Issue 83

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Family Matters No. 83, 2009

Journal issue feature image

Hard times

This issue of Family Matters covers the impacts of recessions on families; joblessness, family relations, and children’s development; financial disadvantage and children’s school readiness; young people transitioning from state out of home care; social isolation among retired men and women; and the Family Violence Protect Act.

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Executive Editor: Ben Edwards

Editorial panel: Jennifer Baxter, Leah Bromfield, Ben Edwards, Matthew Gray, Alan Hayes, Rae Kaspiew, Elly Robinson, David Stanton, Matthew Taylor, Ruth Weston

Editor: Lan Wang

Cover art: The Family Matters 83 cover painting is by Matthew Rogers, Notes (detail), Oil on canvas, 137 x 229 cm, Courtesy of Dickerson Gallery Sydney & Melbourne.

Publication details

Family Matters No. 83
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, October 2009, 68 pp.
1030-2646 (print) 1832-8318 (online)

Copyright information


The impacts of recessions on families

Matthew Gray, Ben Edwards, Alan Hayes and Jennifer Baxter

Matthew Gray, Ben Edwards, Alan Hayes and Jennifer Baxter provide a broad-ranging review of the potential impacts on Australian families of the global recession. The paper begins with information on the rates of unemployment and long-term unemployment since 1980 to the present day. The authors point out that several demographic changes mean that this economic downturn will be different for families than in previous years. Women are now engaged in the labour force at much higher rates than previously and, as a consequence, there are more dual-income families. Single-parent families may be particularly vulnerable in difficult economic times, given their reliance on a single income. Surprisingly, there is little direct evidence of the effect of unemployment in economic downturns on families, but there is fairly good international evidence on the impact of unemployment on families more generally. Gray et al. summarise evidence on the scarring effect of unemployment, and the impact of unemployment on mental and physical health, crime, family functioning and children. Also discussed is the impact of economic downturns on broader contextual factors, such as the geographic concentration of unemployment and disadvantage, housing, and social exclusion. There have been some substantial falls in asset values, particularly in the stock market, and this has flowed through to superannuation balances and the authors suggest that this may have an impact on families, as older workers may delay their retirement.

Overview: Hard times

Ben Edwards

In the context of an economic downturn, where the disadvantaged are more likely to be adversely affected, social inclusion becomes even more important. Articles in this issue address the interaction of policies, services and institutions, and the vulnerable with the employment prospects of those in out-of-home care; the economic consequences for single-parent families of the changes to the child support and the Welfare-to-Work reforms; and how the Victorian legal system has responded to family violence.

Joblessness, family relations and children's development

Ariel Kalil

Economic instability and job loss remain permanent features of the American and Australian economies. The effects of parental joblessness on the wellbeing of families and children have rarely been more relevant than in the current economic climate. Yet, the nature of children’s experiences in families with jobless workers is not fully understood. This article summarises theoretical perspectives and empirical research on this topic from the US and other countries. A number of large-scale studies find adverse impacts of parental job loss on children’s educational attainment and human capital development, although the mechanisms accounting for these phenomena have not been widely studied. Additional important areas in need of further study include the roles of gender and race/ethnicity in moderating the impacts of joblessness on families and children.

Financial disadvantage and children's school readiness

Ben Edwards, Jennifer Baxter, Diana Smart, Ann Sanson and Alan Hayes

The transition from home to school is a major change in children’s lives. Children vary in their “readiness” for this transition, and the marked differences visible in children’s cognitive and social/emotional skills at school entry have implications for later outcomes. In this paper, Ben Edwards, Jennifer Baxter, Diana Smart, Ann Sanson and Alan Hayes examine the impact of living in financial disadvantage on children’s school readiness and the role that other risk and protective factors play.

Young people transitioning from state out of home care: Jumping hoops to access employment

Philip Mendes

Young people leaving state out-of-home care are arguably one of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in society. Compared to most young people, they face particular difficulties in accessing normative developmental and transitional opportunities, including adequate access to training and employment. This paper examines some of the key factors contributing to poor employment outcomes, including traumatic pre-care experiences, poor in-care experiences, and lack of ongoing assistance on leaving care in regards to housing, education and other social and personal supports. This paper documents some of the existing employment support schemes for care leavers in Australia and elsewhere, and identify those components that are most likely to lead to better outcomes.

The golden years?: Social isolation among retired men and women in Australia

Roger Patulny

Social contact beyond partners and co-residents is vital for wellbeing in old age. Besides the obvious benefit to life quality, broader contact with family and friends who live outside the household provides support beyond that available in one’s own household, particularly in circumstances of relationship breakdown or death of a spouse. However, broader social contacts are likely to be disrupted by retirement. Retirement is difficult to define, incorporating aspects such as ending work and gaining more free time for socialising; defining oneself as “retired” and more leisured; and entering a particular “retirement age” where contact with work colleagues is reduced (particularly among men), and more time is spent with partners and peers who are also retired (particularly among women). This paper uses data from the Australian General Social Survey, 2006, and the Australian Time Use Survey, 2006 and finds that retired men spend less time with family and friends outside of the household than men who are not retired. For retired women, the opposite pattern emerges, as they report spending more time with family and friends who live outside of the household compared to women who are not retired.

Family Violence Protection Act 2008

Judith Peirce

Judith Peirce, a former Commissioner of the Victorian Law Reform Commission, provides an historical account of factors that have led to the development of the Victorian Family Violence Protection Act 2008 . She discusses some of the limitations of the previous legislation and recent developments to establish a more responsive family violence system in Victoria.