Issue 50

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.

Family Matters No. 50, 1998

Journal issue feature image

Social exchanges - families, communities, states and markets

One new direction in the Institute’s research, introduced in this issue of Family Matters, is the Social Exchanges program which will address key social policy issues for families.

Articles in this issue of Family Matters are only available as PDF documents and do not meet the latest web accessibility standards. If you are unable to access any of the articles in this issue of Family Matters please contact us and we will endeavour to provide the article/s you need in a format that you can use.

Publication details

Family Matters No. 50
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, June 1998, XX pp.
1030-2646 (print) 1832-8318 (online)

Copyright information


Social Exchanges Overview: Families, Communities, States and Markets

Ian Winter

Economic, political and cultural changes are leading to a re shaping of the institutional supports for families. The flow of social exchanges between families, communities, states and markets is being restructured towards families becoming more self reliant and being able to self provide by drawing upon a civic life reinvigorated with social capital. In response to the emergence of a new socio institutional ensemble of support for families, the Australian Institute of Family Studies has designed a research program that aims to examine the attitudes and behaviours associated with the various patterns of social exchanges engaged in by families, and the implications of these for individual and family well being. The research is concerned with the role of the family as a social institution in the 21st century and the socio institutional arrangements that will support the best outcomes for families. This article focuses on the theme of social exchanges and social capital, situates the key research questions within the broad historical context of changes to family life and outlines the main aims of the program. Through its research in this area, the Institute aims to make sense of the past and present in order to provide greater certainty about factors affecting family stability and well being in the new millennium.

Social Capital: An introduction

Warwick Smith

Social capital is the mutual sense of reciprocity and trust which enables groups of people to live and work together successfully. In this article the Minister for Family Services discusses the concept of social capital and its implications for social policy. He outlines the importance of effectively functioning communities, their relationship to the overall well being and prosperity of society at large, and in particular the value and role of the family at the centre of policy framework.

Changing Patterns of Social Exchanges: Issues in the literature

Andrew Burbidge

In order to explore some of the major recent changes affecting family responsibilities, this paper provides an overview of key areas of literature on social exchanges between families and the state. The paper identifies four broad issues of importance to these social exchanges and provides an introduction to the debates in the literature on these themes. The first section focuses on the role of the state in its social exchanges with families. The second section examines the major areas where changes are taking place in the boundaries between families and the state. Section three discusses the impact on families and particular sub groups in society of these perceived trends in social exchange. In the final section, social capital is assessed as a means of increasing social exchanges.

Changing Family Responsibilities: The role of social attitudes, markets and the state

Michael Bittman

Despite an attempt to renegotiate the division of labour in the home over the past twenty years, family responsibilities still fall disproportionately on women. This paper illustrates the flow of social exchanges between the family and the market and the family and the state, particularly in relation to some aspects of domestic labour. The author examines how family responsibilities affect the life changes of men and women and determines that family responsibilities do not harm the careers of men but have a negative impact on those of women. He questions how to best bring about a change in this situation and discusses the following means of altering the undesirable effects of family responsibilities: renegotiating responsibilities within households leading to a more equitable division of labour between men and women; outsourcing some of the domestic labour to the marketplace, thereby reducing the burden of unpaid work faced by women; and the state absorbing some of the responsibilities formerly performed by households, such as government sponsored child care centres.

Parental Sources of Support in Anglo- and Vietnamese-Australian Families

Violet Kolar and Harry McGurk

Social support networks comprise both formal and informal sources. Formal support refers to professional support, which can be either public or privately provided, while informal support refers to community support groups, work colleagues, neighbours, friends and family. This article examines the networks of formal and informal support that some Australian parents use to assist them in their parenting roles. The authors draw on findings from the Institute's Parenting-21 Study to illustrate the similarities and differences in the networks of family, friends and services to which Anglo Australian and Vietnamese Australian parents have access, and on which they draw support in their parenting roles. Also examined are the issues that motivate parents in their choice of formal or informal support. Discussion focuses on the significance of the contribution made by social networks to easing the tasks of parenting.

