Snapshots of family relationships

Snapshots of family relationships

Lixia Qu and Ruth Weston

Research summary— May 2008
Snapshots of family relationships

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The analysis outlined in this snapshot of family relationships suggests the following five key trends:

  • First, dramatic changes have occurred in patterns of couple formation and dissolution, family size and the incidence of ex-nuptial births. Marriage rates have declined and, although cohabitation rates have increased, overall partnership rates have declined. The total fertility rate has fallen overall, while there has been an increase in the proportion of babies born outside marriage. The proportion of women who have three or more children has fallen, while there have been increases in the proportions who remain childless or end up having only one or two children, with two children being the most common outcome.
  • Second, consistent with the trends on partnership dissolution, nearly half the parents with a child under 18 years acknowledge that it is not easy to maintain good relationships nowadays. In addition, more than half reject the view that relationship or parenting skills come naturally to most people.
  • Third, in the context of high separation and divorce rates, most family relationships tend to be evaluated positively by family members. Nevertheless, a substantial minority of partnered parents with a child under 18 years report that they have experienced difficulties in their relationship with their partner, with most believing that these difficulties had been resolved.
  • Fourth, distant or negative relationships are relatively common between separated parents, and between step-parents and step-children (especially for young step-mothers and teenage girls), while distant relationships seem also to be common between children and their grandparents on their non-resident fathers' side.1
  • Finally, although most parents acknowledge that, after parental separation, children are usually better off if both parents remain involved in their lives, a substantial proportion of children rarely/never see or stay overnight with their non-resident parent.

These results provide a positive picture of family relationships in general, while also highlighting some areas of concern. Regarding the latter, the negative repercussions of the breakdown in the relationship between parents can be long-lasting, increasing the risks that children will have little if any contact with their non-resident father and will experience a more distant relationship with their paternal grandparents. Should re-partnering occur, then relationships between step-parents and step-children can be problematic. on the other hand, the vast majority of partners and of parents and children describe their relationships with each other in a favourable light, and even though relationships between partners are not always rosy, their problems can often be overcome. Such findings suggest a great deal of resilience in families.

1. Relationships between grandchildren and grandparents on the non-resident mothers’ side could not be ascertained.

Publication details

Research summary
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, May 2008.
36 pp.
978 1 921414 04 6
Suggested citation:

Qu, L., & Weston, R. (2008). Snapshots of family relationships (Facts Sheet). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

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