The contemporary Australian family

Demographic information allows us to predict future trends so that town development, infrastructure and social needs are available for the next generation. It is also a fascinating peep behind the closed doors of our neighbourhood. Some of the results are surprising, for instance, if both of your parents are from an Anglo Australian background you are 80% more likely to marry into a different ethnic group.

imageAuthors of the text, Family Formation in 21st Century Australia, discuss changes that are taking place within the family format. They a Demographers and Sociologists attempting to interpret this complicated data through statistics. Ten Social Scientists explore separate themes and patterns that emerge from their research. The Editor Dr. Genevieve Heard and three of the authors Dr. Lindon Walker, Dr. Deb Demsey and Dr Kim Johnson talk to a small gathering of colleagues.

“This book tells the story of both continuity and change, it shows that Australians exercise considerable freedom of choice when it comes to forging pathways into creating families, but also that the tradition remains popular” Dr Heard claimed.

The traditional family has remained resilient in the first decade of the 21 Century, divorce rates have declined and many of these families are showing increased stability. Couples are more willing to marry than those of the previous Decade, however there are also the proliferations of new family styles. There is a rise in couples living together without formalising it through marriage. Latch relationships are also becoming more visible in the community; these are couples that live in separate households. These new types of families are co-existing with the traditional style however they are not replacing them. This mix within the community can offer a greater diversity.

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Dr Walkers field of study is inter-ethnic partnering, a study that continues to interest him as it crosses over multiple aspects that include religion, race and educational levels. The study required customised data and narrowing the field of research, as there are many difficulties, such as when are you considered Australian? Despite these complications some of the results are insightful and show that the longer an ethnic group resides in Australia the more likely they are to marry out of their community, as is the case with Italians and Greeks.

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Indians and Iranians tend to marry within their own community but future generations may change this trend. Some cross partnering is one sided, such as Asian women and Australian men, the reverse is less popular. The majority of children that are born from two Australian parents will marry into another ethnic group.

Dr Demsey changes the theme as she discusses same-sex families; this group has been forced to win family rights and recognition through activism, firstly for marriage rights and then for children. Demanding access to fertility clinics has been marred by political intervention such as when former Prime Minister Mr Howard defined the family as being made up of a male and a female parent.

“Every Australian child has the right to a mother and a father” former Prime Minister John Howard claimed.

Dr Demsey explains that a lot has changed since 2001 as lesbians have won the right to use sperm banks (male couples often choose surrogacy). Amendments to laws have also enabled single sex couples to live together with legal protection over property issues.

Many same sex couples have to endure aggressive attitudes within the community that puts them under pressure and destabilises the couple. They might be less likely to endure. Friendships often provide the care and support often found in family life. Nuclear family’s are not the norm and couples often live in separate households that they share with housemates. Marriage type relationships that provide monogamy appeal more to younger Gays and less so, to mature couples.

Dr Demsey draws information from studies and surveys conducted by universities. Same sex couple numbers have been increasing however it is uncertain if it is becoming more popular or that people are more comfortable in declaring it. Children that live with male couples are 5%, whereas 20% of women couples have residential children. Ironically most homosexual couples have heterosexual children.

Dr Kim Johnson’s interest was in the family studies of our Aboriginal community. Couple relationships are more common with younger adults. Within these unions, more urban Aboriginals and those with higher educations will partner outside of their community whereas rural couples and those with less education will choose an Aboriginal partner.

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Aboriginal Australians have a higher fertility rate than non-Aboriginals, however it is comparable with other world communities such as what was common during the 1950’s baby boom. The most definitive distinction is that the women are more likely to start their families at a younger age, 40% are under 25. Younger parenting means that the parent is likely to be more energetic and have the support of younger grandparents that will also pass on cultural knowledge. The negative aspect of young parenting is that they might have less access to further education, employment and wealth.

The family network ideally provides a place for people to feel safe and loved, this is even more important when young children are brought into these relationships. The new family is born from a society that is re-inventing itself and exploring alternative options. It is interesting to look at the changes within ones own family, such as having children at a later age, as this is a modern invention.

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