4442.0 - Family Characteristics and Transitions, Australia, 2006-07  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 06/06/2008  Reissue
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1 The statistics in this publication were compiled from data collected in the Multi-Purpose Household Survey (MPHS), which was conducted throughout Australia in the 2006-07 financial year as a supplement to the Monthly Population Survey (MPS). The MPHS is designed to provide statistics annually for labour, social and economic topics.

2 The topics collected in the 2006-07 MPHS, in addition to household and person socio-demographic characteristics, were:

  • Family Characteristics
  • Family Transitions and History
  • Barriers and Incentives to Labour Force Participation
  • Retirement and Retirement Intentions
  • Adult Learning
  • Household Use of Information Technology

3 Data from both family topics have been presented in this publication. The Family Characteristics topic has been collected before, in 1982, 1992, 1997 and 2003, and the content is largely repeated allowing comparisons over time. The Family Transitions and History topic is new to 2007. It collected information on couple relationship history, relationship expectations, children ever born, reasons for leaving home and fertility expectations. Selected demographic, labour force and income data are also available for both family topics. A full list of data items available for the Family Characteristics and Family Transitions and History topics is available on the ABS web site entry for this publication (see www.abs.gov.au, cat. no. 4442.0).

4 Data from the 2006-07 MPHS topics, other than the family topics, are available as an expanded Confidentialised Unit Record File (CURF) (cat. no. 4100.0.55.001). A separate expanded CURF is available for the family topics (cat. no. 4442.0.55.001).


5 The scope of the 2006-07 MPHS included all usual residents in private dwellings, except:
  • households where at least one person was a member in the Australian permanent defence forces
  • diplomatic personnel of overseas governments, and their dependants, excluded from censuses and surveys of Australian residents
  • members of non-Australian defence forces stationed in Australia, and their dependants
  • persons living in private dwellings in very remote parts of Australia
  • persons living in non-private dwellings such as hotels and university residences, students at boarding schools, patients in hospitals, residents of homes (e.g. retirement homes, homes for people with disabilities), and inmates of prisons.

6 The 2006-07 MPHS was conducted in both urban and rural areas in all states and territories, but excluded persons living in very remote parts of Australia who would otherwise have been within the scope of the survey. The exclusion of these persons is expected to have only a minor impact on any aggregate estimates that are produced for states and territories, except for the Northern Territory where such persons account for approximately 23% of the population.


7 ABS interviewers conducted personal interviews by either telephone or at selected dwellings, from July 2006 to June 2007, excluding the months of August and September 2006 when the 2006 Census of Population and Housing was conducted. Each month a sample of dwellings were selected for the MPHS from the responding households in the last rotation group for the MPS. In these dwellings, after the MPS had been fully completed for each person, a usual resident aged 15 years and over was selected at random and asked the additional MPHS questions in a personal interview. Information was collected using Computer Assisted Interviewing (CAI), whereby responses are recorded directly onto an electronic questionnaire in a notebook computer.

8 The Family Characteristics topic collected information from the randomly selected person about the household and about every person in the household, including all children in the household. The Family Transitions and History topic questions were only asked about the randomly selected persons aged 18 years and over, with some sub-topics having additional age restrictions. Therefore, the sample for Family Characteristics is much larger than for Family Transitions and History. There were 31,300 person records for the Family Characteristics topic, and 12,200 person records for the Family Transitions and History topic.

9 Where the randomly selected respondent was aged 15-17 years, and a parent/guardian or other responsible adult aged 18 years and over was resident in the household, permission was sought from the parent or other adult to interview the young person. Regardless of whether permission was granted, the Family Characteristics topic and details of household income (excluding the income of the selected respondent) was collected from the parent or other adult.

10 The Family Characteristics topic collected information about parent-child relationships beyond the usual residence of the child. The survey collected information about resident children aged 0-17 years in the household who had a natural parent living in another household. In addition, the Family Characteristics topic identified whether respondents were parents who had natural children aged 0-17 years living elsewhere with the child's other natural parent.



11 Weighting is the process of adjusting results from a sample survey to infer results for the total in-scope population. To do this, a 'weight' is allocated to each sample unit (i.e. a person, a family or a household). The weight is a value which indicates how many population units are represented by the sample unit.

