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Living Arrangements: One-parent families
According to the Labour Force Survey, in the ten-year period from 1986-1996 the number of one-parent families in Australia increased by almost 50% from 311,800 to 467,200. Over this period, one-parent families as a proportion of all families with dependent children increased from 14% to 19%.
Between 1986 and 1996 there was little change in the relative proportions of lone-mother and lone-father families. Of all lone-parents in 1996, 87% were lone mothers and 13% were lone fathers.
The 1992 Family Survey found that 15% of all dependent children were living in one-parent families. Of these children, around one in five was aged four years or under. Just over half of all one-parent families (55%) contained only one dependent child.
Lone mothers are likely to have younger children than lone fathers (see Australian Social Trends 1994, Lone fathers with dependent children). This pattern appears to have become more firmly established. Between 1986 and 1996 the proportion of lone mothers whose youngest child was aged 0-4 increased from 31% to 35%, while the proportion of lone fathers whose youngest child was aged 15-24 increased even further, from 23% to 30%. Despite these trends, the proportion of lone mothers whose youngest child was aged 15-24 also increased, from 14% to 16%.
The proportion of lone parents aged 24 years and under remained low, accounting in 1996 for only 12% of lone mothers and 2% of lone fathers.
ONE-PARENT FAMILIES AS A PROPORTION OF ALL FAMILIES WITH DEPENDANTS(a)
(a) Prior to 1988 lone-parent families include a small number of other non-couple families with dependant children.
Source: Labour Force Survey (unpublished data).
MARITAL STATUS OF LONE PARENTS
(Source: Survey of Families in Australia (unpublished data).
Few data are available on the transition of people into one-parent families. However, factors other than widowhood and divorce from registered marriages are becoming more significant. These factors include the separation of couples in de facto relationships.
Around 64% of lone parents (289,400) in 1992 were either separated or divorced, the same proportion as in 1982.
In 1992, 32,500 lone parents, or 7%, were widowed, representing falls in both actual numbers (from 37,100) and proportion (from 13%) since 1982.
In contrast, there were large increases in the number of lone parents who were never married. In 1992, 123,000 lone parents (27% of lone parents) were never married, more than double the 1982 figure of 53,500 (19% of lone parents). These lone parents were more likely to be parents who were previously in de facto relationships than single parents who had never lived with the other parent of the child.
Between 1982 and 1992 the number of de facto couples with dependent children rose from 60,900 to 123,100. These couples, like those in registered marriages, are vulnerable to relationship breakdown. Therefore, the greater the number of de facto couples with children the greater the inflows of people from these relationships to the lone-parent population (see Australian Social Trends 1995, Trends in de facto partnering).
FAMILIES WITH DEPENDANTS
Source: Labour Force Survey (unpublished data).
Income and housing
Research consistently shows that one-parent families are over-represented among low income families and that they are at greater risk of poverty than couple families. Their vulnerability results from the difficulty of undertaking paid employment while bringing up children alone.
The 1994-95 Survey of Income and Housing Costs found that lone-parent families have much lower incomes and rely more heavily on government pensions and benefits than do couple families with dependent children. In 1994-95, the average weekly income for lone-parent families was $402, well below that of $969 for couple families with dependent children. Lone fathers, who tend to have older children and higher levels of participation in paid employment, were financially better off than lone mothers. In 1994-95, the average weekly income for lone-father families was $506 compared to $385 for lone-mother families.
Because one-parent families have fewer members on average than couple families with dependent children, their costs of living are lower. When incomes are adjusted for differences in family composition and size, the difference in income between the two family types is reduced. Nevertheless, even on the basis of equivalent income, 32% of one-parent families, compared to 16% of couple families with dependants, fall in the lowest income quintile.
Lone parents are more likely to experience housing stress than couples with dependent children. In 1994-95, 35% of lone-parent families were spending more than 30% of their income on housing, compared to 14% of couple families with dependent children. One-parent families are also more likely to live in rented accommodation. This is particularly so for lone-mother families, 59% of which live in rented accommodation.
SELECTED INDICATORS OF ECONOMIC WELL-BEING(a)
(b) Based on Henderson equivalent income (see Income - definitions and references).
Source: Survey of Income and Housing Costs (unpublished data), Labour Force Survey (unpublished data).
Work and child care
In 1996, 56% of lone parents were in the labour force. The rate of labour force participation for lone mothers (52%) was lower than that for partnered mothers (63%). The rate for lone fathers (77%), while much higher than that for lone mothers, was nevertheless lower than the rate for partnered fathers (94%).
As the age of their youngest child increased, both lone mothers and partnered mothers were more likely to be in the labour force, and differences in the rate of labour force participation between the two groups decreased. For mothers whose youngest child was aged 0-4, 36% of lone mothers compared to 49% of partnered mothers were in the labour force. For mothers whose youngest child was aged 15-24 there was little difference in the corresponding rates (71% and 72%, respectively).
Of lone parents who were in the labour force, 84% were employed, and nearly 41% of these were employed part time. The unemployment rate for lone mothers (17%) was much higher than that for lone fathers (9%).
Lone parents tend to rely on family and friends if they are not able to care for children themselves. The 1996 Child Care Survey found that 46% of employed lone parents with children aged 0-11 (47,700) used only informal care, compared to 35% of partnered mothers. Among lone mothers who were not in paid employment, 31% used only informal child-care arrangements.
The use of formal child care by lone mothers depended on the hours they worked. Lone mothers working part time were less likely to use formal child care than partnered mothers. However, differences decreased as the number of working hours increased. For those working 35 hours per week or more, there was little difference in formal child-care arrangements between the two groups (see Australian Social Trends 1994, Child care).
EMPLOYMENT STATUS OF PARENTS, 1996(a)
(a) For parents with dependent children aged 0-14.
Source: Labour Force Status and Other Characteristics of Families, Australia (cat. no. 6224.0).
MOTHERS'(a) HOURS OF WORK BY USE OF CHILD CARE, 1996
Source: Child Care Survey (unpublished data).
Sole Parent Pension
Lone parents with children up to the age of 16 are eligible for Sole Parent Pension. In June 1996, 89% of lone mothers and 47% of lone fathers with children of qualifying ages were receiving Sole Parent Pension. Since the payment became available in its current form in 1989, the proportion of lone mothers receiving Sole Parent Pension has fluctuated between 84% and 90% while the proportion of lone fathers receiving the payment has risen from 33% to 47%.
Of the 342,000 parents currently receiving Sole Parent Pension in June 1996, 30% had received the payment for less than one year, but over one half had received the pension for more than two years. Only 23% had received payments for five years or more. Compared to lone mothers, lone fathers were less likely to stay on the payment for a long time.
Lone parents may move on and off Sole Parent Pension a number of times, depending on income and living arrangements. For a large proportion of lone parents, the period of time they are in receipt of the payment for a continuous interval is quite short.
Of the 127,300 lone parents who went off Sole Parent Pension during 1995, almost one third (32%) had been on the payment for less than six months, and a similar proportion (35%) had been receiving payments for between six months and two years. Only 13% had received payments for five years or more.
LONE PARENTS ON SOLE PARENT PENSION(a)
Source: Department of Social Security (unpublished data), Labour Force Survey (unpublished data).
SOLE PARENT PENSIONERS