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Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) Family relationships, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 09 December 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Family relationships. Retrieved from https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/family-relationships
Family relationships. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 25 June 2021, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/family-relationships
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Family relationships [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021 [cited 2022 Dec. 9]. Available from: https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/family-relationships
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021, Family relationships, viewed 9 December 2022, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/family-relationships
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Overall, data from several sources indicate that family relationships are generally positive for young people.
Although peer relationships become more important in adolescence, immediate family relationships continue to be important to young people. In 2020, almost 4 in 5 (79%) survey respondents aged 15–19 rated their family relationships as either extremely important (43%) or very important (36%) (Tiller et al. 2020).
Families also remain a key source of support during adolescence; in 2016, data from the Longitudinal Survey of Australian Children (LSAC) showed that 59% of young people aged 16–17 reported seeking support from parents, while 33% sought support from a brother or sister (see Peer relationships and social networks).
The quality of family relationships can be measured in terms of family cohesion and family conflict.
Parents play a key role in the overall functioning of a family. Effective parenting tends to include elements of support (including the presence of warmth and lack of hostility), consistency, and interest in a child’s life (Zubrick et al. 2008).
Having a close relationship with parents during adolescence can have long-term effects. Teenagers who reported having a very close relationship with 1 or both parents during early and mid-adolescence (that is, ages 12–13 and 14–15) had higher levels of resilience at age 16–17 (Evans-Whipp & Gasser 2019). Conversely, those who experienced conflict with their parents between the ages of 12 and 15 had less resilience at age 16–17 (Evans-Whipp & Gasser 2019).
Relationships with extended family members can also play an important role in the lives of young people, but this section looks only at relationships with immediate family members. It draws on national data collections in doing so, though there is limited scope to explore differences between vulnerable groups (see Box 1 and Data gaps).
Consistent and regular national cross-sectional reporting on measures of family relationships is currently limited. A national indicator on family cohesion is included in the the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children indicators and the Australia’s Welfare set of indicators. Both frameworks report on families’ ability to get along based on the LSAC longitudinal study in the absence of a suitable cross-sectional analysis over time. A nationally representative survey on young people could assist in addressing this data gap.
The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) is a major study that began in 2004 and follows the development of Australian children. It collects information on physical and mental health; education; and social, cognitive and emotional development. The data are sourced from parents, child carers, educators and the children themselves.
Population estimates from the LSAC represent the population of Australian children born between March 2003 and February 2004 (B cohort), and those born between March 1999 and February 2000 (K cohort). (Children had to be registered with Medicare to be included.) These two cohorts totalled more than 10,000 children at the outset of the study in 2004. (Data are not representative of children who migrated to Australia.)
The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) study is a nationally representative longitudinal household study that began in 2001. It follows the lives of more than 17,000 Australians each year over the course of their life. The survey collects information on many aspects of life in Australia, including household and family relationships, income and employment, and health and education. The same households and individuals are interviewed every year to see how their lives are changing over time. The survey follows not only the initial sample members for the remainder of their lives, but also their children and all subsequent descendants.
The Mission Australia Youth Survey is an opt-in survey that has been conducted annually since 2002. It asks young people aged 15–19 what concerns them; what they value; and their views of work, study and the future. In 2020, 25,800 young people participated (conducted between April and August 2020), with the majority doing so online (98%). (The remaining 2% completed the survey on paper.) Young people were engaged via schools, community organisations, through Mission Australia services and at youth events.
LSAC definition of parents/carers
In the LSAC, Parent 1 (referred to in this section as the primary carer) is defined as the parent who knows most about the child (not necessarily a biological parent). Parent 2 (referred to in this section as the secondary carer), if there is one, is defined as another person in the household with a parental relationship to the child, or the partner of Parent 1 (not necessarily a biological parent).
Variation across population groups
While both the LSAC and the HILDA include variables to support the disaggregation of data by remoteness and socioeconomic areas, in many cases findings were not statistically significant, and so are not reported here. This may be in part due to small sample sizes.
In 2016, based on data from the LSAC, most young people aged 16–17 regarded their family’s ability to get along with one another as good, very good or excellent (85% or 203,000) (see Technical notes).
Overall, the views of carers aligned with the views of young people. Around 9 in 10 primary and secondary carers (90% or 216,000 and 95% or 114,000, respectively) regarded their family’s ability positively.
