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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2004  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 15/06/2004   
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Contents >> Family and Community >> Social interactions outside the home

Social interactions outside the home

In 2002, over four out of five Australians (87%) felt they had family and community support from people outside their household.

Within Australian society, questions are often raised about whether families and other social groups are breaking down, perhaps as a result of people becoming more individualistic or self-absorbed.(SEE ENDNOTE 1) This has led to a revival of interest in communities and how they function, and the opportunities people have to build relationships through social interaction.

Social attachment refers to the nature and strength of relationships that people have with each other. While there are generally strong social bonds within households, social attachment is also built through social interactions with people outside the household - interactions with family and friends as well as associations with individuals and organisations in the wider community.(SEE ENDNOTE 1) These interactions often result in expanded opportunities and services within the community.

There is increasing policy interest in social attachment and participation at all levels of government. For example, the department of Family and Community Services is responsible for the Stronger Families and Communities Strategy, the Community Business Partnership, and volunteering programs, while the Department of Health and Ageing has included a social capital component in its measurement of Funding of Public Health.(SEE ENDNOTE 1)


SOCIAL INTERACTIONS IN AUSTRALIA

Interaction is the key to forming relationships and generating feelings of trust, and to maintaining social networks.(SEE ENDNOTE 2) Family and friends are central to most people's social networks and the first point of call for care, practical help and emotional support.(SEE ENDNOTE 2) Much of the support provided by families takes place among family members who live together in the same household. However, support networks extending beyond the household (e.g. friends and family members living elsewhere, neighbours, work colleagues, community service organisations) are also important, both in their contribution to the wellbeing of individuals and families, and in creating and maintaining social cohesion and fostering a sense of community. In 2002, 87% of adults aged 18 years or over had family and community support - they reported that they had contact with family or friends living outside the household in the previous week, and that they felt they could ask for small favours and get support in a time of crisis from people outside the household. A further 13% of adults had some of these forms of support, while less than 1% received no family and community support. A similar proportion of men and women had access to family and community support (86% and 88% respectively), and this proportion did not differ greatly depending on people's age.

GENERAL SOCIAL SURVEY

Data in this article come from the General Social Survey (GSS) conducted by the ABS in 2002. The GSS provides a wide range of information on the social and economic wellbeing of Australians (aged 18 years and over) living in private households. The 2002 GSS collected information from people aged 18 years and over across all states and territories of Australia. Only one adult (aged 18 years or over) in each dwelling was selected for the survey. This selected person was randomly chosen after all usual residents of the household were identified. Information was collected about both the individuals being interviewed and about the households in which they lived.

SOCIAL INTERACTIONS

The GSS primarily provides information on interactions people have with others outside their household. In this article, people are described as having family and community support if they reported that they had contact with family or friends living outside the household in the week prior to interview, and that they felt they could ask for small favours and support in a time of crisis from people outside the household.

Attendance at culture and leisure venues in the last 12 months included visiting art galleries, museums, zoological parks and aquariums, botanic gardens, libraries, concerts and theatre performances, and cinemas.

Participation in sport and physical recreational activities in the last 12 months included playing a sport or undertaking a physical recreational activity, as well as being involved in 'non-playing roles' such as coaches, officials, umpires and administrators.

Voluntary work is the provision of unpaid help in the form of time, service or skills, through a variety of organisations or groups in the last 12 months.


SELECTED ACTIVITIES ASSOCIATED WITH SOCIAL INTERACTIONS - 2002
GRAPH - SELECTED ACTIVITIES ASSOCIATED WITH SOCIAL INTERACTIONS - 2002


Culture and leisure activities often provide an opportunity for social interaction and contribute to the social and physical wellbeing of individuals. These activities take many forms including creative and performing arts, music, literature, and cultural heritage. In 2002, 88% of people attended selected culture and leisure venues at least once in the previous 12 months, with similar attendance among women (90%) and men (87%). Almost all 18-24 year olds attended a culture and leisure venue at least once (98%), compared with 71% of people aged 65 years and over.

Australia is recognised internationally as a nation with a strong interest in sport. Sport and recreation form an integral part of Australian culture and have many benefits including social interaction, health, and community involvement.(SEE ENDNOTE 3) In 2002, 64% of people were involved in sport or recreational physical activities, as active participants or in non-playing roles such as coaches and officials. Men had a higher participation rate (67%) in sport and physical recreation than women (61%), and people aged 18-34 years had a higher participation rate (73%) than people aged 65 years and over (46%). Attending sporting events can also provide opportunities for social interaction. In 2002, 56% of men and 41% of women attended at least one sporting event. Attendance was higher for 18-24 year olds (65%) than those aged 65 years and over (21%).

