Underlying concepts

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Family, Household and Income Unit Variables
Reference period

Name of the variable

The name of the variable is 'Relationship in household'.

Nominal definition

The variable 'Relationship in household' is defined as: 

  • The relationships between people in a given household.

'Relationship in household' is an attribute of the counting unit 'person'.

Operational definition

Operationally, 'Relationship in household' is defined as the relationship between all persons who are usual residents of the household to the person who is chosen as the reference person.

The household reference person is either the respondent or the person nominated by the respondent as Person 1 on the collection form. In many cases they will be one and the same. See Appendix A of the 'Relationship in household' variable for details on identifying family and household reference persons.

A household is also often referred to as 'dwelling', as all the people in a household are in the same dwelling. In addition, a household can comprise more than one family living in the same dwelling.

Key points when applying the definition are:

  • A household reference person is identified for all households.
  • In households where no families are present, all relationships are identified with respect to the household reference person.
  • If only one family is present in the household, the household reference person will also be the family reference person (see Appendix A of the Relationship in household variable for details on identifying household and family reference persons).
  • In households with more than one family (i.e. multi-family households), each family will have its own family reference person.
  • Each separate family living in the same household is considered a separate unit and is allocated a Family number. The family of the household reference person is the Primary family or Family number 1.
  • In households with more than one family, the family reference persons of the non-Primary families describe their 'Relationship in household' to the household reference person by using the 'Relationship between families' standard.
  • Natural, step, adoptive and foster relationships are all treated in the same way.
  • All family households can also include unrelated individuals who are living in the household.
  • Lone person and Group households never include related persons as they are non-family households.

Scope of the variable

'Relationship in household' applies to all usual residents of a dwelling. The dwelling may contain a one family household, or a multi-family household, or a group household or a lone person household.

Visitors are generally outside the scope of surveys using this classification as they are not usual residents of the selected household. However, in collections such as the Census of Population and Housing where some information is collected about visitors to the household at the time of the collection, they can be identified using a supplementary code and output as non-classifiable (households).

Discussion of conceptual issues

Notions of what constitutes a family vary considerably. Some people consider their family to be the relatives with whom they live in the same dwelling. Others extend their definition of family to include relatives who live in other dwellings. For some, the notion of family includes people who are unrelated.

As ABS household surveys are based on the dwelling being enumerated, for practical reasons the concept of family is generally restricted to include only those persons usually resident in the same household. A concept of family which extends beyond the one household would make it impossible to identify discrete family units for the purposes of counting the number of families and describing their characteristics. In some family-specific ABS surveys, data is collected about wider family networks where the definition of a family is not constrained to one dwelling.

'Relationship in household' is primarily used for coding and classifying families and households, and the derivation of variables such as 'Family composition' and 'Household composition', rather than as an output variable in its own right.

Collection methods for this data vary between surveys and the Census of Population and Housing. Specifically, household surveys use a Computer Assisted Interviewing system while the Census has a self-completed form. This variation results in two collection-method-specific input classifications, as detailed in the 'Standard Input Categories' section (see the 'Collection Methods' page). The Standard Classification and Code Structure (see the 'Classification and Coding' page), and the different aggregates specified in the 'Standard output categories' section (see the 'Output' page), apply primarily to self-completed collections such as the Census of Population and Housing.

It is recognised that the household and family structures used by the ABS to report collection results may not adequately reflect the social and family relationships relevant in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population of Australia. However, they do provide a comparison with the 'Family composition' and 'Household composition' of the non-Indigenous population.

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