2900.0 - Census of Population and Housing: Understanding the Census and Census Data, Australia , 2016  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 02/05/2018  First Issue
   Page tools: Print Print Page Print all pages in this productPrint All RSS Feed RSS Bookmark and Share Search this Product

Understanding Family Composition

The questions based on families on the Census form capture information which can be used to provide insight into the composition and structure of a household, and the relationships between people within a dwelling. It must be noted though that while ALL families belong to households, NOT all households are families.

In the ABS, a household is broadly defined as:

"one or more persons, at least one of whom is at least 15 years of age, usually resident in the same private dwelling"

By definition this means that there may potentially be more than one household within the same private dwelling. However in the context of Census data collection there is never more than one household per dwelling, and the terms ‘dwelling’ and ‘household’ are often used interchangeably. By ABS definition at least one usual resident present must be aged 15 years or older for a household to be formed and coded. Households with only persons aged less than 15 years are coded to ‘Other non-classifiable’.

In the ABS, a family is deemed to exist when 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, are usually resident in the same household. Godparent and godchild relationships are not treated as related for Census classification. For a family to be coded in the Census, two or more related people must usually live in an occupied private dwelling, and at least one of these people must be counted at home on Census night. Further information about Family data can be found in the 2016 Census Dictionary.

Classifying Families

When classifying a family type, the Family Composition (FMCF) variable is used. This variable has been used in the 2006, 2011 and the 2016 Census, replacing the Family Type (FMTF) variable which was used in previous Censuses. For the Census, FMCF relates only to the basic composition of the family. FMCF is the principal family variable used in family tabulations. When cross-classified with other variables, such as Location of Spouse (SPLF), Tenure Type (TEND), Dwelling Structure (STRD), Family Number (FNOF) and Total Family Income (weekly) (FINF), demographic characteristics of the different family compositions can be established.

Classifying Households

When classifying a household, the Household Composition (HHCD) is used. This variable has been used in the 2006, 2011 and the 2016 Census, replacing the Household Type (HHTD) variable which was used in previous Censuses. The major categories when classifying households include: One family household; Multiple family household; Non-family household and Non-classifiable (including households such as Visitor Only). A full list of the categories including subcategories can be found in the 2016 Census Dictionary.

A household consisting only of visitors is deemed to be a visitor only household. A visitor is anyone who does not usually live in the household in which they were enumerated on Census night. A family who were all visitors to that dwelling would become a visitor only household, and no family relationship information would be recorded for them. Prior to 1991 Visitor only households were not categorised as a separate subcategory under Household type. Many dwelling level variables are still applicable to visitor only households, including Household Income (HIND).

Other non-classifiable households are households where not enough relationship information exists in order to enable coding. They include households where all usual residents are under the age of 15, households which had people imputed into them, and households where no people answered the relationship question on the Census form.

Interrelationship of Households, Families and Persons

The household, family and person relationship classifications do not work in isolation from each other. They are heavily interdependent - understanding how they relate to each other will assist in understanding how to manipulate variables to extract the most relevant data as required.

Husband, Wife or Partner

These relationships will only exist in couple families, and no more than two people can have this type of relationship within any one family. It is possible to have more than two people with this relationship within a household because multiple families can exist within a single household, i.e. each couple will form a separate family. All couple families will have at least one person with this type of relationship. It is possible that only one person in a family has this relationship as the spouse or partner is temporarily absent. Absent people are taken into account when determining family composition. The reference person in couple families will be someone with this type of relationship.

Lone parent

Only one person can have this type of relationship within any one family, and such a relationship is only found in lone parent families. All lone parent families contain a person with the relationship of ‘Lone parent’ and this person was present on Census night. This person is always the reference person in such families.

Child under 15

All children under 15 must be attached to a ‘parent’. These are people with the relationship of Husband, Wife or Partner or Lone parent who are present on Census night. Children cannot be a reference person within a household.

