Family-related life events

Insights from two Australian longitudinal studies


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Content type
Research report

December 2012


Lixia Qu, Jennifer Baxter, Ruth Weston, Lawrie Moloney, Alan Hayes

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The report examines the prevalence of different life events among Australian adults, and the links between life events, personal and family characteristics, and personal wellbeing.

Life events include such things as family formation or separation, serious illness or bereavement, financial or employment change, or moving house.

The report presents insights from two large-scale national longitudinal datasets: the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey - which provides a broad population view - and Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) - which focuses exclusively on families with young children.

This report follows on from a literature review on the trends and impacts of life events, published as Research Report No. 20.

Key messages

  • The experiences of some events also varied according to socio-economic status, with those with relatively low socio-economic status being more likely than others to report relationship status changes, loss of paid work, a major worsening of financial circumstances, and moving house. Some of these experiences were also linked with being a young parent and with regional location.

  • Although some events are especially likely to occur at certain ages, the likelihood of experiencing others such as the serious illness or injury of a family member varied little across age groups.

  • People who experienced certain life events (e.g., financial crisis, relationship separation and being a victim of physical violence) tended to have lower wellbeing prior to the life event occurring compared with those who did not have such experience and to experience further declines in wellbeing after the event occurred.

  • The experience of multiple life events was associated with declines in wellbeing from an already relatively low base.


Dr Lixia Qu, Dr Jennifer Baxter and Dr Lawrie Moloney are Senior Research Fellows, Ruth Weston is the Assistant Director (Research), and Professor Alan Hayes is the Director, all at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

This work was commissioned and funded by the Australian Government Department of Human Services (DHS). We are very grateful to the enthusiastic support and sound advice we received throughout the entire process by the DHS team with whom we worked, especially Rosie Burn, Jodi Sargent and Robyn Longman. We wish to thank Lan Wang, the Institute's Publishing Manager, for both editing and polishing this work, and Jessie Dunstan for her assistance in formatting some tables.

Regardless of these invaluable contributions, we, the authors, remain responsible for any errors or omissions.

The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey was initiated and is funded by the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) and is managed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research (Melbourne Institute). Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) is conducted in a partnership between FaHCSIA, the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The findings and views reported in this paper are those of the authors and should not be attributed to FaHCSIA, the Melbourne Institute, AIFS or the ABS.


Qu, L., Baxter, J., Weston, R., Moloney, L., & Hayes, A. (2012). Family-related life events: Insights from two Australian longitudinal studies (Research Report No. 22). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.



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