As well as the economic value of the services volunteers provide, there is much interest in the role of volunteers in building social networks and increasing social cohesion. Volunteering generally relies on face to face interaction, bringing together a variety of people for the benefit of others.(SEE ENDNOTE 2) In 2002, 34% of people participated in voluntary work, with a similar level of participation for men (34%) and women (35%). People aged 35-44 years had the highest level of participation in voluntary work (42%), while 18-24 year olds and people aged 65 years and over had the lowest participation (28%) (for more information on voluntary work see Australian Social Trends 2002, Voluntary work, pp. 146-150).

Social participation can be limited by negative behaviours such as criminal activity in the community and people’s perceptions about the extent and proximity of such negative behaviours.(SEE ENDNOTE 3) Fear for personal safety can restrict a person's social participation and diminish trust within the community. In 2002, 18% of people were victims of a break-in or attempted break-in, or had physical violence or the threat of physical violence against them. Despite this, the majority of people felt safe or very safe at home alone after dark (82%), while 8% felt unsafe or very unsafe (see Australian Social Trends 2003, Crime victimisation and feelings of safety, pp. 187-189).

SOCIAL INTERACTIONS THROUGH LIFE-CYCLE STAGES

The level and type of social interaction varies through life-cycle stages. Families and households are by nature dynamic, and all of the transitions that occur throughout the life cycle involve personal, social and economic adjustments (see Australian Social Trends 2002, Transitions in living arrangements, pp. 52-56). As young people move out of the family home, they commonly form couple relationships and many have children. Further adjustments occur if relationships break down, and when children leave home. In addition to changes in families, a growing proportion of the population are choosing to live alone (for more detailed analysis of social interactions across the life cycle see Measures of Australia's Progress 2004, pp. 136-43, ABS cat. no. 1370.0).

In 2002, access to family and community support did not vary greatly across life-cycle stages. The majority of couples (with and without children), lone parents with dependent children, and lone persons had contact with family and friends and felt they were able to ask for small favours and help in the time of a crisis.

In contrast, attendance at culture and leisure venues and participation in sport and physical recreation activities did vary across the life-cycle stages, with higher proportions of lone persons aged 18-34 years and people of this age in couple families participating in these activities compared with those aged 65 years and over. A range of factors may contribute to older people's ability to participate in such activities. These include physical disability and ill health, loss of relationships and fewer transport options.(SEE ENDNOTE 4)

Participation in voluntary work also varied according to life-cycle stage. In 2002, just under half of adults in couple families with dependent children took part in voluntary work (42%). Their most common voluntary work activities were sport and recreation (28% of those who took part in voluntary work) and education (23%). Some of this involvement would be associated with their children's schooling and leisure activities. About one-quarter of adults in young couples without children participated in voluntary work (26%). When they did so, this was most commonly associated with sport and recreation (30%).

Feeling unsafe may stem from being a victim of a crime, feeling vulnerable, or the media portrayal of crime.(SEE ENDNOTE 5) Crime victimisation and feelings of safety varied across life-cycle stages. In 2002, a relatively small proportion of older people (aged 65 years and over) were victims of a crime (8% of those in couple families and 10% of those living alone). This is consistent with feelings of safety among older people, with 9% of those in couple families and 7% of those living alone feeling unsafe or very unsafe at home alone after dark.

Similar proportions of younger people (aged 18-34 years) felt unsafe or very unsafe at home alone after dark despite having much higher rates of crime victimisation (34% of lone persons and 19% of couples) than older people (10% of lone persons and 8% of couples). Lone parents (who are mainly younger women) with dependent children experienced a relatively high rate of crime victimisation (33%) in 2002, and were the most likely to feel unsafe or very unsafe at home alone after dark (17%).

With the exception of lone parents, women's rates of crime victimisation were similar to, or lower than, those of their male counterparts. However, in all of the life-cycle stages examined, women were more likely than men to feel unsafe or very unsafe at home alone after dark. This was particularly so among younger people. Among younger people (aged 18-34 years) living alone in 2002, around one-third of both women and men had been victims of crime in the previous year but the women were more likely to feel unsafe or very unsafe at home alone after dark - 13% compared with 3% of men.


