Australian families with children and adolescents

Children Australia

This report highlights some of the ways in which Australian families with children under 18 years old have changed or remained stable.

Key messages

This fact sheet examines the extent and nature of change in household and family forms. The broad trends observed include the following:

  • Family size has decreased, with the proportion of those families with only one or two children younger than 18 years increasing over successive Census periods.
  • In turn, larger families, with three, four or more children are less prevalent.
  • For those families headed by an unpartnered parent, however, the numbers of children in the family have changed little over the last decade.
  • Women are having children later in life than was apparent for earlier generations. As a result, the proportion of mothers (of children under 18 years old) in the 45-54 year age group has steadily increased over the last two decades. These trends are similar both for mothers in couple families and for unpartnered mothers, though fewer of the former than the latter group tend to be younger than 25 years old.
  • The proportions of intact, step- and blended families with children under 18 years old have not changed over the last 20 years. While rates of cohabitation have increased steadily over the decades, step-families show the highest rate, followed by blended families.
  • Given that as children mature their chance of having experienced parental separation at some stage in their childhood increases, the proportion living in one-parent families or in step-families also increases progressively with increases in the children's age.
  • Rates of paid employment of mothers have steadily increased, typically involving part-time work when children are younger than 12 years.
  • When family forms (couple or one-parent family) and the employment circumstances of the parent(s) who are living with the child are taken into account, then the most common arrangements for children aged under 5 years old is for them to live in a couple family in which one parent works full-time and the other is either not employed or away from work. For older age groups, the most common situation is to be living in a dual-earning couple family.
  • Mothers continue to spend more time than fathers on household work, even if working full-time. Some fathers work well beyond the standard full-time hours. This tends to generate dissatisfaction and lowered wellbeing across a range of areas, including family relationships, though some fathers appear to thrive on such work hours, at least in the short-term.
  • Most parents in intact families report high satisfaction with their relationship with each other, though fathers tend to be more satisfied than mothers. While most are highly satisfied with their own and the other parent's relationship with their children, both mothers and fathers are more likely to express high satisfaction with the mother-child than father-child relationship.
  • Biological parent—child relationships tend to be viewed more favourably by those experiencing them than is the case for step-parent—child relationships. Compared with step-fathers, step-mothers report lower relationship quality with their step-children.
  • Overall, adolescents seem highly satisfied with their relationship with their parents, but relationships with step-parents are less likely to be viewed in such a favourable light. Step-daughters seem less satisfied than step-sons with these relationships.
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