Australian Bureau of Statistics

Rate the ABS website
ABS Home > Statistics > By Release Date
4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1998  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 03/06/1998   
   Page tools: Print Print Page Print all pages in this productPrint All RSS Feed RSS Bookmark and Share Search this Product  
Contents >> Family >> Living Arrangements: Rural families

Living Arrangements: Rural families

In 1996, there were 646,000 families living in rural areas. Compared to urban areas, there were more couple families, particularly those with dependent children, but fewer one-parent families.

Families in rural areas (those living on separate properties or in small rural localities) represented one in seven (14%) of all families in Australia in 1996. While many lived in close proximity to towns and cities, such as those located on the coast, rural families often live at some distance (sometimes hundreds of kilometres) from the range of services that people living in urban areas (towns or cities) have ready access to. The limited accessibility to education and health services (such as schools, libraries, doctors and hospitals), to social support networks, and to job opportunities, can be critical to their wellbeing and affect the likelihood of their continuing to live in the area.

Largely drawing on the results of the 1996 Census, this review looks at some of the differences in the living conditions (housing), activities (work) and status outcomes (education and income) of people living in rural and urban areas. The broad grouping of people into rural and urban categories presents some insights into the costs and benefits of living in the respective areas. However, it should be noted that such broad groupings can mask substantial differences within each area.


Definitions and classifications

The geographic classification used in this review is based on population size.
  • Rural areas - people living on separate properties or in population clusters of less than 1,000 people;
  • Towns - all urban centres with a population of 1,000 to 99,999;
  • Cities - urban centres with a population of 100,000 and over.

A family is defined by the ABS as 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. More than one family may be counted in a household.

In this review the primary family, which comprises 98.4% of all families, is used as the basis for analysis. The primary family comprises any family in a single family household and the family with dependent children in a multiple family household. Where there were no families with dependants in a multiple family household, then the primary family was chosen at random. Where there was more than one family with dependants, the family with the greater number of dependants was chosen as the primary family. The primary family reference person is usually the first person on the census form, and the one upon whom the relationships within the household are based.

FAMILY TYPE, 1996

Urban areas

Rural areas
Towns
Cities
%
%
%

Couple families
89.7
83.2
83.0
    Couple only
35.0
35.4
31.6
    With dependants
45.1
40.0
40.5
    Other(a)
9.7
7.8
10.9
One-parent families
9.3
15.4
14.8
    With dependants
6.4
11.4
9.6
    Other(a)
2.9
4.0
5.2
Other families(b)
1.0
1.4
2.2
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0

'000
'000
'000
Total families
645.9
1,060.0
2,877.1

(a) Comprises families with non-dependant children and/or other relatives only.
(b) Comprises families of related adults such as brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles.

Source: Unpublished data, 1996 Census of Population and Housing.


Family type
Rural families are often thought of as more 'traditional' than urban families, with more couple families, greater numbers of children and fewer one-parent families. Data from the 1996 Census supports this view. Most (90%) primary families in rural areas were couple families, compared with 83% of families in cities or towns. Families in rural areas also had the highest proportion of couple families with dependent children (45% of all families). Proportions of this family type were lower in both towns and cities (around 40%). As well, the proportion of families with three or more dependent children was greater in rural areas (15%) than in towns (13%) or cities (11%).

At the same time there were fewer one-parent families in rural areas (9% of all families) compared with towns (15%) and cities (15%). 'Traditional' values may not be the only reason why there are fewer one-parent families in rural areas. Research has shown that, compared with urban areas, a greater proportion of families in rural areas lived near the husband's parents than those of the wife.1 When combined with reduced access to support services in rural areas, lone mothers, who comprise the majority of lone parents, may tend to move back to an urban environment, either to be nearer their parents to gain family help or to have closer access to government or community support services.

The greater presence of families with children in rural areas is reflected in the different age structures of rural and urban populations. Thus in 1996, there were proportionately more children aged 0-14 in rural areas (25%) than in towns and cities (23% and 20% respectively) and more mature adults (aged 35 to 64) as well.

In contrast, teenagers and young adults (aged 15-34) and elderly people (aged 65 and over) - especially elderly women - were less well represented in rural areas. The differences suggest that these groups have a tendency to move to urban areas. Reasons for such moves will differ according to the needs of the individuals involved. For instance, it is likely that many young people move to the cities in search of work and study opportunities. Women aged 65 years and over, on the other hand, may move to an urban area when their husband dies, either because they have children who have already moved there, or because they want to be closer to community services and health facilities.

