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2077.0 - Census of Population and Housing: Understanding the Increase in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Counts, 2006-2011 Quality Declaration 
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 17/09/2013  First Issue
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CHANGES IN FAMILY DYNAMICS

INTRODUCTION

This chapter presents an analysis of changes in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family structures between the 2006 and 2011 Censuses and the links between parentage and the identification of children as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people.


SUMMARY OF FINDINGS

  • The proportions of various types of families (for example, couples with children, couples with no children, one parent families) in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander households remained relatively consistent between 2006 and 2011. There was, however, a large increase in the count of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in couple families with children (32,100) and in one parent families (28,200) between 2006 and 2011.
  • Mixed couples (opposite-sex couples with one Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander partner and one non-Indigenous partner) made up 74% of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander couples in 2011, compared with 71% in 2006. Children in these families account for some of the people identified by their parents as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people in the 2011 Census but not in the 2006 Census.
  • The count of children aged 0-14 years with at least one Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander parent, and who were also identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin, increased by 13% (17,200) from 2006 to 2011. Children with an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander mother and a non-Indigenous father accounted for almost two-thirds of this increase.

ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER HOUSEHOLDS AND FAMILIES

A household is defined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) as one or more persons, at least one of whom is at least 15 years of age, who are usually resident in the same private dwelling. A family is defined as two or more people, 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. Under the current Census standard, a household may include as many as three separate families. Non-family households include lone person and group households. Other households include visitors and people in non-private dwellings.

An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family is one in which at least one usual resident is of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin. Similarly, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander household is one in which at least one usual resident is of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin. However, caution is advised when analysing family characteristics as the classifications used to describe Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander households and families in the Census do not fully capture the complexity of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family structures and living arrangements.1

According to these definitions, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families or households may also include people who are non-Indigenous or whose Indigenous status is not known. For the purposes of this analysis, this chapter only looks at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in these households or families.


Household size and composition

In both the 2006 and 2011 Censuses, just over 80% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were living in an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family household. In 2006, there were 371,500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in 140,500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family households, increasing to 443,200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in 174,300 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family households in 2011. Over this period, there was no change in the average size of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family households, which was 3.4 persons per household.


HOUSEHOLD TYPE OF ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER PEOPLE(a) LIVING IN ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER HOUSEHOLDS(b)

2006
2011
Relative change
no.
%
no.
%
no.
%

Family household
371 516
81.6
443 247
80.8
71 731
19.3
Non-family household(c)
39 041
8.6
49 726
9.1
10 685
27.4
Other household(d)
44 469
9.8
55 397
10.1
10 928
24.6
Total persons
455 026
100.0
548 370
100.0
93 344
20.5

(a) Usual residence Census counts. Excludes overseas visitors. Includes Other Territories.
(b) An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander household is a household in which at least one usual resident is of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin.
(c) Comprises people in lone person households and group households.
(d) Comprises visitors and people in non-private dwellings.


Family households

In both 2006 and 2011, around half of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family households were living in couple families with children (189,300 in 2006 and 221,400 in 2011), and a further 38% (141,800 in 2006 and 170,000 in 2011) were living in one parent families.


LIVING ARRANGEMENTS OF ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER PEOPLE LIVING IN ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER FAMILY HOUSEHOLDS(a)

2006
2011
Relative change
no.
%
no.
%
no.
%

Couple family with no children
33 214
8.9
43 021
9.7
9 807
29.5
Couple family with children
189 262
50.9
221 389
49.9
32 127
17.0
One parent family
141 789
38.2
169 992
38.4
28 203
19.9
Other family
7 251
2.0
8 845
2.0
1 594
22.0
Total persons
371 516
100.0
443 247
100.0
71 731
19.3

(a) Usual residence Census counts. Excludes overseas visitors. Includes Other Territories.


Couple families

In the 2011 Census, there were 32,100 (17%) more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in couple families with children and 9,800 (30%) more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in couple families with no children than in the 2006 Census.

At the state and territory level, there were large increases between 2006 and 2011 in the counts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in couple families with children in New South Wales (12,200 or 23%) and Queensland (10,000 or 18%), with smaller increases observed in the other states and territories.


ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER PEOPLE(a) LIVING IN COUPLE FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN

Graph shows New South Wales and Queensland had the largest increases in the counts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in couple families with children between 2006 and 2011, with smaller increases observed in the other jurisdictions


The same trend was observed for counts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in couple families with no children, with large increases in New South Wales (3,600 or 35%) and Queensland (2,800 or 31%).


ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER PEOPLE(a) LIVING IN COUPLE FAMILIES WITH NO CHILDREN

Graph shows New South Wales and Queensland had the largest increases in Census counts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in couple families with no children between 2006 and 2011


One parent families

Between 2006 and 2011, the count of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in one parent families increased from 141,800 to 170,000.

In 2006, there were 36,600 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lone parents, increasing to 44,100 in 2011. While lone parents comprised 8% of the count of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in each Census year, there were more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lone parents counted in most age groups in 2011. There were also 21,000 lone parents of non-Indigenous origin (including those for whom Indigenous status was not known in 2011) living in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family households in 2011, up from 17,100 in 2006.


AGE DISTRIBUTION OF ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER LONE PARENTS(a)

The age distribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lone parents counted in the Census shows there were more lone parents counted in most age groups in 2011 than in 2006



While it is useful to consider changes in the age distribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lone parents over time, it is also important to consider changes in the age distribution of lone parents using age cohorts to assess whether these changes are in line with expectations. This has been done using Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lone parent age cohorts for those aged 20-64 years in 2011 (that is, compared with lone parents aged 15-59 years in 2006). This analysis excludes lone parents aged 65 years and over in 2011 (that is, 60 years and over in 2006) as they are unlikely to still have dependent children who are included on their Census forms. Changes in age cohorts for the total Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population are discussed in more detail in the chapter Changes in Age and Sex Structure.

When we compare the age distribution of lone parents by age cohorts, there is a large increase in the count of lone parents aged 20-44 years in 2011, and especially among those aged 20-24 years (when compared with lone parents aged 15-19 years in 2006). This increase could be attributed to a number of factors, including any one or all of the following: more lone parents identifying themselves as an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person in the 2011 Census than in the 2006 Census; more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people becoming lone parents due to family dissolution between 2006 and 2011; and single Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people becoming parents for the first time between 2006 and 2011.


ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER LONE PARENTS AGED 20-64 YEARS(a), by age cohort in 2011

Graph shows there was a large increase in the count of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lone parents aged 20–44 years in 2011 when compared with those aged 15-39 years in 2006


ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER COUPLES AND MIXED COUPLES

For the purpose of the following analysis, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander couples are opposite-sex couples who are married or in a de facto relationship, both members of which are at home on Census night, and at least one of whom is of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin. Mixed couples are defined as having one Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander partner and one non-Indigenous partner.

Mixed couples as a proportion of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander couples have increased over time from 64% of all couples in 1996 to 70% in 2001, 71% in 2006 and 74% in 2011.

Between 2006 and 2011, there were 4,700 more Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people who reported being in a couple relationship with another Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person. This resulted in an 11% (2,300) increase in the count of couples where both partners were of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin in 2011. The count of mixed couples in which only the husband/male partner or the wife/female partner was an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person also increased by 14,900 (7,400 husband/male partner only and 7,500 wife/female partner only) between 2006 and 2011.


ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER COUPLES(a)(b), by Indigenous status of each partner

2006
2011
Relative change
no.
%
no.
%
no.
%

Indigenous status of partner
Both husband and wife/male and female partner are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people
21 845
29.4
24 192
26.4
2 347
10.7
Mixed couples(c)
    Only husband/male partner is Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person
24 507
33.0
31 952
34.9
7 445
30.4
    Only wife/female partner is Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person
27 835
37.5
35 333
38.6
7 498
26.9
    Total mixed couples
52 342
70.6
67 285
73.6
14 943
28.5
Total couples
74 187
100.0
91 477
100.0
17 290
23.3

(a) Usual residence Census counts. Excludes overseas visitors. Includes Other Territories.
(b) Includes couples who are married or in a de facto relationship. Excludes same-sex couples, lone parents and couples in which one partner was absent on Census night.
(c) Couples with one Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander partner and one non-Indigenous partner.