Later Life Parents Helping Adult Children

Christine Millward

The relationship between older parents and their adult children can be set in the broader context of the family as a support resource. Various types of support are provided to adult children by parents who are in their fifties and sixties. In this article the author draws on findings from the Later Life Families Study of the Australian Institute of Family Studies in order to examine reasons for the prolonged dependency of some adult children on their parents. She discusses parents' involvement with adult children, adult children's living arrangements, and the personal characteristics of parents and children, including their age, occupation, gender, marital status and parental status. The author concludes that while there is a common perception of adult children being supports for their ageing parents, many of the older parents interviewed for this study, while not elderly, were an important support for their adult children.

Family Support and Exchange

Christine Millward

As western societies restructure their social support policies, economic considerations are now typically playing a dominant role that is impacting on the flow of social exchanges. In this context, what is the role of the family as a source of social support? Is there enough mutual interest and sense of obligation within families to ensure ongoing intergenerational family support and exchange? This article examines the role of the family as one of the key institutions of support and exchange within a changing social environment. It asks what the family does, what its members expect, and to what extent it is comparable with other informal or formal institutions in society.

Intergenerational family transfers: Dimensions of inequality

David de Vaus and Lixia Qu

The role of the state in supporting the well being of citizens is being redefined throughout western society. There is an apparent consensus among governments that the responsibility for the provision of services and support should shift from government to the market, the community and the family. This article focuses on some of the implications of expecting families to make up for what the state will no longer provide, and considers whether such changes are likely to affect generational, gender, socioeconomic and ethnic inequalities.

Social Capital and the Need for Devolution

Mark Latham

The role of the state in supporting the well being of citizens is being redefined throughout western society. There is an apparent consensus among governments that the responsibility for the provision of services and support should shift from government to the market, the community and the family. This article focuses on some of the implications of expecting families to make up for what the state will no longer provide, and considers whether such changes are likely to affect generational, gender, socioeconomic and ethnic inequalities.

Quality of School Life in Government, Catholic and Other Private Secondary Schools: Views of students and their parents

Ruth Weston

Australian has had a dual educational system of private and public schools for over one hundred years. This article examines whether parents who send their adolescent children to government, Catholic or other private school hold different educational priorities. It also examines the extent to which they and their children are satisfied with the schools attended. The author looks at the priorities of parents, and the evaluation of schools both in terms of the parents' views and the students' views. The author states that the relatively low satisfaction both parents and students have with government schools may partly explain the changing enrolments in these schools, with the greatest growth occurring in private schools other than Catholic and Anglican schools.

Rising Psychosocial Problems Among Young People: Historical myth or contemporary reality?

Richard Eckersley

Concerns for young people in today's world are well based. If their social and emotional well being are to be improved, then it is necessary to face up to the problem, and not deny that it exists. The author refers to an article by Judith Bessant and Rob Watts, 'History, Myth Making and Young People in a Time of Change' in the previous issue of Family Matters (no.40, Autumn 1998: 5-10). The author criticises their stand that viewing young people as 'victims of change' or 'sources of misrule' is a recurring historical myth unsupported by empirical evidence. Further he disputes their inference that there is no problem, or if there is a problem, it resides within the individual, and social, economic and cultural circumstances play little if any part.

Raising Children in a Socially Toxic Environment

James Garbarino

It is becoming more difficult for children to grow up these days. As greater numbers of children display signs of experiencing problems, it is important to ask, 'Why?'. The author's response is that children are vulnerable to the negative influence of an increasingly socially toxic environment, and unless something is done about it, the situation for children will only continue to deteriorate. By socially toxic environment, the author means that the social world of children, the social context in which they grow up, has become poisonous to their development. This paper is adapted by the author from his book, Raising Children in a Socially Toxic Environment. It provides a perspective on social exchanges and institutional reshaping by calling for governments to take a stronger role in the 'detoxifying' of the social environment, which the author states is currently 'polluting' children.