AGE OF PERSONS, 1996

Urban areas

Rural areas
Towns
Cities
Age group
%
%
%

0 - 14
24.7
23.4
20.2
15 - 24
12.2
13.6
15.4
25 - 34
13.4
14.7
16.2
35 - 44
16.7
14.9
15.2
45 - 54
14.1
11.5
12.7
55 - 64
9.4
8.4
8.1
65 and over
9.4
13.5
12.2
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0

'000
'000
'000
Total persons
2,498.3
4,161.5
11,221.4

Source: Unpublished data, 1996 Census of Population and Housing.


Housing
The large majority of Australian families live in separate houses, particularly in rural areas (95% of families compared with 81% in cities). Conversely, fewer rural families lived in medium or high density style housing, both of which were more appropriate to and more available in highly populated areas. Not surprisingly, families living in flats or units, or semi-detached, terrace or town houses comprised 17% of all families in cities, 8% in towns and 1% in rural areas.

Owning the family home reduces the amount spent on living costs each week through not having to pay rent or mortgage payments. In 1996, half of rural families fully owned their home compared with 39% of town families and 43% of city families. The proportions of families purchasing their homes were similar across all areas, but much lower proportions of rural families were renting (17%) than families in towns (28%) or in cities (24%). Families in rural areas spent less on average each week on rent ($77 median) than families in towns ($127) or cities ($168). Rural families also spent less each week on mortgage payments ($171 median) than those in cities ($192), but slightly more than families in towns ($163).

HOUSING OF FAMILIES, 1996

Urban areas

Rural areas
Towns
Cities
Dwelling structure
%
%
%

Separate house
95.1
89.3
81.4
Semi-detached etc.(a)
0.7
4.1
7.7
Flat
0.5
4.0
8.9
Caravan, cabin, houseboat
1.2
0.7
0.2
Other and not stated
2.5
1.9
1.8
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0

'000
'000
'000
Total families
645.9
1,060.0
2,877.1

(a) Comprises semi-detached, row or terrace houses, villa units or townhouses.

Source: Unpublished data, 1996 Census of Population and Housing.


TENURE OF FAMILY HOME, 1996

Source: Unpublished data, 1996 Census of Population and Housing.

Transport
Family members in rural areas generally need to make a greater effort to access services, buy groceries, meet friends and travel to work and school than those living in urban areas. This need is reflected in the higher levels of car ownership among rural families. Most families have a motor vehicle, but the likelihood of a rural family not having a motor vehicle (2%) was less than in towns or cities (6% for both). The greater dependence on cars is further indicated by the fact that just over two thirds of rural families (69%) had two or more motor vehicles (excluding motor bikes and tractors) compared with just over half of families in towns (52%) or cities (54%).

As well as the need to travel further (and use more fuel), the cost of petrol is usually higher in most rural areas. This cost can place a considerable strain on family resources, particularly for families that have several vehicles.2 Excluding fuels used for business purposes (for example, running the farm), families in rural areas spent on average $32.43 per week on motor vehicle fuel and lubricants in 1993-94, whereas families in capital cities spent $25.54.2

POST-SCHOOL EDUCATIONAL QUALIFICATIONS(a), 1996

Urban areas

Qualifications
Rural areas
Towns
Cities
%
%
%

Bachelor degree or higher
7.7
7.4
15.3
Diploma
6.0
5.7
7.4
Skilled vocational qualification
18.8
19.4
16.7
Basic vocational qualification
2.7
2.9
2.8
Level of attainment inadequately described or not stated
7.9
8.8
8.7
No post-school qualifications
56.9
55.7
49.1
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0

'000
'000
'000
Total families
645.9
1,060.0
2,877.1

(a) Refers to highest post-school educational qualification of primary family reference person.

Source: Unpublished data, 1996 Census of Population and Housing.


Education
Access to education in rural areas depends on how close the family is to the nearest school. Some children can walk to school while others may have to travel long distances or conduct their lessons through the School of Distance Education. When children reach secondary school age distance education is often replaced with either boarding school or attendance at the nearest high school which may still be some distance away and may also have restricted curriculum choices.

Tertiary education attendance (particularly at a university) frequently requires young family members to move to larger towns or cities where they often stay to find work after they have finished their course. However, for those who want to remain in rural areas, a degree is not always the most relevant qualification. Employees with skilled vocational qualifications are more likely to be in demand than someone with a university degree.3 In 1996, the proportion of families in rural areas (8%) and towns (7%) whose primary reference person had a bachelor degree or higher educational qualification was almost half that of families in cities (15%). In comparison, family reference persons in rural areas (19%) and towns (19%) were slightly more likely to have a skilled vocational qualification than those in cities (17%).