      • A natural or adopted child under 15 will be the natural or adopted child of both parents or of a lone parent.
      • A step child may be the step child of either the female or male parent, including the step child of a lone parent. However, current coding procedures mean that step children only occur in primary families and are edited out of second and third families.
      • A child can only be classified as a grandchild if no closer parent-child relationships can be found in the family. Such grandparents would be coded as Husband, Wife or Partner or Lone parent within the family.
      • ‘Other related child’ may include relationships such as nephew, niece, cousin, etc. as determined via Relationship in Household (RLHP). However for other Family variables instead of these relationships being recorded as such, they become an attached child to their “statistical parent” as determined by coding rules, who may not necessarily be their biological parent. Their "statistical parent" must be someone who is present in the household on Census night, even if their actual biological parent is a Usual Resident who was temporarily absent.
      • An ‘Unrelated child under 15’ is a child whose relationship is not one specified in the classification but who usually resides in that family.

Dependent student

Dependent students are persons aged from 15-24 years, who are in full time study and are living with either a natural, adopted, step or foster parent. Other relationship types for persons aged 15-24 (grandchild, nephew, etc.) are coded as Other Related Individual, and such persons are never coded as dependent students. (This is different to Child under 15, which does allow for a ‘parent-child’ relationship to exist with other types of relationships.)

Non-dependent child

A non-dependent child is a person who usually lives with their natural, adopted, step or foster parent, is aged 15 years or more, and does not fit the description of dependent student. A non-dependent child not only includes young people, (e.g. a 20 year old apprentice living at home), but could also include much older people living at home and caring for their elderly parents. For example, a 63 year old woman looking after her 86 year old mother would be coded as a One-parent family, with the 86 year old coded as a ‘Lone parent’ and the daughter as a ‘Non-dependent child’.

Other related individual

For a person to be coded as “Other Related Individual” they must be aged 15 years or more. A person will be classified as Other Related Individual if they do not form a core couple or parent-child relationship with someone else within the family. They may be attached to a couple family or lone parent family. For example, a couple with their adult niece would be coded as a couple family with no children, and the niece would be attached to the family as Other Related Individual ‘Nephew/niece’.

If no couple or parent-child relationships exist within the family but other relationships are present (and everyone is aged over 15 years) then all members of the family are coded as Other Related Individual and the family is coded as an ‘Other family’. For example, if a woman lived alone with her adult niece, she would be coded as an ‘Aunt’, her daughter as a ‘Nephew/niece’, and they would be an ‘Other family’.

Unrelated individual living in family households

A person is coded as an ‘Unrelated individual living in a family household’ if they are not related to any other members of the household, but other household members are related to one another. Family type and other family variables are ‘Not applicable’ for such people, but their household composition will be ‘Family households’.

Group household member

A group household exists where two or more unrelated people live in house together and no family relationships exist between any members. A group of friends living in a share house would fall into this classification. All usual residents in such households are coded as ‘Group household member’.

Lone person

A person is coded as a ‘Lone person’ when they are aged 15 years and over and are the sole usual resident of a household.


Relationships Matrix – Legitimate Relationships for the 2016 Census
Household (Dwelling)
Household Composition (HHCD)
Family Households
Lone Person Household
Group Household
Family
Family Composition (FMCF)
Couple Family with no children
Couple family with children
One Parent Family
Other Family
Not Applicable
Person
Code
Relationship in Household (RLHP)
11
Husband, Wife in a Registered Marriage a
Y
Y
N
N
N
N
15
Partner in de facto marriage, opposite-sex couple a
Y
Y
N
N
N
N
17
Partner in de facto marriage, male same-sex couple a
Y
Y
N
N
N
N
18
Partner in de facto marriage, female same-sex couple a
Y
Y
N
N
N
N
21
Lone parent b
N
N
Y
N
N
N
31
Natural or adopted child under 15
N
Y
Y
N
N
N
32
Step child under 15
N
Y
Y
N
N
N
33
Foster child under 15
N
Y
Y
N
N
N
34
Grandchild under 15
N
Y
Y
N
N
N
35
Otherwise related child under 15
N
Y
Y
N
N
N
36
Unrelated child under 15
N
Y
Y
N
N
N
41
Natural or adopted dependent student
N
Y
Y
N
N
N
42
Student step child
N
Y
Y
N
N
N
43
Student foster child
N
Y
Y
N
N
N
51
Non-dependent natural, or adopted child
N
Y
Y
N
N
N
52
Non-dependent step child
N
Y
Y
N
N
N
53
Non-dependent foster child
N
Y
Y
N
N
N
61
Brother/Sister
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
N
62
Father/mother
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
N
63
Non-dependent grandchild
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
N
64
Grandfather/grandmother
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
N
65
Cousin
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
N
66
Uncle/aunt
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
N
67
Nephew/niece
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
N
69
Other related individual (nec)
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
N
71
Unrelated individual living in family household
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
N
72
Group household member
N
N
N
N
N
Y
73
Lone person c
N
N
N
N
Y
N
91
Visitor (from within Australia)
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
99
Other non-classifiable relationship
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
N
a Only up to two people with these relationships can exist in any one family
b Only one Lone parent can exist in any one family
c Only one Lone person can exist in any one household
The list of legitimate relationship for second and third families is the same under family coding rules, though more restrictive in terms of child relationships.


