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Families then and now: 1980 - 2010

9 July 2010

Australian families have changed significantly over the last thirty years but they remain the basic unit in society for caring for each other and raising children, according to this report.

At the time Australian Institute of Family Studies commenced operations in 1980, the marriage rate was declining, and although the vast majority of couples were married, increasing proportions were cohabiting (i.e., in a de facto marriage). The divorce rate had peaked when the Family Law Act 1975 came into force in 1976 - the same year in which the fertility rate had fallen to below replacement level for the first time. By 1980, the divorce rate had subsided but was well above pre-1976 rates, while the fertility rate had continued its downward slide. Alarm bells were ringing about where the family was heading and whether it would even survive.

In this 30th anniversary year, it is timely to reflect on ways in which Australian families have changed over the life of the Institute and to consider some of the trends that were underway prior to its establishment. This Facts Sheet begins with a brief outline of trends in basic family structure, and then examines transitions that have contributed to these structural changes and some of the key ways in which family functioning has changed.