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Experiences by children of family

Experiences by children of family

It is perhaps stating the obvious that family is central to the lives of children.

Experiences of living at home

On the night of the 2011 Australian census,1 of children aged under 15 years old:

  • 71% lived with two biological or adoptive parents;
  • 19% lived with a single mother;
  • 2% lived with a single father;
  • 4% lived with a step-father and a biological/adoptive mother;
  • 1% lived with a step-mother and a biological/adoptive father; and
  • 2% had other circumstances, including being a foster child or living with another relative.

Most children are born into two-parent families, but – as Figure 1 shows – as they grow their circumstances often change. Progressively fewer live with both biological parents.

Figure 1: Children’s family composition by child age

Figure 1 as described in accompanying text.

Source: Australia Census 2011 Unit record files

Growing up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children is contributing a wealth of information about children’s lives in Australia today. The research from this study provides insights on children’s circumstances and outcomes across family units, and explores how children’s family life changes as they grow.2

An important point for children living with a single parent or in a step-family, is that their family life is likely to be relatively complex – especially if they spend time living with or seeing their other parent. According to the Longitudinal Study of Separated Families (2008-2012), 20% of children aged 4-17 years were in shared time arrangements (i.e., spending 35-65% of nights annually with each parent) five years after parental separation, 7% were living mainly with their father, although the majority of children were mainly living with their mother.3

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2012-13 Family Characteristics & Transitions Survey4 found that of children with a natural parent living elsewhere:

  • 31% had face-to-face contact with that parent at least once a week;
  • 25% saw that parent at least fortnightly or monthly (but not weekly);
  • 16% saw that parent at least once a year (but not monthly); and
  • 28% saw that parent less than once a year or never.

These patterns of contact varied across ages of children (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Children’s face-to-face contact with a natural parent living elsewhere, 2012-13

Figure 2 as described in accompanying text.

Source: ABS 2012-13 Family Characteristics & Transitions Survey

Figure 3: Changing living arrangements through young adulthood

Figure 3 as described in accompanying text.


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