4442.0 - Family Characteristics, Australia, Jun 2003  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 22/09/2004   
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1 The statistics in this publication were compiled from data collected in the Family Characteristics Survey (FCS) conducted throughout Australia in June 2003, as a supplement to the monthly Labour Force Survey (LFS).

2 The publication Labour Force, Australia (cat. no. 6202.0) contains information about survey design, sample design, scope, coverage and population benchmarks relevant to the monthly LFS, which also apply to supplementary surveys. It also contains definitions of demographic and labour force characteristics, and information about telephone interviewing which are relevant to both the monthly LFS and supplementary surveys.

3 From April 2001, the LFS has been conducted using a redesigned questionnaire containing additional questions and some minor definition changes. These changes also affect the supplementary surveys. For further details, see Information Paper: Implementing the Redesigned Labour Force Survey Questionnaire (cat. no. 6295.0) and Information Paper: Questionnaires Used in the Labour Force Survey (cat. no. 6232.0).


4 The scope of the survey included all usual residents in private dwellings, except:

  • households where at least one person was a member in the Australian permanent defence forces
  • diplomatic personnel of overseas governments, and their dependants, customarily excluded from censuses and surveys
  • overseas residents in Australia
  • members of non-Australian defence forces stationed in Australia, and their dependants.

5 This supplementary survey was conducted in both urban and rural areas in all states and territories, but excluded approximately 120,000 persons living in very remote parts of Australia who would otherwise have been within the scope of the survey. The exclusion of these persons will only have a minor impact on any aggregate estimates that are produced for states and territories, with the exception of the Northern Territory where persons living in very remote areas account for approximately 20% of the total number of persons in the population.


6 The estimates in this publication relate to persons covered by the survey in June 2003. In the LFS, coverage rules are applied which aim to ensure that each person is associated with only one dwelling, and hence had only one chance of selection in the survey. See Labour Force, Australia (cat. no. 6202.0) for more details.


7 Information was collected through interviews conducted over a two-week period during June 2003.

8 For each family in a selected household, (any) one of the responsible adult (ARA) members was asked to respond on behalf of all the family members. Where possible interviewers arranged to speak with ARA household members who were either the parents of children in the household, or the partner of a parent with children in the household for the child-related questions. About 80% of the interviews were conducted by telephone with the remainder being face-to-face interviews.

9 The survey collected detailed information for up to three children aged 0-17 years in a family. In families with four or more children aged 0-17 years, only limited information (age, sex, and relationship to parents) was collected about the fourth and subsequent children, up to a maximum of nine children. The remaining details for these children were imputed from information already collected for the first three children.

10 Information collected in the survey has been used to estimate the number of parent-child relationships beyond the home (usual residence of child) from the child's perspective. The survey collected information from parents about each of their resident children aged 0-17 years who were living apart from their other natural parent.

11 In addition, the 2003 survey also identified whether respondents (persons aged 15 years and over) had natural children aged 0-17 years living elsewhere with the child's other natural parent. Basic labour force and demographic data are available for these non-resident parents, and where they are parents or guardians of children in their current households, information can be obtained on the characteristics of their current family.


12 Family Surveys were conducted by the ABS in 1982 and 1992, and a previous Family Characteristics Survey (FCS) was conducted in 1997. The Family Surveys, and to a lesser extent the 1997 FCS, differed from the 2003 FCS in some areas. Nevertheless, these differences do not preclude useful comparisons between them for certain data items. Some data from the 1992 and 1997 surveys have been used in the commentary and selected tables to show changes between these periods.

13 Several changes were made to the survey's content between 1997 and 2003:

  • Information was collected in 2003, for children who did not live with either natural parent (e.g. grandchildren, otherwise related and unrelated children), about whether they had a natural parent living elsewhere. Previously this information was only collected for children living with one natural parent (e.g. step children in couple families and natural children of lone parents).
  • The definition of step children was expanded in 2003, to include children who were the natural child of one parent, and otherwise related or unrelated to the other parent, instead of only including children who were reported as step children, as done in 1997.
  • Child support data collected in 2003 have not been included in this publication. (For more detail, see paragraphs 19-23).


14 Data items such as 'family type' in household surveys are based on initial information gathered about the members of the household and their relationships to each other. Family coding is the process of allocating household members to families, where appropriate, based on their spousal, parent-child, and other familial relationships to other members of the household. All children aged 0-14 years are assigned a parent or nominal parent, for example a grandchild living with only his/her grandparents will have the grandparents allocated as nominal parents.

15 The Family Characteristics Survey is designed to capture more accurate information about the composition of families than that collected in other ABS surveys. In 2003, a number of populations and data items have been modified to more accurately classify persons and families where there was a parent/guardian and child/ward relationship. Previously, children aged 15-17 years whose relationship fell outside the standard parent-child classifications (e.g. grandchildren living with grandparents, children living with other related or unrelated adults in a guardian-ward relationship) were classified as 'other related individuals' or 'unrelated individuals'.

16 For example, in the 1997 FCS a 15-17 year old child living with his or her grandparents would have resulted in the grandparents being coded to 'couple family without children' and the child would be an 'other related individual'. In 2003, the family classification now allows for inclusion of people with this relationship in the same family. For the example outlined above, the family would be classified as a 'couple family with children'.

17 Other ABS surveys which do not collect information on guardian relationships use standard family coding practices as per the 1997 FCS. For further information on how family coding practices were applied for guardian relationships in the 2003 FCS, please contact the Family Characteristics Survey Team on (02) 6252 6682.


