Families in Australia 2011

Families in Australia 2011

Sticking together in good and tough times

Alan Hayes, Lixia Qu, Ruth Weston and Jennifer Baxter

Research summary— March 2011
Families in Australia 2011: Sticking together in good and tough times

You are in an archived section of the AIFS website. Archived publications may be of interest for historical reasons. Because of their age, they may not reflect current research data or AIFS' current research methodologies.

This paper explores several major trends in Australian families up until 2011. It covers a broad range of topics including changes in the aging population, parenting responsibilities, employment, economic wellbeing and life satisfaction.

Key Messages

  • The proportion of two-parent families where both parents worked full time increased from 17% in 1983 to 24% in 1995. In 2010, in families where one parent worked full-time and the other part-time, 95% of the time it was the father who worked the longer hours.
  • The amount of time fathers with preschool children spent working increased by 5.7 hours per week from 1997 to 2006.
  • Disposable household income grew by 58% between 1994/95 and 2007/08 (from $512 to $811 per week). Though single parents were considerably worse off than other family types: in 2009, their disposable income was $520 per week, and 37% faced financial hardship.
  • The golden years of life occur between 65 and 84 years – nearly 80% in this age group reported high life satisfaction

Since Federation, Australia's families and communities have experienced changes on many fronts and confronted challenges that have forged our character and fostered our progress as a nation. Some challenges are faced by each generation, others recur from time to time, and still others are unique to a given era. Demographic, social and economic trends affect individuals, their families and communities.

We are each part of a family, despite wide differences in its form and cohesion or the degree of our contact with it. Well-functioning families have always been the glue that has bound communities together and strengthened societies, despite often being under pressure themselves. In turn, societies and their communities support families to stick together in good and tough times.

Difficult and challenging events bring issues of family, community and national resilience into sharp focus. The early months of 2011 were especially tough for many Australians - and others beyond our shores. For all nations, but perhaps especially so for developing ones, disasters have, by definition, profound and enduring impacts. Understandably, the many pressures that families face in times of crisis have tended to dominate popular concern. It is all too easy, however, to overlook the strengths of families, which are reflected in their responses to such challenges and the willingness of their members to assist in times of need. It is also easy to lose sight of the fact that disasters do not displace the ongoing, more commonplace pressures that families face.

Resilience entails not only the ability to adapt to change and bounce back from the stresses and strains of life, but also to identify and make the most of opportunities. Resilience is not just a personal attribute but reflects the support we give each other in dealing with difficulties within and beyond our families. Negotiating life's obstacles and opportunities enables families to develop strength in the face of adversity. Both personally and as a nation, our key capacities are to learn from experience, appreciate the risks that everyday challenges and events such as natural disasters or personal and family adversities carry, and plan and prepare for these in ways that reduce our vulnerability and enhance resilience. Major crises, as well as everyday challenges, highlight both the vulnerability and resilience of Australians.

This report draws on recent statistics to provide a picture of selected aspects of Australian families in 2011. It first explores some of the demographic and social changes that set the scene for contemporary family life and then considers patterns of participation in work and family life. The focus then turns to participation in community life through voluntary work and caring for others, expectations about the availability of support in times of need, and government assistance to families and individuals. The final sections of the report explore economic wellbeing and life satisfaction.

Authors and Acknowledgements

Professor Alan Hayes is Director, Dr Lixia Qu is a Senior Research Fellow, Ruth Weston is Assistant Director (Research) and Dr Jennifer Baxter is a Senior Research Fellow, all at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Publication details

Research summary
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, March 2011.
Suggested citation:

Hayes, A., Qu, L., Weston, R., & Baxter, J. (2011). Families in Australia 2011: Sticking together in good and tough times (Facts Sheet). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.


AIFS news

Get the latest news about our publications, research and upcoming events.