EMPLOYMENT STATUS(a), 1996

Urban areas

Rural areas
Towns
Cities
Employment status
%
%
%

Employee
51.5
54.3
58.9
Employer
4.3
2.2
1.8
Own account worker
11.1
3.9
3.7
Contributing family worker
1.4
0.4
0.3
Unemployed
4.9
5.4
4.6
Not in the labour force
26.0
32.9
30.0
Total(b)
100
100.0
100.0

'000
'000
'000
Total families
645.9
1,060
2,877.1

%
%
%
Unemployment rate
6.7
8.2
6.6

(a) Employment status of primary family reference person.
(b) Includes not stated.

Source: Unpublished data, 1996 Census of Population and Housing.


Employment
In 1996, rural families had higher proportions of their primary family reference person in the labour force (73%) than families in towns (66%) and cities (69%). Overall, more than half of all families' primary reference persons were employees, with greater proportions in cities (59%) than in rural areas (51%). People in rural families were also more likely to be employers (4%) or own account workers (11%) than those in towns or cities. This reflects the fact that farming and service industries make up a large proportion of rural economies. Couple families in rural areas (47%) and in cities (47%) were also more likely than those in towns (42%) to have both partners in the labour force either as employers, employees or as own account workers.

Unemployment rates can vary considerably between regions and over time, but overall unemployment rates among family reference persons in rural areas (6.7 % as measured by the census in August 1996) were as low as for those living in cities and lower than for those living in towns (8.2%). Some rural families (2%) had more than one unemployed person, but the likelihood of this was about the same as for families living in towns and cities.

PROPORTION OF FAMILIES RECEIVING GOVERNMENT BENEFITS AS MAIN SOURCE OF INCOME, 1993-94

Rural
Other urban
Capital cities
Family composition
%
%
%

Couple families
21.1
24.6
18.8
    Couple only
28.4
37.8
29.5
    Aged 65 years and over
58.0
80.2
70.3
    With dependants
15.6
13.1
11.3
    Other(a)
16.0
18.7
25.0
One-parent families
70.2
65.5
47.5
Other families(b)
19.3
25.3
19.5
All families
24.2
29.1
21.3

(a) Comprises families with non-dependant children and/or other relatives only.
(b) Comprises families of related adults such as brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles.

Source: Unpublished data, 1993-94 Household Expenditure Survey.


Income
When compared to urban areas (especially towns), a greater proportion of rural families had a reference person involved in paid work (including those in business). Similar proportions of couples had both partners working. The average weekly income of rural families ($641 in 1996) was the same as for families living in towns but much lower than for families living in cities ($808). This difference is consistent with the different types of employment available in each area.

Rural families have income support needs for the same reasons as urban families. In 1993-94, almost one in four (24%) families received a government pension or allowance as their principal source of income. Rural families (24%) were less likely than those in non-capital city urban areas (29%) to be receiving government benefits. This is consistent with the higher unemployment rates in towns and the higher proportions of people in urban areas eligible for the age pension. Nevertheless, slightly more rural families depended on government pensions and benefits than families in capital cities (21%). Between rural and urban areas dependency levels on government benefits varies considerably by family type. Among couple-only families with the reference person aged 65 years and over for example, 58% in rural areas received government benefits compared with 70% of those in capital cities and 80% in other urban areas. This suggests that it is more common for rural people to continue working past retirement age (particularly those on farms) than for those in cities. In contrast, one-parent families in rural areas were more likely to be receiving government benefits (70%) than those in capital cities (47%). This is likely to reflect fewer employment opportunities and child care facilities.


Endnotes

1 Millward, Christine, 1995, 'Family networks in rural and urban settings', Family Matters, No. 41, Winter, pp. 10-14.

2 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1993-94 Household Expenditure Survey (unpublished data).

3 Department of Housing and Regional Development, 1995, Places for everyone: social equity in Australian cities and regions, Australian Urban and Regional Development Review, Canberra.

Previous PageNext Page

Bookmark and Share. Opens in a new window


Commonwealth of Australia 2014

Unless otherwise noted, content on this website is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia Licence together with any terms, conditions and exclusions as set out in the website Copyright notice. For permission to do anything beyond the scope of this licence and copyright terms contact us.