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Marriage – an outdated institution?

Marriage – an outdated institution?

For many, forming a cohabiting or marital relationship is the first pathway into making a family of one’s own. Many possible transitions then follow, with relationships often formalised through marriage or registration of a civil union – some of which will later break down.

We can see these different family forms by looking at the relationship status of men and women, by age, in Figure 6.

HILDA data from 2011 shows that, while very few 15-24 year olds are married (1% of males and 4% of females), a significant number are cohabiting (6% of males and 13% of females). It shows that at 25-34 years of age, a small percentage are divorced or separated, and about 60% are living with a partner.

According to the 2011 Census, while most people reporting having a co-resident partner are in a heterosexual relationship, about 1% of couples are same-sex.7

While cohabitation is widely accepted as a family form, marriage is still highly valued by many. In HILDA in 2011 people aged 15 years and over were asked to indicate how they felt about marriage. Here are some of their answers:8

  • “Marriage is an outdated institution”: 58% disagreed, 32% were in the middle and 9% agreed.
  • “Marriage is a lifetime relationship and should never be ended”: 26% disagreed, 39% were in the middle and 35% agreed.
  • “It is alright for an unmarried couple to live together even if they have no intention of marrying”: 14% disagreed, 24% were in the middle and 62% agreed.

Parenthood is a major driver of new family forms. As children grow and leave home, parents enter a new phase of family life. At each phase there are new and varied challenges.

For older men and women, a significant change is brought about by the death of a spouse or partner, with women more likely than men to be widowed, especially at ages 75 years and over. Some family transitions are ones that enhance our lives, while others take all the support our family can give us to get us through.9


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