Issue 66

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Family Matters No. 66, 2003

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Ageing: Issues for Australian families

Various approaches to understanding the effects and consequences of ageing for Australian families, and the roles of older people within families.

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Executive Editor: Matthew Gray

Editorial panel: David de Vaus, Jan Duffie, Matthew Gray, Meredith Michie, Catherine Rosenbrock, Ann Sanson, Ruth Weston

Editor: Meredith Michie

Cover art: Vera Nazina – born St Petersburg 1931, Suppertime 1962. Tempera, 65 x 55 cm. Private collection. Courtesy Bridget McDonnell Gallery, Melbourne.

Publication details

Family Matters No. 66
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, December 2003, 72 pp.
1030-2646 (print) 1832-8318 (online)

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Opinion: Grandparents raising grandchildren: A new class of disadvantaged Australians

Margot Fitzpatrick

This paper discusses some of the findings of the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren study, conducted by COTA National Seniors (Australia). The study explored grandparents' views on their existing support mechanisms; what additional support they may require; the financial and legal issues they may be facing; and any concerns they may have about the wellbeing of their grandchildren. The authors state that the study has shown a failure of community support systems in regard to grandparents raising grandchildren. This failure has profound impacts on the lives of both grandparents and grandchildren - in the present and for the future. It is noted that, in conjunction with grandparents raising grandchildren and their support groups, COTA National Seniors developed a set of 21 recommendations to help resolve some of the problems.

Overview: Ageing issues for Australian families

Ann Sanson

This introduction first offers a brief discussion of some of the issues associated with population ageing. An overview is then provided of the set of papers in this edition of Family Matters, which take various approaches to understanding the effects and consequences of ageing for Australian families, and the roles of older people within families.

Family law: The 'joint custody' debate: Where to now?

Catherine Caruana

The Parliamentary Inquiry into a legal presumption of 50:50 joint parenting after parental separation continues to generate intense debate. Continuing the Institute's interest and involvement in the debate, the author reports on a recent professional forum titled Joint Rebuttable Custody: In the Child's Best Interests? which was hosted jointly by the Australian Family Mediation Association and the new Roundtable Dispute Management unit at Victoria Legal Aid. She also refers to options formulated in a paper entitled 'Proposal for a New Process for Dealing with Post-Order Contact Disputes', produced by the Family Law Council in November 2003 in response to questions taken on notice from the Inquiry Committee. A summary is included which presents the core points in the Institute's submission to the Inquiry.

Australia's ageing yet diverse population

Ruth Weston, Lixia Qu and Grace Soriano

Australia is one of the many countries experiencing falling fertility in the context of increasing life expectancy and thus an ageing population. Other important changes include shifts in the transition from a virtually mono-cultural society to one of the most culturally diverse societies in the world. This article outlines the changing size and structure of Australia's population, the components of population growth and ageing, and projections for the next 100 years. The authors note that, whatever the pace of change in population ageing, the projections suggest that the nature of consumption and demands for services will change, with health and aged care services increasing, and those geared towards children declining. Research into intergenerational exchange is described which highlights the continuing importance of families as providers (and receivers) of support. The ability of families to play a pivotal role in enabling Australia to meet the challenges of its ageing population will require the development of strong partnerships between government, business, various levels of the community, and families.

Grandparents supporting working families: Satisfaction and choice in the provision of care

Joy Goodfellow and Judy Laverty

Over one-fifth of children of below school age in Australia are currently cared for by their grandparents as part of regular child care arrangements. How do grandparents view this role? Insights into grandparents' experiences have the potential to inform child and family policies. Following a short outline of previous grandparenting research, this article draws on data from the recent Grandcaring Study, which sought to gather the perspectives of grandparents on their role as (informal) carers of grandchildren on a regular basis, and to identify the joys, frustrations and dilemmas associated with that experience. Underlying its experiential orientation, the study was also open to investigating the sensitivities of relationships between grandparents and their grandchildren and between grandparents and their adult children who were the parents of the grandchildren.

Are welfare states financing their growing elderly populations at the expense of their children?

Jonathan Bradshaw and Emese Mayhew

In the light of the concerns that demands on social expenditure by the elderly will be met at the expense of benefits and services for children, the aim of this article is to review what has been happening in selected OECD countries in the last 20 years or so. Two measures of equity are considered: public expenditure on benefits and services for the elderly and families with children; and the relative poverty rates of the two groups.

Ageing, living arrangements and subjective wellbeing

Lixia Qu and Ruth Weston

Life expectancy in Australia increased markedly over the last century, but what is the quality of most of these added years? Are people approaching so-called 'retirement age' finding the prospect daunting? How do older people view their lives? In this article, new data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey are used to shed some light on these questions.

The value of unpaid work of older Australians

David de Vaus, Matthew Gray and David Stanton

As the population ages, the direct financial costs to governments are expected to rise due to the income support and health costs associated with an older population. This has led to an unduly negative, problem-oriented view of population ageing that neglects the contribution of older citizens to the social and economic wellbeing of the nation. This article seeks to provide more balance to the debate about the cost of older people in an ageing society and to estimate the financial value of some of the ongoing contributions of older people that are not measured in national accounts. The article provides estimates of the financial value of the unpaid contributions of older people - both to their family and to the wider community.

Older migrants and their families in Australia

Trang Thomas

The author discusses the family experiences of older migrants - both those who came as young migrants and now have grown old, and those who came during their old age to join their adult children in Australia. While acknowledging that the ageing experience of many older migrants and their families can be a positive one, the paper particularly focuses on some of the difficulties that may arise. Discussion includes the clash of cultures; family dynamics; the changing role of women; language and communication; mental health issues; and caring for the aged. The author notes that valuable support for the wellbeing of older migrants is to be found in the size of the ethnic community to which they belong - as the community becomes larger and better established, it provides a wider social milieu and can provide support services for its older members. A policy implication arises from this observation, the author suggests - newer groups may require some services funded by the wider society until their own community is able to handle the task.

The role of families in an ageing Australia

Seniors and Means Test Branch, Department of Family and Community Services

Families have a central place in the population ageing debate. This article looks at the role of families and the challenges they face in changing social and economic circumstances. It endorses a life cycle approach to responding to the challenges of population ageing. Policy responses suggested focus on four key issues: first, the importance of increasing the opportunities for economic participation; second, consolidating retirement incomes; third, supporting family formation and resilience; and fourth, responding to ageing communities.