CONTACT WITH FAMILY, FRIENDS AND SOCIAL NETWORKS
High quality relationships with close family members and friends may have positive health benefits, such as greater longevity. In addition, people with wide social networks may have good outcomes in other aspects of life such as employment. Social networks also benefit the community as a whole, and interactions between people to maintain these networks (especially when they are reciprocal) contribute to social cohesion. Local communities, workplaces, schools and voluntary organisations play an important role in creating more formal social networks by bringing a diverse range of people together for a common purpose.
Some people may not join networks or groups because they feel marginalised. Others may be isolated through the loss or absence of a significant relationship. Where people are not part of social networks, they may experience loneliness and be more vulnerable.
In 2006, most adults aged 18 years and over (96%) reported having contact with family or friends outside their household in the previous week, either in person or via telephone, mail or email. There was little variation in this proportion between men and women.
Most adults (93%) also felt they could ask people outside their household for small favours, such as looking after pets, collecting mail, watering gardens, minding a child for a brief period, or borrowing equipment. Again there was little difference between men and women.
Similarly, 93% of adults reported they would be able to access support from outside the household in times of crisis. The greatest source of potential support were family members (80% of adults thought their family would help), followed by friends (67%). Patterns for having contact with family and friends, and being able to ask for small favours and outside support, were very similar in 2002.
More people are living alone, and between 1989 and 2009, the proportion of people (aged 15 years and over) living alone in private dwellings, increased from 9% to 12% (ABS 2009b). Moreover, the number of people living alone is projected to increase significantly into the future. In 2006, there were 1.9 million people living alone in Australia; by 2031 it is projected that between 3.0 million and 3.6 million people will be living alone (ABS 2010a).
The average waking time that people (aged 15 years and over) spent alone per week increased from just under 18.5 hours to just over 21 hours between 1992 and 1997 but decreased slightly to 19.1 hours in 2006.Increases between 1992 and 2006 occurred across most age groups, but were typically greater among men than women, and greatest among people who lived alone.
Paid employment is an important means of meeting people and developing relationships with a more diverse range of people. As noted in the Work section, there have been changes for both men and women in the proportion of people working (decreasing for men and increasing for women), resulting in women having more work-related social contacts than in the past.
In 2006, people without a job (either unemployed or not in the labour force) were more likely to feel they were not able to ask small favours of people outside the household (11% compared with 5% for employed people). However, there was little difference between the proportion of people with a job and the proportion of people without a job who had contact with friends or family outside the household in the previous week (97% for employed people compared with 95% for those without a job).
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