4160.0.55.001 - Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics, Jun 2015  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/06/2015  First Issue
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Family is often thought of as a group of people who are related through blood or marriage, and often live together. However, the definition of what a family is, and the way it is structured and functions, can vary greatly depending on the individual, community and culture. Family can range from the people living together in the same dwelling, to an extended network which crosses state and country boundaries. The structure can also vary. Family can be made up of intact, blended, one parent, and step families.

There are many core functions of a family, such as:

  • the exchange of love, affection and companionship
  • economic security
  • a sense of identity and belonging.

These themes are commonly held social values in many different communities and cultures. They can define 'family' rather than blood, marriage, or geographic location alone. A community, like a family, can contribute to a person's wellbeing e.g. support and care for individuals or by helping give a sense of identity and security. Like 'family', a definition of 'community' can vary greatly. A community can be based on:
  • location
  • where you live or work
  • those who you have immediate family ties with (by blood and/or marriage)
  • shared values
  • traditions
  • interests
  • lifestyles
  • religious groups
  • school communities.

The boundary of a community extends beyond a physical location. For example, the continued growth and innovation in ICT has allowed virtual communities to flourish as people connect freely with others around the world. Regardless of how a family or community is defined, their core purpose is to support and enhance the wellbeing of individuals and society as a whole. Within communities there are organisations and institutions supporting it, shaping and guiding. Such organisations can be part of formal or informal communities.

Information on current family and community conditions and historical trends can be monitored using information on:
  • relationship in household
  • family composition
  • household composition
  • relationship between families
  • social or registered marital status
  • families living across two households.


In a national consultation conducted by the ABS in 2011-12, Australians said that positive, close relationships have benefits for individuals and society overall (MAP 2013, ABS). Positive relationships were seen to be caring, strong, healthy and loving ones, that function well and protect all members.

An individual's family is often their most fundamental source of emotional, physical and financial care and support. The immediate family and the wider community are the context for individual achievement in other areas of social concern. They are the arenas in which children become socially responsible adults, and individuals gain a sense of belonging.

Both positive and negative examples of behaviour may be set within families, and some family environments can compromise a child's ability to become socially capable, or may contribute to depression, suicide or other health damaging behaviours. Conversely, some family environments boosts a child's sense of self, the ability to achieve, and help them become a valuable, productive member of society.

Individuals and families also receive support and care from the wider community. A community has the potential to have a significant impact on the wellbeing of these individuals and families. Where a family does not have the resources to provide the necessary care for an individual, community networks and organisations can step in to assist:
  • neighbours can bolster the sense of security and belonging built up around the family home
  • clubs and pubs provide venues for socialising and building friendships
  • hobby groups and community-run courses contribute to an individual's experience and broader education
  • cultural groups can provide a sense of identity
  • charity organisations provide goods and services for individuals on low incomes
  • social networks can be an important means by which individuals are able to undertake meaningful participation.


There are a range of events, pressures and drivers of change that have the potential to substantially affect wellbeing. In relation to family and community, these include:
  • diversity of families and the changing structure of households
  • relationship breakdown and family formation and dissolution
  • the combination of paid work and family responsibilities
  • the availability of secure and affordable housing for families
  • support or absence of support from extended family members
  • change in government policy
  • impacts of ICT use in the way people communicate and relate with other people and the effect on 'togetherness' of family and social networks
  • reduced face to face contact.


There are many ways that people, community groups, governments and other institutions can work to improve peoples connections to family and community in Australia. Improving an individual's capability to take command over their connections and related decisions that affect their lives is particularly important:
  • parenting and family support programs
  • supporting families with changing family structure and composition
  • community engagement and collaboration by government and other institutions and agencies
  • access to information technology and assistive technology to help foster and maintain community and family connections
  • access to affordable and quality childcare and early childhood education
  • supporting people to maintain social connections especially as social support networks weaken as people get older (OECD, 2013)
  • supporting the right balance of work and personal life for individuals and families.


To gain a better understanding of family and community in Australian society, look through the pages on:
  • Economic wellbeing
  • Health
  • Culture and leisure
  • Natural and built environment
  • Work


Need some more information on family and community? This section can point you in the right direction.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2014, Family, Household and Income Unit Variables (cat. no. 1286.0) - The Family, Household and Income Unit Variables provide a statistical picture of the structures of families in society. The standards aim to achieve this by providing standard definitions of concepts, methods of data collection, derivation procedures and output formats for use in all relevant ABS and external statistical collections. The standards are underpinned by a consistently defined concept of the family

Australian Institute of Family Studies (Qu, L., & Weston, R.), 2013, Australian households and families (Australian Family Trends No. 4) - This facts sheet outlines the extent and nature of various changes that have been occurring in households in Australia, with particular attention given to households consisting of families of different forms.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012-13, Family Characteristics and Transitions (cat. no. 4442) - Family Characteristics provides data about families, including couples living in de facto and registered marriages, step and blended families, one parent families and visiting arrangements of children with parents who live elsewhere. It provides information about the composition of households and families, and the characteristics of people within them.

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), Time Use Surveys - A portal to resources on time use surveys from UNECE and other agencies.

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), 2013, Guidelines for Harmonizing Time-Use Surveys - Aims to a) help statisticians and policymakers understand the importance of time-use surveys, (b) provide guidance in the design and implementation of time-use surveys, and (c) improve the international comparability of their results. The Guidelines include recommendations of preferred or best practice, based on the experience of member countries.

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), 2011, Measurement of emerging forms of families and households



Two or more persons, one of whom is at least 15 years of age, who are related by blood, marriage (registered or defacto), 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.

Family Composition

The differentiation of families based on the presence or absence of couple relationships, parent-child relationships, child dependency relationships or other blood relationships, in that order of preference.

Family Structure

The classification of families according to whether they are either intact families, step families, blended families, other couple families, or one parent families.


Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013), Measures of Australia’s Progress, 2013 (cat. no. 1370.0)

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 2013, How’s Life? 2013 Measuring Well-being