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1286.0 - Family, Household and Income Unit Variables, 2005  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 01/06/2005   
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Contents >> Overview of family, household and income unit standards >> Core variables describing family structure

30. The four main variables which are used in describing family structure within a household are 'Relationship in household', 'Family composition', 'Household composition', and 'Social marital status'. The standards for each of the variables provide comprehensive information on both conceptual issues and practical issues relating to data collection and processing. Each standard includes a description of the name of the concept, its definitions, the classification criteria, the classification and code structures, a discussion of conceptual issues, standard questionnaire modules, and output classifications for the presentation of data.

Relationship in household

31. 'Relationship in household' is a characteristic of each individual living in a household. It is used to describe the type of familial relationship (if any) an individual has with other individuals in the household. This concept is central to the application of statistical standards on the family and the household because relationships within a household provide the key for identifying families, their type and the number of families that are in the household.

Family composition

32. 'Family composition' differentiates families based on the presence or absence of couple relationships, parent-child relationships, child dependency relationships or other relationships. The 'Family composition' standard includes a hierarchical 'Family composition' classification with four levels. At the highest level of the classification the four family types are:

  • couple family without children
  • couple family with children
  • one parent family
  • other family.

33. A second level of detail introduces the concept of dependent children aged under 15 to provide more detail of 'Family composition' within couple and one parent families. A further level of detail distinguishes families with dependent students aged 15-24 years from those with other dependent children. At the most detailed level the presence of non-dependent children is identified in each category of couple and one parent families. Provision has also been made for the separate identification of opposite sex and same sex couples within couple families where this is required.

34. No provision has been made in the 'Family composition' classification for the identification of family members outside the family nucleus. For example a family may contain a couple and their dependent children, but also the parent of one of the couple (a 'Lone ancestor'). Identification of such persons within a family is done by means of 'Relationship in household' data.

Household composition

35. 'Household composition' is used to identify family households, the number of families in a household, the presence of non-family members in family households, and the type of non-family households. Non-family households comprise lone person households and group households. 'Household composition' can be combined in statistical output with 'Family composition' to provide information on families within households. A standard framework for publishing this information is provided in the 'Household composition' and 'Family composition' standards.

Marital Status

36. There are two distinct standard variables for Marital status: 'Registered marital status' and 'Social marital status', with the latter recommended for most applications. This distinction is in accordance with the recommendations of the United Nations (UN) and the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE). (Recommendations for the 1990 Censuses of Population and Housing in the ECE Region, Economic Commission for Europe, 1990 (15-16, 55).)

37. Traditionally 'Registered marital status' (which categorises people as Never Married, Widowed, Divorced, Separated and Married) has been used in most applications. However, with the increase in the number of de facto marriages the concept has become less useful for identifying couple relationships. As 'Social marital status' provides a category for de facto marriages, and classifies people according to their usual living arrangements rather than their registered marital status, this concept can be used to identify couple relationships within a household through the use of one of the standard sets of questions used to identify relationships.

38. A person's 'Social marital status' is determined by whether or not they form a couple relationship with another person and the nature of that couple relationship, regardless of their 'Registered marital status'. The classification structure has, at its highest level, the categories married and not married. Within married are separate categories for registered and de facto marriage. Within de facto marriage, at the next level of detail, there is a distinction between opposite sex and same sex couples. These are further divided at the next level of detail into male and female same sex couples. Although the classification contains this detail, it is unlikely that information will be published at this level in many statistical collections.

39. As these core variables are all designed to produce and present information about families and households on a consistent basis, they are based on a common set of underlying concepts and rely on a common approach to data collection. In particular, data on 'Relationship in household', 'Family composition', 'Household composition' and 'Social marital status', are obtained from a common set of relationship questionnaire modules. These modules are shown below and presented in full in the 'Relationship in household' standard.



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