Form Design and Coding

It is difficult to develop a method that best captures true family relationships but also is simple for everyone to understand. The coding of families is a consequence of the ability to capture complex relationships from a few simple questions on the Census form.

image : question five on the census form: what is the person's relationship to person 1/ person 2

Family and household relationship information is primarily taken from Question 5, as seen above. However age and sex is also used when coding families and relationships, and occasionally information from other questions is used as well.

Coding of families can be affected by the following:
    • The order in which respondents in the household fill themselves out on the form.
    • How respondents themselves interpret their relationship to persons 1 and/or 2.
    • The coder’s judgement and interpretation.

Example

There are three people on the form, and they have filled out the form in the following way:

Person One: (sex: male, age: 28)
Person Two: Unrelated flatmate or co-tenant of Person 1 (sex: male, age: 29)
Person Three: Unrelated flatmate or co-tenant of Person 1 (sex: female, age: 27)

If the household had filled out their form starting from a different person, however, it could look like this:

Person One: (sex: male, age: 29)
Person Two: De facto partner of Person 1 (sex: female, age: 27)
Person Three: Unrelated flatmate or co-tenant of Person 1 (sex: male, age: 28)

If the former Person Two was Person One instead (and therefore became the Household Reference Person), this household would change classification from being a Group Household, with no family, to being a One Family Household, as two of the members are now noted as being in a de facto partner relationship.

Household Arrangements

Many users interested in family and household data are specifically interested in family care arrangements. However it is important to note that conclusions drawn from Census data are based on assumptions and that care arrangements are not captured in the Census. Family structure is not indicative of family care.

Some Examples:

Reality: A son and his girlfriend are living with the son’s mother while they are saving for a house. The mother owns the house, and the son and girlfriend pay the mother board.
Coding: The son and his girlfriend are coded as a couple family without children. The mother is coded as an otherwise related person to the primary family.
Possible Misinterpretation: Users of the data may incorrectly assume that the house belongs to the young couple, and that they are taking care of the mother.

Reality: A 17 year old girl is living with her grandmother while she is finishing school. She has lived with her grandmother for some time, and is dependent on her as her own parent cannot take care of her.
Coding: As the grandchild is over 15, the family becomes an ‘Other family’ with the relationships of ‘Grandfather/grandmother’ and ‘Non-dependent grandchild’.
Possible Misinterpretation: It may be wrongly interpreted that the grandchild is living with the grandmother to provide care for her or simply that they both choose to live together.

The important issue to note from these examples is that some assumptions of family situations cannot be drawn from Census family and household data, and users should be aware of this when making such interpretations.

Some 2016 Facts and Figures

Usual Address Indicator on Census Night
(proportion of persons in occupied private dwellings)
At home
96.7%
Elsewhere in Australia
3.3%
Family Composition
(proportion of families)
Couple family without children
37.8%
Couple family with children
44.7%
One parent family
15.8%
Other family
1.7%
Household Composition
(proportion of households/dwellings)
One family household
64.9%
Two family household
1.7%
Three or more family household
0.1%
Lone person household
22.8%
Group household
4.0%
Visitors only
1.7%
Other not classifiable
4.8%
Count of Persons Temporarily Absent from Household
(proportion of family households)
No person temporarily absent from family household
91.8%
One or more persons temporarily absent from family household
8.2%