Issue 64

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Family Matters No. 64, 2003

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Family trends

Changing patterns of partnering; Fostering social competence in young adults; Parents' child care choices

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Editor: Meredith Michie

Publications committee: David de Vaus, Matthew Gray, Meredith Michie, Catherine Rosenbrock, Ann Sanson, Ruth Weston, Sarah Wise

Cover art: Harold Greenhill, born Australia 1914, Summer holiday 1950. Oil on canvas on plywood 65.8 cms x 78.4 cms. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

Publication details

Family Matters No. 64
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, May 2003, 96 pp.
1030-2646 (print) 1832-8318 (online)

Copyright information


Social competence in young adulthood, its nature and antecedents

Diana Smart and Ann Sanson

   Despite the challenges and problems that confront young people today, many find their lives to be satisfying, rich and full. This article discusses the nature and antecedents of a key attribute which fosters well being and interpersonal relationships - social competence. Using data from the Australian Temperament Project currently housed at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, the authors report on the use of a new measure of social competence developed for use with young adults to explore the connections between social competence and other forms of adjustment and well being. Levels of social competence at 19 - 20 years of age, and gender differences, are described. The paper also reports on the stability and antecedents of such skills from childhood to adulthood.  

Opinion - Uncertainty, risk and children's futures

David Green and Alison McClelland

Many families and children face increased uncertainty and insecurity as a result of radical economic and social changes. The impacts are particularly experienced in the nature of work and family life and have implications for the emotional attachments and the experience of trust of all family members, especially children. In this opinion piece the authors argue that, as the Western world undergoes a period of profound economic and social change, insufficient attention is being paid to how that change, and the consequential risks and uncertainties that are generated, could be managed by governments to strengthen and protect families. They maintain that the material insecurities associated with change are likely to undermine the strength of relationships, so important to family stability and to children's development. They also state that the way family and children's services are funded and delivered means that these problems of uncertainty and relationship instability are compounded. The authors further argue that governments have a clear responsibility to address the distribution of risk and take appropriate action to enhance rather than diminish opportunities for secure and trusting relationships.

Changing patterns of partnering

David de Vaus, Lixia Qu and Ruth Weston

There have been important changes over the last 25 years in the way in which men and women form partnered relationships. The authors argue that taking a longer-term perspective provides a better understanding of these trends. Within the last quarter century family structures and relationships have changed in significant ways. One of the most striking changes is in the area of partnering, perhaps the most obvious being the increasing tendency for people to live together without marrying (cohabitation) at some stage in their lives and the fall in first marriage and remarriage rates. This article asks what these trends suggest for the future of marriage. The authors explain that those who focus on the last few decades may well draw markedly different conclusions from those adopt a longer term perspective. 

Family law update - The Columbus Pilot: Catalyst for an emerging model of an integrated family court system in Western Australia

Paul Murphy, Paul Kerin and Lisbeth Pike

The Columbus Pilot project was developed by the Family Court of Western Australia to assist, enable, and encourage separated parents to acknowledge the debilitating effects of continuing conflict, violence or abusive behaviour, and to encourage couples to resolve their differences without recourse to prolonged litigation in the Family Court. The Project has acted as a catalyst for a number of changes as both the judicial officers and counselling service staff have developed new skills and knowledge in what is a difficult area of family litigation and dispute resolution. 

Polarisation of families according to work status

Jennifer Renda

Over the last two decades there has been much discussion about changing employment patterns in Australia, and the effect such changes have on families. One of the major trends in the Australian labour market over recent years has been an increase in the number of families with children in which no parent is employed ('work poor' or 'jobless' families) and families in which two parents are employed ('work rich'). This article examines how the rapid growth in part time employment has contributed to the growing polarisation of families into 'work poor'and 'work rich' categories.

