Issue 69

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Family Matters No. 69, 2004

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Having children. Or not.

Aspirations, expectations and decisions about having children

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Editorial panel: Michael Alexander, Alan Hayes, Meredith Michie, Alison Morehead, Catherine Rosenbrock, Ruth Weston, Sarah Wise

Editor: Meredith Michie

Cover art: Barry Dickins, born Australia 1949, Really Young Mother and Child, Fitzroy, 2003. Pencil, ink and watercolour, 50.5 x 63 cm. Courtesy Bridget McDonnell Gallery, Carlton.

Publication details

Family Matters No. 69
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, October 2004, 104 pp.
1030-2646 (print) 1832-8318 (online)

Copyright information


Family law update: Shared parenting and family law reform: The next instalment

Catherine Caruana

A discussion paper issued by the Australian Government in November 2004 outlines a reform strategy aimed at promoting the continued involvement of both parents in their children's lives following separation, diverting families away from the courts, and reducing the adversarial nature of legal disputes over children. This article provides a brief summary of the proposed changes as they relate to the broader family law system, the courts and the Child Support Agency in particular, and the provisions of the Family Law Act 1975.

Having children or not

Ruth Weston

Australia's fertility rate is at an all time low and is well below replacement level. In this article the author summarises some of the arguments that have been put forward to explain what might shape people's hopes, expectations and family decisions. The factors explaining the fall in fertility include broad technological, structural, cultural and social changes, shifting pathways of friends, changes in personal financial circumstances and shifts in the beliefs and values of prospective parents, with one of the most fundamental being postponement of first births and consequent shortened childbearing years, and increased risk of having no children at all. These factors are complex and often mutually reinforcing. The Fertility Decision Making Project has been designed to examine ways in which some of the potential broad social forces may be translated into the decisions individuals make about having children and to enhance understanding of the reasons underlying fertility decisions of men and women.

Opinion: Family relationship centres in Australia: Reflections based on research and practice

Lawrie Moloney and Bruce Smyth

The establishment of a new network of Family Relationship Centres forms the centrepiece of the latest round of family law reforms in Australia. This article draws on insights from practice and research in an attempt to anticipate some of the challenges that the Centres might face. The authors set out key issues that arise from practice based and broader research literature. Then they ask what is known about patterns of parenting after separation, the range of parental and child satisfaction, contact arrangements, child support and levels of inter parental conflict. Finally they flag gaps in knowledge with respect to the delivery of services in the Australian family law system and focus on the need for a research plan that will monitor and evaluate the Australian Government's latest policy initiative.

Dashed hopes?: Fertility aspirations and expectations compared

Ruth Weston and Lixia Qu

Australia's fertility rate is currently below replacement level, with women having fewer than two children on average. In this article, which is part of the Fertility Decision Making Project, the authors question whether this trend reflects what people really want, and examine the number of children that people wanted to have and the number they expected. It was found that most men and women wanted two or more children, and that people on average wanted more children than they expected to have. Despite these general trends most individual men and women felt they already had or would have the number of children they wanted.


Family size: Men's and women's aspirations over the years

Lixia Qu and Ruth Weston

While most people across all ages want two or three children, little is known about how entrenched these preferences are. Do people modify their view about their ideal family size? In the Fertility Decision Making Project of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, respondents who were 22 years or older were asked about the number of children they would ideally like to have, and the number they had wanted when they were 20 years old. The article first explores the apparent extent to which men's and women's views about having children and their ideal family size had changed since they were 20 years old, and the direction of any such change. The various patterns of reasons for revised preferences are then outlined.

Factors influencing men's and women's decisions about having children

Robyn Parker and Michael Alexander

The fertility literature is replete with reasons for delayed childbearing and the decline in large families. But what shapes men's and women's thinking about whether or not to have children? Data from the Fertility Decision Making Project indicate that men and women have similar views about which are the most important issues in the fertility decision making process. This article describes items that were most commonly considered to be important by men and women, and identifies the items for which differences occur based on parental and relationship status.

Parent-child contact schedules after divorce

Bruce Smyth

Most studies indicate that the interests of children after divorce are generally best served when children can maintain continuing and frequent contact with both parents who can cooperate, or at least 'encapsulate' their conflict. However, there seems to be a widespread belief in Australia that when parents separate, children usually see their father every other weekend. But is this the case? In this article, the author provides a 'big picture' snapshot of contact schedules in Australia, and suggests the use of more creative, child sensitive arrangements to help maximise the fit between children's and parents' needs after divorce.

Mothers' reflections about work and family life

Kelly Hand and Jody Hughes

Drawing on data from the Family Work Decisions Study, a research project undertaken by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, the authors report that mothers have diverse views about combining paid work with raising children. In addition, many mothers acknowledge that the decisions of other mothers may be different from their own and made in response to individual circumstances and decisions.


Differentiating between child maltreatment experiences

Daryl Higgins

Is differentiating between maltreatment sub types helpful in explaining outcomes for victims / survivors of child maltreatment? Results from an analysis of parent report data and adult self report data suggest that the degree (frequency and severity) to which young people experience abuse and neglectful behaviours is more important than the particular sub type of maltreatment in explaining subsequent psychological problems.


Multiple child care arrangements in Australia

Lixia Qu and Sarah Wise

The majority of Australian children will use some form of non parental child care before entering school. However, little attention has been paid to the combinations of care types that children use across early childhood and the reasons why parents make these child care decisions. In this article, the authors focus on one aspect of children's child care experiences that has only recently received attention in empirical research in Australia, namely the phenomenon of multiple child care, or 'multicare'. Multiple child care arrangements or multicare refers to the situation where children are using two or more different child care arrangements in a given week, for example long day care and care by a grandparent.

Beyond binaries in motherhood research

Julie Stephens

Much research into motherhood and the family uses qualitative techniques such as focus groups and interviews. However, these methods can serve to reinforce the dominant discourse that focuses on the contradictory demands experienced by mothers who undertake paid employment. The author argues that more creative ways of understanding the mosaic and diverse nature of contemporary motherhood, such as fiction, memoirs and personal narratives, ought to be considered.

A review of new Australian Government initiatives for families with children

Alison Morehead

The 2004 federal budget was described as a families budget, with substantial new spending to help families with children. Post budget election commitments were also significant for families with children. In this article the author summarises the new measures and the media commentary evoked, and asks what these measures might mean in the context of the Government's fourth term agenda.