SOCIAL INTERACTIONS BY SELECTED LIFE-CYCLE STAGES - 2002
Family and
community
support
Attendance
at culture
and leisure
venues
Sport and
physical
recreation
activities
Voluntary
work
Victim(a)
Feels unsafe/
very unsafe(b)
%
%
%
%
%
%

Lone person aged 18-34 years
90.9
94.1
76.8
28.1
34.1
6.5
Couple only, selected person aged 18-34 years
92.1
97.1
80.6
26.1
19.2
9.4
Couple with dependent children
88.4
93.4
68.3
42.3
18.7
8.3
Lone parent with dependent children
86.8
92.3
61.1
31.6
33.1
16.7
Couple only, selected person aged 65 years and over
86.8
72.9
50.3
30.6
7.5
8.5
Lone person aged 65 years and over
87.4
68.6
44.6
28.7
10.2
7.3
Total persons aged 18 years and over
86.7
88.2
64.0
34.4
18.3
8.4
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000

Total persons aged 18 years and over
12,578.0
12,789.5
9,283.2
4,989.0
2,655.0
1,218.3

(a) Of physical or threatened violence or actual or attempted break-in.
(b) At home alone after dark.
Source: ABS 2002 General Social Survey.

SOME FURTHER DEFINITIONS

In order to gain a better understanding of possible influences on social interaction, the GSS examined a range of characteristics of individuals. Some of these may be barriers to social interactions:

A disability or long-term health condition exists if a limitation, restriction, impairment, disease or disorder had lasted, or was likely to last, for at least six months, and which restricted everyday activities.

The measure of household income used in this article is equivalised gross household income. For a detailed definition see Australian Social Trends 2004, Household income (pp. 142-145).

Proficiency in spoken English is a self assessment by persons who speak a language other than English at home. It measures whether they speak English: very well, well, not well, or not at all.

Main English-speaking countries comprise the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, Canada, the United States of America and South Africa.

Regional patterns of residency are described using the Remoteness classification. Remoteness is calculated using the road distance to different sized urban centres, where the population size is considered to govern the range and type of services available. The Remoteness Areas reported in this article are Major Cities of Australia, Inner Regional Australia and Other Areas. As the GSS did not cover sparse areas of Australia, 'Other Areas' encompasses most of Outer Regional Australia, part of Remote Australia and only a small proportion of Very Remote Australia.


INFLUENCES ON SOCIAL INTERACTIONS

Many factors influence an individual's social interaction. To some extent, participation is a matter of personal choice. However, there are some barriers that appear to influence involvement in activities, and in some cases these barriers are linked to life-cycle stages. For example, disability and long-term health conditions are more common in older people (see Australian Social Trends 2001, Disability among adults, pp. 75-79). Participation in the paid work force also varies through life-cycle stages, initially increasing with age, then remaining relatively high during prime working ages, and declining towards the years of retirement.(SEE ENDNOTE 6) In addition to the presence or absence of work-related interactions, changes in labour force participation over the life cycle tend to be associated with changes in household income and the amount of time available for other pursuits, both of which may influence the extent and type of social interactions and involvement with the broader community.

SELECTED INFLUENCES ON SOCIAL INTERACTIONS - 2002

Family and
community
support
Attendance
at culture
and leisure
venues
Sport and
physical
recreation
activities
Voluntary
work
Victim(a)
Feels unsafe/
very unsafe(b)
%
%
%
%
%
%

Disability status
Has disability or long-term health condition
83.8
81.9
54.6
33.8
19.4
11.1
Has no disability or long-term health condition
88.7
92.3
70.2
34.8
17.6
6.6

Labour force status
Employed
89.4
93.3
71.0
37.5
20.2
6.3
Unemployed
78.9
89.5
62.3
28.2
25.8
10.5
Not in the labour force
82.3
77.8
50.2
29.0
13.6
12.3

Equivalised gross household income(c)
Lowest quintile
80.3
73.9
46.0
26.0
17.4
12.6
Second quintile
83.8
83.8
55.7
32.7
16.8
8.8
Third quintile
87.1
90.2
63.6
35.1
18.3
9.2
Fourth quintile
90.5
94.4
69.4
37.0
19.0
7.4
Highest quintile
91.1
96.9
81.2
39.7
20.0
5.0

Remoteness Areas
Major Cities
86.5
89.6
65.0
31.1
18.9
9.0
Inner Regional
87.4
87.5
64.7
41.1
17.6
7.1
Other Areas
86.9
81.1
57.3
42.6
15.8
7.1
Total
86.7
88.2
64.0
34.4
18.3
8.4

(a) Of physical or threatened violence or actual or attempted break-in.
(b) At home alone after dark.
(c) Excludes not stated equivalised gross household income.
Source: ABS 2002 General Social Survey.