Multiple and severe disadvantage among lone mothers receiving income support

Peter Butterworth

Efforts to improve the social and economic participation of lone mothers receiving welfare need to be mindful of the obstacles experienced by many of these women, and recognise the need for appropriate support and services for those who require assistance. Since 1999, reform of the income support or welfare system has been a priority of the Australian Government. One of the key client groups targeted by the reforms and policy initiatives is lone parents, particularly lone mothers who comprise the vast majority of lone parents. The aim of this paper is to quantify the extent to which lone mothers experience barriers likely to impede or make more difficult their transition into employment. The paper outlines the key aspects of welfare reform in Australia, then discusses research examining barriers and obstacles to employment and workforce participation, and the prevalence and consequences of these factors for lone mothers. Drawing on data from the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, it sets these issues in an Australian context.

Continuity of care in the early years?: Multiple and changeable child care arrangements

Jennifer Bowes, Sarah Wise, Linda Harrison, Ann Sanson, Judy Ungerer, Johanna Watson and Tracey Simpson

Continuity of care is seen as an important aspect of quality child care for children in the early years of life. Yet previous studies suggest that up to a third of Australian children in their first three years attend two or more care settings a week. A new study shows that use of multiple child care arrangements in which arrangements involving two or more concurrent non maternal child care arrangements on a regular basis across seven days, and changes in care arrangements, are relatively common. In this article, the authors ask what the implications are for the quality of care experienced by these children.  

Expectations of marriage among cohabiting couples

Lixia Qu

In the past, living together was often a stepping stone to marriage. As cohabitation has become commonplace, do people who are cohabiting these days expect to marry their partner? This article asks the following questions: What are cohabitors' expectations about marriage, and to what extent do people have marriage in sight when they are cohabiting? Does the perceived prospect of marrying vary according to the length of time people have been cohabiting, or to the cohabitors' gender, age or previous marital status? To what extent do partners agree on their marriage prospects? This paper first examines links between the expectations of marriage of cohabiting men and women and their previous marital status, their age, and the length of their cohabiting relationship. It then looks at the extent to which both partners share the same or similar view on their prospects of marrying each other. 

Growing up in Australia: The first 12 months of a landmark study

Ann Sanson

The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (Growing Up in Australia) is a large scale national study tracking the development of Australian children over the early years of life. The overall intent of the paper is to give readers a sense of the contribution that the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) will make, and what the study will offer to policy makers, researchers and service providers. This paper discusses the rationale for conducting such a study in Australia today. It outlines various overseas and past Australasian studies in order to highlight some of the key issues to be considered, and provides a broad overview of the study, including the conceptual model on which it is grounded and some of its key design features. The article discusses progress made in the 12 months since the contract was signed and the study's future plans and timelines. 

How accessible are child abuse prevention services for families?

Katie Kovacs

There is currently little documented information available about how families locate, gain access to and use, child abuse prevention services. In order to start to redress this knowledge gap, the Commonwealth Department of Family and Community Services requested the National Child Protection Clearinghouse at the Australian Institute of Family Studies to undertake a small exploratory research project. The aim of the research was to investigate issues impacting on accessibility of services designed to prevent maltreatment, and how families with a child at risk of being maltreated avail themselves of such services.  

Competing family models, competing social policies

Catherine Hakim

Even in modern societies, women's views are often still overlooked. The author believes that policy makers and social scientists concerned with family and social policy need to take greater account of women's values, preferences and life goals. She outlines three lifestyle preference groups for women: work centred women; home centred women; and adaptive women. Work centred women are in a minority. Preference theory predicts that men will retain their dominance in the labour market, politics and other competitive activities, because only a minority of women are prepared to prioritise their jobs (or other activities in the public sphere) in the same way as men. Home centred women are also a minority group, and a relatively invisible one given the current political and media focus on working women and high achievers. Home centred women prefer to give priority to private life and family life after they marry. Adaptive women prefer to combine employment and family work without giving a fixed priority to either. The author states that preference theory exposes the bias against full time motherhood in current fiscal, social and family policies in many modern societies. She argues that there is a need to redress the current bias towards policies supporting working women exclusively, at the expense of policies supporting full time homemakers and full time parents.