Family unit still strong, research says

By AAP 7 July 2010
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Families are surviving despite predictions of their demise decades ago, new research reports.

DIRE PREDICTIONS 30 YEARS ago that the family unit would not survive amid declining marriage rates and rising numbers of divorce have failed to materialise, figures show.

Data collected over the past three decades by the Australian Institute of Family Studies shows families have changed considerably, but were still the basic unit caring for each other and raising children. Most families – 72 per cent – with at least one child under 18 from 2006 to 2007 were considered “intact”, with no stepchildren.

Single-mother families accounted for 17 per, step families 4 per cent, blended families 3 per cent and families headed by single dads 3 per cent.

Families with two parents were now more likely to both be employed with one working full-time and one part-time.

Couples were also having fewer children, with two the preferred number. The average household size had fallen from 3.5 family members in 1966, to 3 in 1980 and 2.6 in 2006. The number of households made up of couples without children in 2006 matched couples living with dependent children.

Australian Institute of Family Studies director Professor Alan Hayes said the long-term study showed the family unit was still intact, albeit in a dramatically altered form.

“In the early eighties some people wondered whether the family would actually survive,” he said in a statement. “The marriage rate was declining and more people were living together.

“The divorce rate had also increased dramatically when the Family Law Act came into force in 1976. Compared with 30 years ago, parenthood today tends to start later in life, couples tend to have fewer children, and both parents are likely to be in paid employment. Despite these changes, the family unit has thrived and continues to play a central role in shaping the health and wellbeing of all immediate family members.”

Other major changes in family trends include that considerably more couples were living together before getting married – 78 per cent in 2008 compared to 23 per cent in 1980 – while the number of babies born out of wedlock had increased seven-fold.

About 4.8 per cent of infants were born outside marriage in 1960, which doubled to 8.3 per cent in 1970 and increased to 12.4 per cent in 1980 and 34.4 per cent in 2008.