Whether a family yells at each other can be viewed as a measure of family conflict. Based on the LSAC, it is estimated that:
Results from the Mission Australia 2020 Youth Survey report on young people’s families’ ability to get along among a broader age group (that is, among young people aged 15–19) were slightly lower:
Between 2012 and 2020, the proportion of young people aged 15–19 who rated their families’ ability to get along as excellent, very good or good ranged from 82% in 2018 to 78% in 2019. Results for 2019 and 2020 were very similar (78.2% and 78.5%, respectively) (Mission Australia 2012; Tiller et al 2020).
Families’ ability to get along did vary, depending on where the young people lived. Based on LSAC data, the proportion of young people aged 16–17 who regarded their family’s ability to get along with one another as good, very good or excellent was:
Results from the Mission Australia 2019 Youth Survey Disability Report found that among young people aged 15–19 with disability:
In 2016, based on LSAC self-reported data on consistent parenting (see Box 2), the majority of primary and secondary carers to young people aged 16–17 provided consistent parenting about half the time or more often (91%), respectively.
The LSAC wave 7 includes a consistent parenting scale with a series of 5 questions answered on a scale of 1 to 5:
A score of 3 or higher indicates that parents provide consistent parenting about half the time or more often (Duffy et al. 2020). For more details, see Technical notes.
In 2016, based on LSAC self-reported data on parenting behaviours from the angry parenting scale (see Box 3), primary carers of 16–17 year olds engaged in the following selected behaviours for half the time or more:
The LSAC wave 7 includes data collected using an angry parenting scale which comprises a series of 5 questions answered on a scale of 1 to 5. For each of the following questions, parents/carers were asked to indicate how often the following happens:
In this section, selected individual items from the angry parenting scale are reported based on a score of 3 or higher to indicate that parents/carers engaged in these behaviours half the time or more. For more details, see Technical notes.
In 2016, based on the parent trust scale data from the LSAC, among young people aged 16–17, more than 4 in 5 reported that it was almost always/always or often true that:
Seventy-seven per cent of young people aged 16–17 reported that it was almost/always or often true that their parents understood them.
The proportions of young people for whom the following 3 items from the parent communication scale were almost always/always or often true were generally a little lower than for trust, ranging between 61% and 77% (Figure 1):
Source: AIHW analysis of the LSAC Wave 7.
Higher proportions of young people living in the highest socioeconomic areas provided positive responses on all of the measures on relationships with parents compared with those living in the lowest socioeconomic areas. The difference between the 2 groups ranged from 5 percentage points for trusting their parents to 12 percentage points for counting on their parents (Box 4). An exception was the measure for sharing feelings with parents, which was similar for both groups.
The LSAC wave 7 includes data collected using the parent trust and communication scale from the People in My Life measure. Young people were asked to respond to the following statements:
In this section, individual items from the parent trust scale and parent communication scale are reported individually, based on young people’s responding that the statement was almost always/always or often true. For more details, see Technical notes.
In 2018, the HILDA survey asked participants to indicate how satisfied or dissatisfied they currently were with their parents on a scale of 0 (completely dissatisfied) to 10 (completely satisfied).
Source: AIHW analysis of the HILDA.
For information on topics related to family relationships in Australia’s youth, see:
For information on Indigenous young people and contact with family, see:
For information on children and family relationships, see:
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2019. Australia’s Welfare indicators. Canberra: AIHW.
Duffy J, Foeken E, Renda J, Demir D, Wild M, Jessup K, Gasser C, Dunstan J & Daraganova G 2020. Growing up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children – rationale report, Release 8.0, September 2020. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies. doi:10.26193/VTCZFF. Viewed 12 March 2021.
Evans–Whipp T & Gasser C 2019. Adolescents’ resilience. In: Daraganova G & N. Joss N (eds). Growing up in Australia—The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, Annual Statistical Report 2018. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
Hall S, Fildes J, Liyanarachchi D, Plummer J & Reynolds M 2020. Young, willing and able – Youth Survey Disability Report 2019. Mission Australia: Sydney.
Mission Australia 2012. Youth Survey Report 2012. Sydney: Mission Australia.
Tiller E, Fildes J, Hall S, Hicking V, Greenland N, Liyanarachchi D & Di Nicola K 2020. Youth Survey Report 2020. Sydney: Mission Australia.
Zubrick SR, Smith GJ, Nicholson JM, Sanson AV & Jackiewicz TA 2008. Parenting and families in Australia. Canberra: Department of Family, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.
For general technical notes relating to this report, see also Methods.
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