...DISABILITY


Because people with disabilities or long-term health conditions are restricted in everyday activities they may have less opportunity for social interaction (for more details on the wellbeing of people with a disability see Australian Social Trends 2004, Support for people with a disability, pp. 41-45). While the proportion of people with a disability who had access to family and community support was similar to people without a disability (84% and 89% respectively), the proportions who attended culture and leisure venues and participated in sports and physical recreation was lower. People with a disability were no more likely to be a victim of crime (19%) than people with no disability (18%), but a slightly higher proportion of people with a disability felt unsafe or very unsafe at home alone after dark (11%).

...LABOUR FORCE STATUS

The workforce provides many people with an avenue for social interaction outside their immediate family and close friends. In 2002, not only did employed people have a higher level of family and community support than those who were unemployed (89% compared with 79%), they also had higher levels of participation in all other activities (for more information on the effect unemployment has on social circumstances see Australian Social Trends 2004, Being unemployed, a lone parent or a recently arrived migrant, pp. 51-56,). The lower participation rates of those not in the labour force may reflect the high proportion of this group who are retired (67%), most of whom are older people (65% were aged 65 years and over) who are more likely to experience other barriers such as disability and low income.

...HOUSEHOLD INCOME

The proportion of people with family and community support, and participation in all types of social activities increased as household income increased. For example, in 2002, high income was associated with greater attendance at culture and leisure venues (97% of people in the highest income quintile compared with 74% in the lowest) and participation in sport and physical recreation activities (81% compared with 46%). In terms of crime victimisation and feelings of safety, a slightly higher proportion of people in the highest income quintile were victims of crime (20%) compared with those in the lowest quintile (17%). However, a higher proportion of those with low household incomes felt unsafe or very unsafe at home alone after dark (13%) compared with people with high incomes (5%). This may reflect the high concentration of vulnerable groups in the lowest income quintile such as lone parents, age pensioners and people with a disability.

...LANGUAGE

Cultural and language differences may influence some aspects of social interaction. For example, speaking a language other than English may make it difficult to interact with people in the community. In 2002, 89% of people born in Australia had family and community support, a similar proportion to those born in main English-speaking countries. However, a lower proportion of people born in all other countries had this support (78%). This proportion was lower again for those who were not proficient in spoken English (72%).


SOCIAL INTERACTIONS BY COUNTRY OF BIRTH - 2002
GRAPH - SOCIAL INTERACTIONS BY COUNTRY OF BIRTH - 2002

Culture and leisure, sport and physical recreation, and voluntary work provide opportunities for social participation outside the household. Such activities may be particularly attractive to people who are new to Australia and want to meet new people. However, both language and culture may be barriers to participation. In 2002, while participation in these areas was similar for people born in Australia and those born in main English-speaking countries, it was lower for people from all other countries (for further information on the social circumstances of recently arrived migrants see Australian Social Trends 2004, Being unemployed, a lone parent or a recently arrived migrant, pp. 51-56).

In 2002, 19% of people born in Australia and those from main-English speaking countries were crime victims, while 16% of people from all other countries were victims. However, a larger proportion of people from all other countries felt unsafe or very unsafe at home alone after dark (13%), compared with those born in Australia (8%) and those from main English-speaking countries (7%).

...REMOTENESS AREAS

In 2002, aspects of social interaction varied across regions. The proportion of people with family and community support was similarly high in all regions. However, the levels of attendance at culture and leisure venues and participation in sport and physical recreation activities were higher in Major Cities (90% and 65% respectively) and Inner Regional Australia (88% and 65%) than in more remote areas (81% and 57%). Perhaps this is due to people in cities and larger towns having access to more facilities, giving them more opportunity to participate in these activities. Participation in voluntary work increased with remoteness, from 31% of people in Major Cities to 43% of those living in Other Areas.

ENDNOTES

1 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2004, Measuring Social Capital: An Australian Framework and Indicators, cat. no. 1378.0, ABS, Canberra.
2 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2003, Australia's Welfare 2003, AIHW, Canberra.
3 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2004, Year Book Australia 2004, cat. no. 1301.0, ABS, Canberra.
4 Cross Government Project to Reduce Social Isolation of Older People <http://www.families.qld.gov.au/seniors/isolation/index.html>, accessed 4 May 2004.
5 Williams, KS 1997, Textbook on Criminology, 3rd edition, Blackstone Press Ltd., London.
6 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2004, Measures of Australia's Progress 2004, cat. no. 1370.0, ABS, Canberra.


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