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Living Arrangements: Children in families
How many children?
Over the past two decades, the number of children in Australia has remained fairly constant at around 3.8 million. However, the proportion of children in the population has decreased from around 30% in the late 1950s to 22% in 19931. The decline in the relative size of the child population is due mainly to the fall in fertility, from 2.5 children per woman in 1973 to 1.9 in 19932. By 2041, the proportion of children in the population is projected to decline even further, to between 17% and 19%3.
CHILDREN IN FAMILIES
Families vary considerably in size and structure, ranging from one parent with one child to large extended families. However, despite this wide variety of family types, most children (81% in 1992) live with both of their natural parents. Many children live in more than one family type during their childhood. For example, if a child's parents divorce and the custodial parent remarries, the child may experience three distinct family types: a couple family with both natural parents, a one parent family and a step family.
In 1992 there were 2.1 million families with children aged under 15. The majority (83%) were couple families. Family size varied according to family type. The average number of children in a couple family with children was 1.9 while the average number of children in a one parent family was 1.6.
In 1992, 86% of all children lived in couple families; 81% with registered married couples and 5% with de facto couples. In 1982, 86% of children lived with registered married couples and 3% with de facto couples. Children living in de facto couple families were likely to be younger than those living in registered married couple families. In 1992, 45% of children in de facto couple families were aged under 5 compared to 33% of children in registered married couple families.
Step families are couple families with only one natural parent of the children present. In 1992, 2% of all children lived in step families. The majority (91%) lived with their natural mother and a step father. Blended families are couple families with both natural and step children. Blended families occur when partners with children from a previous relationship form a new relationship and have children together. In 1992, 5% of children lived in blended families.
One parent families
In 1992, 14% of children lived in one parent families, an increase from 11% in 1982. Most of these children (89%) lived with their mothers. The proportion of children in one parent families living with their fathers increased from 9% in 1982 to 11% in 1992 (see Australian Social Trends 1994, Lone fathers with dependent children).
As children grow older, the chance of them living with both their natural parents decreases. In 1992, 87% of children aged 0-4 lived with both their natural parents compared to 76% of those aged 10-14.
Children living in extended families live with their parent(s), and also with other relatives such as grandparents, uncles, aunts etc. In 1992, 3% of children lived in extended families, down from 4% in 1982. Children living in extended families were older than those living in nuclear families. In 1992, 37% of children living in extended families were aged 10-14 compared to 33% of those not living in extended families.
In 1992-93, there were 783 adoptions in Australia. Most adoptees were children aged under 15 and two-thirds of these were under 5 years old. Most of these adoptions were by non-relatives and almost half (43%) of all children adopted by non-relatives had been born overseas. Among children aged 5-14 who were adopted in 1992-93, 71% were adopted by relatives. Most of these were adoptions by step-parents, a reflection of the changing structure of families in Australian society4.
CHILDREN IN FAMILIES, 1992
Source: Survey of Families in Australia
A major change affecting children is the increasing number of employed mothers. The proportion of couple families with children where both parents were employed increased from 35% in 1979 to 42% in 1994. In 1994, the father was employed full-time and the mother was employed part-time in 58% of these families. In a further 38%, both parents were employed full-time. Employed mothers were more likely to work part-time if they had young children, especially if they were under 5 years old.
The proportion of couple families with one parent employed and one not employed (which includes both unemployed and not in the labour force) declined from 48% in 1979 to 32% in 1994. However, the proportion where the mother was employed and the father was not employed increased from 0.8% in 1979 to 2.5% in 1994. This type of working arrangement is partly a result of increasing unemployment, as well as changing community attitudes towards the roles of mothers and fathers, and increased employment opportunities for women.
In 58% of one parent families with children, the parent was not employed. 60% of lone mothers were not employed and 40% of lone fathers were not employed. Lone parents with older children were more likely to be employed than those with younger children. Over half of all lone parents whose youngest child was aged 10-14 years were employed, most on a full-time basis.
In 1979, 11% of all families with children had no employed parent(s). By 1994, this had risen to 18%. Part of this increase can be attributed to increased unemployment and increased access to government pensions and benefits for lone parents (see Australian Social Trends 1994, Social security transfer payments).
LABOUR FORCE STATUS(a) OF PARENTS WITH CHILDREN AGED UNDER 15 YEARS
Source: Labour Force Survey
Over the past decade there has been an increase in the proportion of children in formal and/or informal child care. This is related to the increase in the proportion of families with children in which both parents are employed. In 1984, 38% of children aged under 12 years received formal and/or informal care. By 1993, this had increased to 49%. Most child care is informal, i.e provided by other family members, friends or neighbours, or paid baby sitters (see Australian Social Trends 1994, Child care).
The 1992 Time Use Survey5 found that parents who minded their own children as a main activity spent, on average, less than 2 hours per day on it. However, often child care takes place with other activities. For example, a person may be minding their child while cooking a meal and report cooking as the main activity. Child care is then considered a secondary activity. Parents spent an average of almost 8 hours a day on child care (5 hours 9 minutes for men and 9 hours 41 minutes for women) when child minding as a main or secondary activity was considered.
A child's well-being, in terms of standard of living and quality of life, depends to a considerable extent on their family's economic resources. Children are dependent on their parents for food, clothing and shelter.
Equivalent income can be used to compare the financial resources of different family types. Equivalent income adjusts for the number of adults, their labour force status, and the number of dependent children in a family.
In 1990, 44% of children lived in families whose equivalent income was $350 a week or less. 68% of children in one parent families were in this category compared to 40% of children in couple families. A further 16% of children in couple families had an equivalent family income of more than $620 a week compared to 4% of children in one parent families.
CHILDREN IN FAMILIES, EQUIVALENT WEEKLY INCOME(a), 1990
Source: Survey of Income & Housing Costs and Amenities
In 1992-93, there were 23,199 substantiated cases of abuse of children aged under 15 years. Girls were more likely to have been abused than boys. This is because girls were more likely to have been sexually abused than boys. There were over 5,000 substantiated cases of sexual abuse, and three-quarters of these involved girls. For all other types of abuse, i.e physical, emotional and neglect, there was little difference between the numbers of cases involving girls and the numbers involving boys6.
Children who were sexually abused were most likely to have been abused by a friend or neighbour. However, for all types of abuse, most children were abused by a natural or adoptive parent6. Many cases of child abuse are either not reported or not substantiated, and therefore it is not possible to determine the full extent of child abuse in Australia7.
1 Estimated Resident Population by Sex and Age: States and Territories of Australia (cat. no. 3201.0).
2 Births, Australia (cat. no. 3301.0).
3 Projections of the Populations of Australia, States and Territories, 1993-2041 (cat. no. 3222.0).
4 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (1994) Adoptions Australia, 1992–93.
5 How Australians Use Their Time (cat. no. 4153.0).
6 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (1995) Child Abuse and Neglect, 1992–93.
7 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (1994) Child Abuse and Neglect, 1991–92.