12 The first step in calculating weights for each person or household is to assign an initial weight, which is equal to the inverse of the probability of being selected in the survey. For example, if the probability of a person being selected in the survey was 1 in 600, then the person would have an initial weight of 600 (that is, they represent 600 people).


13 The initial weights were calibrated to align with independent estimates of the population of interest, referred to as 'benchmarks'. Weights calibrated against population benchmarks ensure that the survey estimates conform to the independently estimated distribution of the population rather than to the distribution within the sample itself. Calibration to population benchmarks helps to compensate for over- or under-enumeration of particular groups of persons which may occur due to either the random nature of sampling or non-response.

14 The 2006-07 Family Characteristics data and Family Transitions and History data were benchmarked to the estimated resident population (ERP) living in private dwellings in each state and territory, excluding the ERP living in very remote areas of Australia, as at 31st March 2007. The ERP estimates were based on results from the 2001 Census of Population and Housing. Therefore the estimates from this survey do not (and are not intended to) match estimates for the total Australian resident population (which include persons and households living in non-private dwellings, such as hotels and boarding houses, and in very remote parts of Australia) from other ABS sources.

15 The survey estimates conform to person benchmarks by State, part-of-State, age and sex, and to household benchmarks by State, part-of-State and household composition (number of adults and children usually resident in the household). These benchmark variables are the same as those used in the 2003 and 1997 Family Characteristics surveys. The only change has been in the age groups for which some collapsing was required for each collection. The impact of this change on estimates not involving age is minimal.


16 Survey estimates (e.g. counts of persons, families or households) are obtained by summing the relevant weight (for persons, families or households) with the characteristic of interest.


17 All sample surveys are subject to error which can be broadly categorised as either sampling error or non-sampling error. Sampling error occurs because only a small proportion of the total population is used to produce estimates that represent the whole population. Sampling error can be reliably measured as it is calculated based on the scientific methods used to design surveys. Non-sampling errors occur when survey processes work less effectively than intended. For example, some persons selected for the survey may not respond (non-response); some survey questions may not be clearly understood by the respondent; and occasionally errors can be made in processing data from the survey.

Sampling error

18 Sampling error is the difference between the published estimates, derived from a sample of persons, and the value that would have been produced if all persons in scope of the survey had been included. For more information refer to the ' Technical Note'. Sampling error is measured for this survey by relative standard errors (RSEs). In this publication estimates with RSEs of 25% to 50% are preceded by an asterisk (e.g. *3.4) to indicate that the estimate should be used with caution. Estimates with RSEs over 50% are indicated by a double asterisk (e.g.**0.6) and should be considered unreliable for most purposes.

Non-sampling error

19 One of the main sources of non-sampling error is non-response by persons selected in the survey. Non-response can affect the reliability of results and can introduce bias. The magnitude of any bias depends upon the level of non-response and the extent of the difference between the characteristics of those people who responded to the survey and those who did not.

20 To reduce the level and impact of non-response, the following methods were adopted in this survey:
  • face-to-face interviews with some respondents who were not available for telephone interview
  • the use of interviewers who could speak languages other than English where necessary
  • follow-up of respondents if there was initially no response
  • ensuring the weighted file is representative of the population by aligning the estimates with population benchmarks.

21 Every effort was made to minimise other non-sampling error by careful design and testing of questionnaires, intensive training and supervision of interviewers, and extensive editing and quality control procedures at all stages of data processing.

22 An advantage of the CAI technology used in conducting interviews for this survey is that it potentially reduces non-sampling errors by enabling edits to be applied as the data are being collected. The interviewer is alerted immediately if information entered into the computer is either outside the permitted range for that question, or contradictory to information previously recorded during the interview. These edits allow the interviewer to query respondents and resolve issues during the interview. CAI sequencing of questions is also automated such that respondents are asked only relevant questions and only in the appropriate sequence, eliminating interviewer sequencing errors.


23 Family Surveys were conducted by the ABS in 1982 and 1992, and the Family Characteristics Survey (FCS) was previously conducted in 1997 and 2003. The Family Surveys, and to a lesser extent the 1997 FCS, differed from the 2003 FCS and 2006-07 Family Characteristics topic in some areas. Nevertheless, these differences do not preclude useful comparisons between them for certain data items. Some data from the 1997 and 2003 surveys have been included in this publication to show changes over time.

