1286.0 - Family, Household and Income Unit Variables, 2005  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 01/06/2005   
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12. The concept of the family is central to ABS Family standards. In devising its definition of the family, the ABS has recognised that notions of what constitutes a family vary considerably. Some people consider their family to be the relatives with whom they live while others extend the definition of family to include relatives who live in other dwellings. For some, the notion of family includes people who are unrelated.

13. In the statistical context, it is necessary to have a clear and comprehensive definition of a family which takes into consideration the range of analytical uses to which statistics about the family will ultimately be put, as well as the practicalities of collecting the data. Inherently this involves narrowing the definition of the family unit and restricting who is considered a family member.

14. There are two main contexts in which the term 'family' is likely to be used as a data concept. The first is in the provision of data about the extent to which people may provide support and assistance to their relatives. In this context, the definition of family needs to be restricted only by a specification of the types of relationships which apply. In the second context, which this suite of standards mainly concerns, the label 'family' is given to the key statistical unit used in the analysis of data about the characteristics and circumstances of families. For this purpose it is necessary to further constrain a family to people who live together in a single household. Without this constraint it would not be possible in any practical way to place a boundary around the statistical unit 'family'. Consequently the notion of family that the ABS refers to in most of its statistical work may in some settings be referred to by its long name 'household family', as a way of distinguishing it from extended family networks which are not bounded by a single dwelling.

15. The definition of Family appearing in the National Community Services Data Dictionary (Vers 3, AIHW, 2004) reflects the use of the term 'family' in this extended context:

  • 'Two or more people related by blood, marriage (including step-relations), adoption or fostering and who may or may not live together. They may form the central core of support networks for individuals.'

16. The contextual material provided in support of this definition explains the uses of this concept in comparison with the more restricted 'household family':
  • 'The 'household family' has been traditionally viewed as a building block of society and it is the predominant unit reported statistically and historically. However, the 'household family', since it is tied to the idea of co-residence, forms only a snapshot in time and refers only to related people who live in the same household at a point in time. Related persons who leave the central household (to) live in other households may still participate in the lives of other family members they do not live with in a variety of ways, including financial, material, physical, emotional, legal and spiritual. For instance, frail older people may receive help from their adult children even though they do not live in the same household.

    Data on families are essential elements for the study of the well being of family groups and in this way for the study of the well being of individuals. They are a tool for assessing the type of and level of support to which a person has access.

    By defining the extended family as the central support network for (the) individual, support which would not have been defined as accessible to the individual using the 'Household family' definition becomes apparent. It is important to recognise the 'family beyond the household' when examining types and levels of support available to individuals.'

17. Often the concepts of family and household refer to the same set of people when applied to a particular dwelling. This is because the family is a subset of the household by definition and, in Australian society, a household frequently comprises a single family. The family and the household are however two distinct concepts, and do not comprise identical populations. Persons who live alone, live in group households, or share a household with a family to which they are unrelated are according to the ABS' statistical definitions members of households, but not members of families. Furthermore, a household may be comprised of two (or more) families.

18. The ABS defines household as:
  • 'One or more persons, at least one of whom is at least 15 years of age, usually resident in the same private dwelling'.

19. This definition is similar to the System of National Accounts (SNA) definition which is:
  • 'A small group of persons who share the same living accommodation, who pool some, or all, of their income and wealth and who consume certain types of goods and services collectively, mainly housing and food.'

20. The ABS definition varies from that of the SNA only in specifically allowing lone person households, and in removing any reference to collective consumption.

21. For statistical purposes family is defined 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. The basis of a family is formed by identifying the presence of a couple relationship, lone parent-child relationship or other blood relationship. Some households will, therefore, contain more than one family.'

22. Although the majority of households in Australia are one family households, as the basis of a family is formed by identifying the presence of a couple relationship, lone parent-child relationship or other relationship some households will contain more than one family. This definition of family has therefore been written to encompass households which contain more than one family. For a full discussion of the way in which this definition is used to form families see the 'Relationship in household' and 'Family composition' standards.

23. This definition of family also forms the basis for defining Income units. Income units are formed either by families or by individuals not in couple or parent/dependent child relationships within a household. Income units differ from families in that related, non-dependent individuals will form separate income units rather than being attached to the family nucleus. For more information see the 'Income unit composition' standard.

24. Because ABS surveys only collect data from dwellings where at least one person aged 15 years or older can be identified, the definition of a family applies an age limit of 15 years and over to at least one member of the family. The definition also restricts the concept of a family to those usually resident in the same household because in most ABS social surveys the household is the unit of sampling. A concept of family which extended beyond the household would allow some individuals to be included in more than one family. In addition to leading to double counting of particular individuals in statistical collections, failure to apply an explicit boundary to the concept would make it difficult for the ABS to measure the number and characteristics of families consistently.

25. Although, for statistical and classificatory reasons, the definition of a family is constrained to a household, the ABS does produce statistics about wider family networks, both in the General Social Survey, and in special purpose statistical collections such as the Family Characteristics Survey. Many aspects of family life are not confined to those who live as part of one household. A major emphasis of the Family Characteristics Survey is on the ways in which members of family networks, who live in different households, give and receive support, thus making it possible to examine areas of support which are applicable to both the household family and the extended family network.

26. The household family, as described in this document and related standards, is the standard for all ABS social surveys. Thus, for the purposes of ABS statistics, a person is not considered a member of a particular family if he or she usually lives in another household, or is an unrelated individual over 15 years of age living in the same household (eg friend, boarder, housekeeper). However, unrelated individuals under 15 years of age living in the same household are treated as family members.

27. Non-family members over 15 years of age living in a family household (such as boarders) are classified as part of a family household for the purposes of 'Household composition', but are not classified as part of the family for 'Family composition' coding. For further information see the 'Household composition' standard.

28. One area which has been the subject of some discussion is whether or not a same-sex couple relationship should be regarded as the basis for the formation of a family. The ABS makes no judgements about such relationships, but aims to provide an accurate statistical picture of the structures of society to be used as the basis for informed decision making.

29. This is consistent with the recommendations, in relation to the diversity of Australian families, of the National Council for the International Year of the Family in its final report Creating the Links: Families and Social Responsibility (1994):
  • that the caring responsibilities carried out by all Australians (regardless of their sexual preference) in respect of care for children, aged family members, a sick or disabled family member or partner, be viewed in policy terms as equivalent, and treated as such in all policies concerned with supporting caring responsibilities. (p22)

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