18 Estimates in this publication are subject to sampling and non-sampling error.

  • Sampling error is the difference between the published estimate and the value that would have resulted if all households had been included in the survey. For further information on sampling error, refer to the Technical Note.
  • Non-sampling errors are inaccuracies that occur in any enumeration, whether it be a full count or a sample. Every effort is made to reduce non-sampling error to a minimum by careful design of questionnaires, intensive training and supervision of interviewers, and efficient processing procedures.


19 The 2003 Family Characteristics Survey (FCS) collected a number of items, relating to child support arrangements and payments, for families with children aged 0-17 years who had a natural parent living elsewhere. The information collected included:
  • whether a formal child support arrangement existed: if so how many children were covered by formal arrangements; the total amount to be paid; and whether the payment was made through the Child Support Agency (CSA) or through other arrangements.
  • whether an informal child support agreement existed: if so how many children were covered by informal arrangements; and the total amount to be paid.
  • whether child support payments had been received in the last 12 months (regardless of the type of arrangement in place); if so, for how many children child support payments were received; the amount usually received each month; any other forms of child support or maintenance received; and whether mediation/counselling or lawyers/solicitors were involved in arranging child support arrangements.

20 Results from the 2003 FCS in relation to child support arrangements are not presented in this publication due to concerns about the quality of the above data, in particular:
  • The estimate from the 2003 FCS on the number of families with a formal child support arrangement in place (376,900) was well below the number of clients that had actually been formally assessed by the CSA as being eligible to receive child support (626,739 assessed payment recipients as at June 2003, refer to CSA paper Child Support Facts and Figures 2002-03, Table 4.2); and
  • The estimate from the 2003 FCS on the number of families receiving a child support payment (373,200) was well below the number that should be receiving such payments. The CSA data show that 520,534 payee parents, as at June 2003 (Unpublished CSA data provided to the ABS in September 2004), who were entitled to child support, received some or all of that child support. It was expected that the estimates produced from the FCS 2003 should be closer to the numbers reported by the CSA, given that the survey estimates also notionally included those families receiving child support payments on an informal basis, i.e. through arrangements not registered with the CSA.

21 ABS investigations into the issues noted above suggest a number of possible explanations:
  • the question used in the FCS to determine if respondents had a formal agreement in place regarding child support (i.e. based on the receipt of a letter from the CSA in the previous 12 months) might not have been clearly understood by respondents. Despite no issues being identified during testing for the survey, some respondents in the survey may have incorrectly answered 'no' to the question.
  • respondents to the survey may not have remembered receiving a letter about their child support entitlements from the CSA (especially if the letter had been received many months prior to the survey interview) and, as a result, answered 'no' to the question.
  • respondents may also have said 'no' to the question if, after the amount of child support payment had been determined by the CSA, they had then made arrangements for the actual payment of child support to be made independently of the CSA.
  • for some of the interviews, the responsible adult answering the survey (refer to paragraph 8) may not have actually known whether their partner had been assessed as being eligible to receive, or had in fact received, child support payments.
  • some people may have been reluctant to report that they received child support or maintenance.
  • respondents who received very low amounts of child support, thinking that the small amount received was not worth reporting, may have reported that they had not received child support payments.

22 While each of the reasons noted above may have contributed to the differences between FCS and CSA counts in some part, their relative contribution to the differences are not known and no one reason on its own appears to be sufficient to account for the difference.

23 For further information regarding the availability and use of child support data collected in the FCS 2003, please contact the Family Characteristics Survey Team on (02) 6252 6682.


24 ABS surveys draw extensively on information provided by individuals, businesses, governments and other organisations. Their continued cooperation is very much appreciated: without it, the wide range of statistics published by the ABS would not be available. Information received by the ABS is treated in strict confidence as required by the Census and Statistics Act 1905.


25 The ABS plans to conduct a survey on Family Transitions and History (including Family Characteristics) from July 2006 to June 2007. The information from this survey will provide data on family formation and dissolution, such as registered marriages and divorces, and information of family type and structure.


26 Other ABS products which may be of interest include:

  • Australian Social Trends, 2004, cat. no. 4102.0
  • Australia's Families - Selected Findings from the Survey of Families in Australia, March to May 1992, cat. no. 4418.0
  • Census of Population and Housing, 2001, Selected Social and Housing Characteristics, cat. no. 2015.0
  • Child Care, Australia, June 2002, cat. no. 4402.0
  • Family Characteristics, Australia, April 1997, cat. no. 4442.0
  • Household and Family Projections, Australia, 2001 to 2026, cat. no. 3236.0
  • How Australians Use Their Time, 1997, cat. no. 4153.0
  • Income Distribution, Australia, 2000-01, cat. no. 6523.0
  • Labour Force, Australia, cat. no. 6202.0, issued monthly
  • Labour Force, Australia, Detailed - Electronic Delivery, Annual, June 2004, cat. no. 6291.0.55.001, (Family Data cubes FA1-FA5)
  • Marriages and Divorces, Australia, 2002, cat. no. 3310.0
  • Standards for Statistics on the Family, cat. no. 1286.0
  • Working Arrangements, Australia, November 2003, cat. no. 6342.0

27 Current publications and other products released by the ABS are listed in the Catalogue of Publications and Products (cat. no. 1101.0). The Catalogue is available from any ABS office or the ABS web site <www.abs.gov.au>. The ABS also issues a daily Release Advice on the web site which details products to be released in the week ahead.