24 Changes listed below were made to the content of the FCS between 1997 and 2003, and between 2003 and 2006-07. These changes should be noted when making comparisons over time.
  • Information was collected in 1997 and 2003 for children who did not live with either natural parent (e.g. grandchildren, otherwise related and unrelated children), about whether they had a natural parent living elsewhere. In 2006-07, this information was not obtained for those children who were adopted, or for those for whom the relationship to either parent was unknown.
  • In 2003 and 2006-07 the definition of step families includes families where there were children who were the natural child of one parent, and otherwise related or unrelated to the other parent. In 1997, step families were defined only where children were reported as step children.
  • The 2003 FCS collected detailed information for up to three children aged 0-17 years in a family. In families with four or more children aged 0-17 years, only limited information (age, sex and relationship to parents) was collected for the fourth and subsequent children, up to a maximum of nine children. The remaining details for these children were imputed from information already collected for the first three children. In 2006-07, these details were collected for all children in the household (i.e. there was no upper limit on the number of children about which information was directly collected).
  • Child support data collected in 2003 was not collected in 2006-07.
  • There have been some changes between 2003 and 2006-07 in collection and processing methods for data relating to children aged 0-17 years who had a natural parent living elsewhere, in particular for data on contact arrangements with the other parent. In 2006-07, there were approximately 74,000 cases where contact arrangements with the parent living elsewhere were not known. Those data have been excluded from the detailed 'Frequency of contact' and 'Proportion of nights' data in the contact arrangements publication tables, although these children contribute to the total (footnotes are included in the relevant tables). There were no cases in 1997 and 2003 where contact arrangements with the parent living elsewhere were not known.
  • There has also been changes in the calculation of the number of overnight stays per year with their non-resident parent by children aged 0-17 years. In 2003 adjustments were made to the reported data where the child stayed 50% or more nights with the non-resident parent. This adjustment affected published proportions for 30-49% and 50% or more. No such adjustments have been made to reporting in 2006-07. This difference in approach has meant that there is a higher number of children in 2006-07 reported as staying 50% or more nights with the non-resident parent. These changes may not reflect a real world change, and constitute a break in series.
  • Additional information was collected in 2006-07 about whether persons aged 15 years and over have any natural children aged 0-17 years living elsewhere, but not with the other natural parent.

25 The Family Transitions and History topic is new in 2006-07, but covers some data collected in earlier surveys. There are five sub-topics:
  • Relationship History which included a person's registered marriages and de facto marriages, number of registered or de facto marriage relationships, cohabitation before current registered marriage, age at time of current registered marriage, and expectations of registered marriage for those currently in a de facto marriage.
  • Parental Transitions in Childhood which included whether or not a person had experienced, before the age of 18, their parents' divorce or separation, or the death of a parent.
  • Leaving Home which included reasons for leaving the parental home, reasons for not having left home, and number of times left the parental home or returned. This sub-topic was collected for persons aged 18-34 years.
  • Children Ever Born which included whether or not the respondent had natural children, number of natural children ever born, and age at birth of first child.
  • Fertility Expectations which included whether or not the respondent expects to have (more) natural children and reasons for not expecting to have (more) natural children. This sub-topic was collected for women aged 18-49 years and men aged 18-59 as long as their female partner was under 50 years of age.

26 Information on relationships in the Family Transitions and History topic is 'as reported' by respondents. For example, when people were asked about the number of relationships (registered or de facto) they have had, some people may have reported a registered marriage preceded by a period of cohabitation as one relationship (i.e. one registered marriage), while others may have reported the period of cohabitation as a de facto marriage followed by a registered marriage (i.e. two marriages). Therefore people who had been in a registered marriage preceded by a period of cohabitation may be included as either having had a registered marriage only for their relationship history, or as having had both registered and de facto marriages, depending on how they answered the survey questions.


27 Data items such as 'family composition' in household surveys are based on initial information gathered about the members of the household and their relationships to each other. Family coding is the process of allocating household members to families, where appropriate, based on their spousal, parent-child, and other familial relationships to other members of the household. All children aged 0-14 years are assigned a parent or nominal parent, for example a grandchild living with only his/her grandparents will have the grandparents allocated as nominal parents.

