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Housing and Lifestyle: Smaller households, larger dwellings
THE SIZE OF HOUSEHOLDS
Although the number of households has increased, the average number of residents in a household has been declining. In 1971 it was 3.3 people. Since then there has been a fairly steady decline with the 1996 Census recording an average of 2.7 people per household. Most of this difference can be attributed to the growth in the number of small households (one or two residents) and the decline in the number of large households (six or more residents). Between 1971 and 1996 the number of dwellings containing one person increased by 172% (representing a proportional change in one-person households from 14% of households in 1971 to 22% in 1996). Over the same period the number of dwellings containing six or more people declined by 45% (representing a proportional change in this size of household from 11% of households in 1971 to 4% in 1996).
Although nearly half of one-person householders in 1996 were older people, they also comprised young people and middle aged people who had remained single or became single by divorce or separation. Since 1981, there has been a slight shift in age distribution away from older and younger ages (the over 60s and under 30s) towards young middle ages (30 to 44). The proportion of one-person householders aged 60 years or over decreased from 50% in 1981 to 45% in 1996. The proportion of those aged 45 to 59 years remained similar at 19% in 1981 and 20% in 1996. The proportion of one-person householders who were aged under 30 years was 14% in 1996, down from 16% in 1981. The proportion aged between 30 and 44 years was 21% in 1996, an increase from 15% in 1981.
The growth in the number of one-parent families was facilitated by the introduction of the Family Law Act 1975. However, this Act only provided the mechanism for easier divorce. The social acceptability and practicality of divorce is also a product of changing social mores and the increased opportunity for women to support themselves through work or, since 1973, from the supporting mother's benefit (which was extended to male single parents in 1977 and is now incorporated into parenting payments).
The reduction in the number of large households is mainly due to parents having fewer children. This is a product of both opportunity and personal choice. Women are having children at an older age than earlier generations, which reduces the maximum number of children they can possibly have. In 1964, 32% of married women who gave birth did so for their first child and 6% did so for their sixth or greater order child. In 1974, the figures were 39% for their first child and 2% for their sixth or greater order child. By 1996 these proportions were 41% for their first child and under 1.0% for their sixth or greater order child (see Australian Social Trends 1996, Trends in fertility).
SIZE OF OCCUPIED PRIVATE DWELLINGS
The Australian Census does not collect comprehensive information on the size of dwellings, but it does record the number of bedrooms in a dwelling. This provides a broad indicator of dwelling size but does not take into account the size of the bedrooms. This indicator also misses other rooms that have become common in newer dwellings, such as rumpus rooms, ensuite bathrooms, studies etc.
Australian Census data show that between 1971 and 1996 the average number of bedrooms per occupied private dwelling had increased from 2.7 to 3.0. This increase is due to the growth in the number of dwellings with more than three bedrooms and a decline in the number with zero or one bedroom. The number of dwellings with zero or one bedroom declined by 5% over the period (representing a proportional change from 10% of occupied private dwellings in 1971 to 5% in 1996). The number of dwellings with 4 and 5 bedrooms grew by 190% and 158% respectively (representing a proportional change from 11% and 2% respectively of occupied private dwellings in 1971 to 19% and 3% respectively in 1996).
The proportion of dwellings with 3 bedrooms, the most common arrangement, has remained relatively steady at around 50%.
The trend to larger houses is also demonstrated by data collated from new housing approval applications. In 1983 the average size of private sector dwellings was 167 square metres. By 1997 this had risen to 212 square metres (see Australian Social Trends 1998, Housing - National summary tables).
This pattern of growth is also reflected in the average size of public housing building approvals which increased from 104 square metres in 1983 to 154 square metres in 1997.