2
86.5
78.6
22.5

* estimate is subject to sampling variability too high for most practical purposes
(a) Person who had weekly contact with family or friends, could ask for small favours and able to get support in times of crisis.
(b) At home alone after dark.
(c) Of physical or threatened violence, or attempted or actual break-in.
(d) See 'Definitions of Terms Used in This Article'.
Source: ABS data available on request, 2002 General Social Survey.


DIFFICULTY WITH ENGLISH

In 2002, there were 185,900 Western Australian adults who spoke a language other than English at home. Of these, 14% indicated that they spoke English either 'not well' or 'not at all'. Those who had difficulty with spoken English were less likely to have access to family and community support than those who spoke English very well or well. They were also less likely to have attended a culture or leisure venue, to easily be able to get to places or to feel very safe or safe when at home alone after dark than others in the community.


REMOTENESS

In 2002, high proportions of adults had access to family and community support, had attended a culture or leisure venue and participated in sport or physical recreation across the various regions of the state. The most significant difference between the regions was the involvement in voluntary work. Participation increased with remoteness from 33% in Perth to 50% in Other areas.


2002 NATIONAL ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER SOCIAL SURVEY

In 2002, the ABS conducted the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS). This was the second national survey of Indigenous Australians undertaken by the ABS, the first being the 1994 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey (NATSIS). The 2002 NATSISS was designed to be comparable with both the 2002 GSS and the 1994 NATSIS. This combination provides a rich source of data which allows aspects of social wellbeing to be compared between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous population as well as providing some indicative time series data on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.

A comparison of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians requires more detailed explanation than is possible in this article. However, as an example some comparative data from both surveys have been presented in the table below.

A high proportion of the state's Indigenous adult population reported they were able to receive support in a time of crisis. However, Indigenous people were twice as likely to have been a victim of an actual or attempted break-in or threatened or physical violence. Indigenous people were also over four times less likely to be able to raise $2,000 in a week for something important. A significantly lower proportion of Indigenous adults had access to a motor vehicle to drive than non-Indigenous adults (60% compared to 90%).

SELECTED INDICATORS BY INDIGENOUS STATUS - 2002

Indigenous
Non-indigenous
%
%

Able to get support in time of crisis
89
95
Participated in sport or physical recreation activities in last 12 months
49
77
Victim of physical or threatened violence
21
10
Has access to motor vehicle
60
90
Unable to raise $2,000 for something important
56
12

Source: ABS data available on request, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, Western Australia, 2002, cat. no. 4714.5.55.001.


Further information on the 2002 NATSISS can be found in the following publications: National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, 2002, cat. no. 4714.0; National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey: Data Reference Package, 2002, cat. no. 4714.0.55.022.


DEFINITIONS OF TERMS USED IN THIS ARTICLE


DEPENDENT CHILDREN/DEPENDANTS

All persons aged under 15 years; and people aged 15-24 years who are full-time students, have a parent in the household and do not have a partner or child of their own in the household.


DISABILITY OR LONG-TERM HEALTH CONDITION

A disability or long-term health condition exists if a limitation, restriction, impairment, disease or disorder, had lasted, or was likely to last for at least six months, and which restricted everyday activities.


REMOTENESS

Broad geographical regions which share common characteristics of remoteness based on the Remoteness Structure of the ABS’ Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC). Remoteness is calculated using the road distance to different sized urban centres where the population size is considered to govern the range and type of services available. In this article the categories Perth (major city), and Inner Regional from the Remoteness Structure are presented along with a residual category labelled ‘Other areas’. As the GSS did not cover sparse areas of Australia, ‘Other Areas’, encompasses most of
Outer Regional Western Australia, part of Remote Western Australia, and only a small proportion of Very Remote Western Australia.


PARTICIPANTS IN SPORT AND PHYSICAL RECREATIONAL ACTIVITIES

Participants comprise those people who physically undertook a sport or physical recreational activity in the last 12 months, as well as people involved in 'non-playing roles', such as coaches, officials, umpires and administrators.


PROFICIENCY IN SPOKEN ENGLISH

A self-assessment by persons who speak a language other than English at home, of whether they speak English very well, well, not well, or not at all.


SUPPORT FOR CHILDREN LIVING OUTSIDE THE HOUSEHOLD

Support provided by a person or their partner to their children (under the age of 25 years) who do not live with them. Support may be provided to the other parent/carer for the child(ren), or to the child themselves. Types of support may be financial, such as child support payments, paying for educational costs, or providing pocket money or an allowance, or non-financial, such as driving them places, letting them borrow the car, or providing food or clothing.


SUPPORT IN A TIME OF CRISIS

Refers to whether there is someone outside the person's household that could be asked for support in a time of crisis. Support could be in the form of emotional, physical or financial help. Potential sources of support could be family members, friends, neighbours, work colleagues and various community, government and professional organisations.


RELATED PUBLICATIONS

Australian Social Trends, 2003, cat. no. 4102.0.

General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia, 2002, cat. no. 4159.0.

Measuring Wellbeing, Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics, cat. no. 4160.0.

Voluntary Work Australia, 2000, cat. no. 4441.0.


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