Australians increasingly choosing their family members

Content type
Media release

December 2023

Australians have a wide range of views when it comes to defining their family, with many younger people saying love and unconditional support is more important than genetics and legal ties, according to new research by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS).

The survey of almost 6,000 people revealed 41% of Australians consider close friends or ‘chosen family’ to be part of their family, and 52% count their pets as family members.

While 62% of those of the Interwar Generation (born before 1946) said blood or genetics were important or very important in defining a family, this dropped through the generations to only 24% of Gen Zs.

The study also revealed gender differences, with women much more likely than men to include chosen family or close friends when they think about family (43% vs 31%), and to consider pets as family (54% vs 38%).

Women were also significantly more likely to rate unconditional, non-judgemental support as very important when defining what makes a family compared to men (69% vs 52%).

Study co-author and Research Fellow at AIFS, Dr Luke Gahan, said the research has implications for law and policymakers, as definitions of family change and evolve.

'For many people family is still a rigid institution underpinned by genetics and legal ties – however, there is an increasing diversity of views on what it means to be a family,' Dr Gahan said.

'This study shows relationships defined by love and individual choice are coming to the fore when it comes to notions of family – throwing up challenges for law and policymakers, as they try to meet the needs of a changing society.'

Dr Gahan said, for example, that pets increasingly being considered family could impact the way couples separate.

'By law pets are currently considered ‘property’ – but perhaps, given how many of us feel about our pets, something closer to a custody arrangement is more appropriate,' Dr Gahan said.

'Also, many people considering close friends as family could influence how employment law defines ‘immediate family’ in terms of leave provisions, when a family member requires care.'

Study co-author and Senior Research Officer at AIFS, Mikayla Budinski, said the study also highlights the diversity of views on what makes a family in Australia – and how that may evolve over time.

'How Australians decide who is included in their kinship circles is influenced by legal definitions but is also shaped by culture and personal life experiences and circumstances – so we’re seeing a great breadth of views,' Miss Budinski said.

'For example, cultural and linguistic diverse minority Australians rate legal and blood ties as important when defining family – however LGBTQ+ people were far less likely to rate them as important.'

Key findings of the study also include:

  • Cultural and linguistic diverse people were significantly more likely to view legal ties or obligations as important or very important when defining family compared to other study participants (41% v 30%) – and the same with blood/genetics (43% v 34%).
  • LGBTQ+ people were almost twice as likely to rate blood or genetics as not important at all in defining a family compared to other study participants (32% vs 17%).
  • Almost half (48%) of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people rated ‘legal ties or obligations’ as important or very important compared to just 30% of non-Indigenous study participants.

Conducted in late 2021, the Families in Australia Survey series aimed to better understand family relationships, connections and support, and the things that Australian families do together or within their communities, such as work and study. The survey was open to all Australians aged 18 years and over. 

Access the Research Paper: What is family?


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