Two in five children live in a complex family


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Content type
Media release

October 2016

The Institute’s Director, Anne Hollonds said many thousands of Australian children – or around 43 per cent of those under the age of 13 – experience life in families that don’t fit the stereotype of a mum, dad and a brother or sister.

The data is drawn from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children and involves 8,000 children from all states and territories whose lives have been in the research spotlight for more than a decade.

The study showed that a significant number of children live in more complex households, which may involve living with a single parent; a non-biological parent figure; step or half-siblings or a grandparent.

Ms Hollonds said family complexity stems from rising divorce rates; less stable de facto relationships; children being raised by separated parents in ‘double-family’ living arrangements; and multiple generations living together.

“Two in five children will experience some form of family complexity before they reach the age of 13, with the potential for this to impact both positively and negatively,” she said.

“For some, the presence of other adults in the family may improve children’s wellbeing, by bringing in extra financial resources. As long as children’s care is consistent, extra adult help can bring stability to family routines. 

“Similarly, single-parent families may opt to live with a child’s grandparent as a short-term strategy to get particularly, new mothers through a challenging time.

“However, some children find it difficult to move back and forth between two households, while adjusting to parents with new partners and new half or step-siblings.

“These more complex family dynamics bring with them changes in family routines, relationships and responsibilities that can be confronting for some children.”

Senior Research Fellow, Jennifer Baxter, said the study showed that there were stark differences in the likelihood of children experiencing household complexity depending on their parents’ education levels.

“Children of tertiary-educated parents were less likely to experience any form of complexity, compared to parents with lower levels of educational attainment,” she said.

“Twenty-five per cent of children with more well educated parents experienced household complexity, compared to 74 per cent of children with less-well educated parents.

“The study also uncovered higher rates of household complexity among parents whose own parents had separated when they were children, compared to parents whose childhood families had stayed together.

“Family complexity is strongly related to financial wellbeing with the potential for disadvantage to transfer from one generation onto the next.

“This is an area where a much stronger research focus is needed to identify how services can support families and children with more complex living arrangements.”

Read the LSAC Annual Statistical Report 2015: Chapter 3 - Diversity, complexity and change in children's households


Media contact     
Kate O'Connor      
Phone: 0499 860 257  
Email: kate.o'[email protected]