Issue 32

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Family Matters No. 32, 1992

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Extended family in Australia

This issue of Family Matters has as its theme intergenerational relationship, the ties that bind.  

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Meredith Michie

Assistant Editor

Claire Miller

Publications Committee

Helen Brownlee, Don Edgar, Peter McDonald, Meredith Michie, Claire Miller, Gay Ochiltree, Liz Sharman and Ilene Wolcott.

Publication details

Family Matters No. 32
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, August 1992, 56 pp.
1030-2646 (print) 1832-8318 (online)

Copyright information


Families in unemployment

Don Edgar

Facts about unemployment levels and take-up of emergency relief are presented to demonstrate how families are suffering in this, the worst period of unemployment since the Great Depression, and that family support is essential to alleviate long-term damage.

Extended family in Australia: The family beyond the household

Peter McDonald

The author argues that our image of family in society has been dominated by two conceptual approaches to the definition of 'family'. The first is that families are equivalent to households, and the second is that family is defined by idealised morality. However, when viewed from a different perspective, that of family as the core of an individual's support network, the conventional wisdom that the extended family is insignificant in our culture is called into question.

Keeping in touch: Extended family networks

Christine Millward

Data from interviews in Berwick, Victoria carried out as part of the Australian Living Standards Study being conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies in 14 localities around Australia are analysed to see: where extended kin live relative to the nuclear family; what contact there is between them; how likely they are to seek help from each other. The author reports that there is a direct relationship between proximity, contact and the likelihood of seeking help from extended family, and that the telephone is the preferred method of regular contact between kin near and far.

Capital gains and locational disadvantage

George Gondor and Andrew Burbidge

Do house price increases simply reflect inflation, or do families who are home owners and buyers gain in wealth through their home ownership? What has been the pattern of changes in house values in different parts of the city and what are the implications of this pattern? To examine these issues, this article draws on data on house prices for the period 1974 to 1990 in each local government area in the Melbourne Statistical District, and considers some of the effects of different rates of capital gains. The conclusion reached is that, in the longer term, capital gains are a major determinant of wealth inequality and the cost of housing.

Young adults and family change: Coping with parental separation, divorce and repartnering

Robyn Hartley

Parental separation and divorce can be a painful and bewildering experience, even for adult children who have nominally flown the nest to make their own way in the world. Data from the Australian Institute of Family Studies' Becoming Adult Study are used to explore the effect of parental separation and divorce on young adults. Outcomes show that most families are complex and young people's reactions to divorce/separation are frequently mixed; that reactions to repartnering are diverse; that some of the respondents who were older when their parents separated are generally wary about relationships lasting, whereas those who were younger are more inclined to be optimistic and determined not to repeat the mistakes they believe their parents made. The author suggests that many questions about the long-term effects on older offspring of parents separating and repartnering warrant further investigation.

Adult in the eyes of the state

Robyn Hartley

The author traces recent changes in youth income support conditions, and highlights what they imply about independence of, and responsibility for, young people. She argues that the changes convey negative messages to young people about the value society places on them.



Conceptualising family life and family policies

Don Edgar

This paper was commissioned by the United Nations as a contribution to thinking and planning for International Year of the Family. The author addresses problems of definition of 'the family', arguing that every individual has a family (of origin at least), that the family cannot be treated as a static entity defined according to traditional structures or moral preferences, and that the family 'does not stop at the front door'. He then discusses the tasks of the family, and places them within a broader social context, suggesting a central theme of moral obligation and social interdependence. Five propositions are addressed: The family unit is a system of cooperation based upon combining human and other resources and a structured distribution of costs and benefits; The family system of cooperation focuses around two main sets of tasks: income-generation and care; The family system of cooperation results in a duality of joint benefits and unequal rewards; The nature of family life and the nature of the civil society in which it is embedded depend upon but also contribute to the balance between state and free market coordination of social structures; Social policies should have as their central objective the maintenance and improvement of family wellbeing. By definition, then, 'family policy' involves a focus on the family impacts of other social policies.

No more than a phone call away

Robyn Hartley

As part of the Institute's Becoming Adult Study of 23 year olds, questions were asked of the 85 respondents (62 per cent of the total group) who were not living with either parent about their contact with their parents. Those who were living with only one of their natural parents where the other parent was alive (25 respondents in all) were asked what contact they had with the absent parent. This article reports the findings, and shows that, although young adults often live far from parents and have very different lives, they generally place considerable importance on maintaining regular contact. However, different patterns of contact were found for young women and men, and for families with divorced and separated parents.

Families after marriage breakdown

Ruth Weston

Divorce leaves its mark on the entire kinship system as relatives, particularly grandparents, adjust to the changes incurred by parents leading separate lives. This article reflects on the nature of the grandparent - grandchild relationship today, and then uses data from the Institute's Parents and Children after Marriage Breakdown Survey to examine intergenerational relationships following divorce, from the parents' point of view. Parents were asked a range of questions about their children's contact with grandparents, the quality of relationships and whether the divorce affected these, and their views on the importance of extended family. Findings are presented, with comment on reasons for loss of contact with grandparents on the non-resident parent's side.

Caring families

Ilene Wolcott

A brief overview is presented of the Institute's book 'Who helps: support networks and social policy in Australia', and of the implications of some of the findings.

Director's report

Don Edgar

The director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies argues that AIFS findings since 1980 have shown how strong family linkages are across time and that the 'extended family' is alive and well, if in modified new forms. He outlines the Institute's aims for the next few years, which include encouraging a consolidation of intergenerational links, the creation of new forms of cross-age care and support which may better assist those who have no extended family or whose circumstances have left them relatively isolated.