In both the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania, mixed couples have comprised a consistently high proportion of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander couples since 1996, while in the Northern Territory, the proportion of mixed couples has remained consistently low. In all other states, mixed couples have accounted for a growing share of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander couples over the 15 years from 1996 to 2011.


MIXED COUPLES(a) AS A PROPORTION OF ALL ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER COUPLES(b)(c)

Graph shows that between 1996 and 2011, mixed couples have accounted for a growing share of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander couples in all states and territories



ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER PARENTAGE

In families in which one parent is an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person and the other person is non-Indigenous, children of that relationship may be identified as an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person or non-Indigenous person in the Census. Historically, the Census Household Form has, in most cases, been completed by parents on behalf of their children and so in those instances the parents decide how to report the Indigenous status of their children. Differential reporting of the Indigenous status of children from these families across generations has been observed.2

In both 2006 and 2011, 98% of children with two Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander parents were also identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin. The corresponding proportions for children of mixed parentage with an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander mother or father only were 94% and 85% respectively in both 2006 and 2011. While parentage does not necessarily represent a biological relationship, it is notable that in both Censuses, 15% of children with an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander father only and 7% of children with an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander mother only were identified as non-Indigenous people or did not have their Indigenous status recorded.

Between the 2006 and 2011 Censuses, the count of children with at least one Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander parent who were identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin increased by 17,200 (13%). Those with an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander mother only accounted for around two-thirds (65% or 11,100) of this increase.


INDIGENOUS STATUS OF CHILDREN AGED 0-14 YEARS WITH AT LEAST ONE ABORIGINAL AND/OR TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER PARENT(a)

2006
2011
Relative change
no.
%
no.
%
no.
%

ABORIGINAL AND/OR TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER CHILD

Only father is an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person(b)
25 984
84.8
31 209
85.2
5 225
20.1
Only mother is an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person(b)
72 029
93.8
83 131
93.5
11 102
15.4
Both parents are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people
30 022
98.3
30 868
98.2
846
2.8
Total
128 035
92.8
145 208
92.5
17 173
13.4

NON-INDIGENOUS CHILD(c)

Only father is an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person(b)
4 657
15.2
5 435
14.8
778
16.7
Only mother is an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person(b)
4 792
6.2
5 808
6.5
1 016
21.2
Both parents are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people
513
1.7
558
1.8
45
8.8
Total
9 962
7.2
11 801
7.5
1 839
18.5

ALL CHILDREN

Only father is an an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person(b)
30 641
100.0
36 644
100.0
6 003
19.6
Only mother is an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person(b)
76 821
100.0
88 939
100.0
12 118
15.8
Both parents are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people
30 535
100.0
31 426
100.0
891
2.9
Total
137 997
100.0
157 009
100.0
19 012
13.8

(a) Usual residence Census counts. Excludes overseas visitors. Includes Other Territories.
(b) Includes lone parents. Excludes couples in which the Indigenous status of one partner was not stated.
(c) Includes Indigenous status not stated.


CONCLUDING REMARKS


Changes in family dynamics can provide important context for changes in people's propensity to identify as an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person over time. In particular, the increase in the count of mixed couples and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lone parents in the 2011 Census corresponds with the large increase in the count of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children with one Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander parent. This supports the finding that a change in the propensity to identify as an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person has resulted in more parents identifying themselves and their children in the 2011 Census than in the 2006 Census. This is examined further in the chapter Changing Propensity to Identify as Being of Aboriginal and /or Torres Strait Islander Origin between Censuses.


FOOTNOTES

1 For further information about the complexity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family structures and living arrangements, refer to Morphy, F 2006, Lost in Translation? Remote Indigenous households and definitions of the family, Family Matters, no. 73, pp. 23–31.

2 Gray, A 1998, Parentage and Indigenous population change, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research Discussion Paper 166/1998.


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