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Introduction

In May this year, Australia celebrated National Families Week, coinciding with the United Nation’s International Day of Families. These celebrations highlight the vital role that families continue to play as the central building block of Australian society and communities.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics defines a ‘family’ as ‘a group of two or more people that are related by blood, marriage (registered or de facto), adoption, step or fostering, and who usually live together in the same household’ (Australian Bureau of Statistics, June 2016). Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that in 2012-13, there were 8.9 million households and 6.7 million families in the country. 5.7 million of these families were couple families (85%), 14 per cent were one parent families and 2 per cent were ‘other’ families (based around family relationships that are neither couple relationships nor parent-child relationships). Of the couple families, around 44 per cent had dependants living with them; however, the number of couple families without children is predicted to exceed the number of couple families with children and become the most common type of family between 2023 and 2029.

This reflects the fact that in modern Australia, families are characterised by increasing diversity. The ‘traditional’ or ‘nuclear’ family unit, comprising mother, father, and two children is no longer the only way we think about and define our families; rather, the concept of ‘family’ is dynamic and often involves the transition into different family forms over time. For example, trends in divorce and remarriage have contributed to increasing numbers of one-parent, step and blended families. The 2016 Census found that 8.3 per cent of households contained extended family members and about 43 per cent of children under the age of 13 years were living in non-traditional households, such as with a non-biological parent figure, a sibling, or a grandparent (Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2016).

The focus of Relationships Australia’s June 2018 online survey was to find out how Australians think about and define their family in modern society.

Relationships Australia State and Territory websites