28 The families topics in the 2006-07 FCTS Survey are designed to capture more accurate information about the composition of families than that collected in other ABS surveys. In 2006-07, as was the case in 2003, a number of populations and data items have been modified to more accurately classify persons and families where there was a parent/guardian and child/ward relationship. Prior to the 2003 FCS, children aged 15-17 years whose relationship fell outside the standard parent-child classifications (e.g. grandchildren living with grandparents, children living with other related or unrelated adults in a guardian-ward relationship) were classified as 'other related individuals' or 'unrelated individuals'.

29 For example, in the 1997 FCS a 15-17 year old child living with his or her grandparents would have resulted in the grandparents being coded to 'couple family without children' and the child would be an 'other related individual'. For the 2003 and 2006-07 surveys, the family classification allows for inclusion of people with this relationship in the same family. For the example outlined above, the family would be classified as a 'couple family with children'.


30 The ABS plans to repeat the Family Characteristics topic three yearly as part of MPHS. It will next be collected in 2009-10. The Family Transitions and History topic will be collected 6 yearly and will next be collected in 2012-13.


31 ABS surveys draw extensively on information provided by individuals, businesses, governments and other organisations. Their continued cooperation is very much appreciated: without it, the wide range of statistics published by the ABS would not be available. Information received by the ABS is treated in strict confidence as required by the Census and Statistics Act 1905.


Publication datacubes

32 An electronic version of the tables released in this publication, in spreadsheet format, will be available on the ABS web site (see www.abs.gov.au, cat. no. 4442.0). The spreadsheets present the estimates, proportions and related RSEs for each publication table.

Data item list

33 A full list of data items available for the survey is available on the ABS web site entry for this publication (see www.abs.gov.au, cat. no. 4442.0).

State/territory tabulations

34 Selected tables from this publication, compiled at the state and territory level will be available as spreadsheets on the ABS web site. These tables will be customised depending on the size of the sampling error (see www.abs.gov.au, cat. no. 4442.0).


35 For users who wish to undertake more detailed analysis of the survey data, microdata is available in the form of a confidentialised unit record file (CURF) (cat. no. 4442.0.55.001). The CURF is only available via the Remote Access Data Laboratory (RADL), which is a secure Internet-based data query service. Technical information describing the content and use of the CURF is available in a Technical Manual (cat. no. 4442.0.55.002).

36 A full range of up-to-date information about the availability of ABS CURFs and about applying for access to CURFs is available via this web site <www.abs.gov.au> (see Services We Provide, Confidentialised Unit Record Files (CURFs)). Inquiries to the ABS Microdata Access Strategies Section should be made by e-mail: microdata.access@abs.gov.au, or telephone (02) 6252 7714.

Special data services

37 The ABS offers specialist consultancy services to assist clients with more complex statistical information needs. Clients may wish to have the unit record data analysed according to their own needs, or require tailored tables incorporating data items and populations as requested by them. Tables and other analytical outputs can be made available electronically or in printed form. However, as the level of detail or disaggregation increases with detailed requests, the number of contributors to data cells decreases. This may result in some requested information not being able to be released due to confidentiality or sampling variability constraints. All specialist consultancy services attract a service charge, and clients will be provided with a quote before information is supplied. For further information, contact ABS information consultants on 1300 135 070.

Related products

38 Current publications and other products released by the ABS are available on the ABS web site <www.abs.gov.au>. Other ABS products which may be of interest include:
  • Australian Social Trends, 2007, cat. no. 4102.0
  • Australia's Families - Selected Findings from the Survey of Families in Australia, March to May 1992, cat. no. 4418.0
  • Child Care, Australia, June 2005, cat. no. 4402.0
  • Family Characteristics, Australia, June 2003, cat. no. 4442.0
  • Household and Family Projections, Australia, 2001 to 2026, cat. no. 3236.0
  • How Australians Use Their Time, 2006, cat. no. 4153.0
  • Household Income and Income Distribution, Australia, 2005-06, cat. no. 6523.0
  • Labour Force, Australia, cat. no. 6202.0, issued monthly
  • Labour Force, Australia, Detailed - Electronic Delivery, issued monthly, cat. no. 6291.0.55.001, (Family Data cubes FM1-FM4)
  • Working Time Arrangements, Australia, November 2006, cat. no. 6342.0

39 Current publications and other products released by the ABS are listed on the ABS web site <www.abs.gov.au>.