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4442.0 - Family Characteristics, Australia, Apr 1997  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 22/04/1998   
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The 1997 Family Characteristics Survey examined exchanges between children and parents who live apart, most often as a consequence of marriage or relationship breakdown.

While administrative records of child support arrangements are maintained by the Child Support Agency, this was the first time that the ABS conducted a national survey of child support and visiting arrangements. Information includes frequency and duration of contact between children and their parents who live elsewhere, type and amount of child support received and the contribution of child support to income.

The survey provides detailed information on the structure of families with children aged 0-17. Families may move through a cycle of formation, change and re-formation. Beginning as an intact couple family they may, in part, become a one-parent family following marriage breakdown. If the lone parent re-partners, the resulting family is classified as a step family. When children are born to the new couple relationship a blended family is formed.

The summary of findings will also present detailed tables on family composition and marital status, including a life-stage classification of families by age of youngest child or age of spouse (in the case of couple families without children). Life-stage information helps to identify the nature of caring activities in families and so is particularly useful for analysing employment statistics.


Family issues


  • Out of Australia's 4.6 million children aged under eighteen, 1.1 million children live with only one of their natural parents, usually as a result of relationship or marriage breakdown.
  • 18 per cent of children were in one-parent families and 8 per cent were in step or blended families.
  • The vast majority of children, who had a natural parent living elsewhere, were in the sole care of the parent with whom they lived, while 3 per cent of children had parents who shared care more evenly between them.
  • Younger children were likely to visit the parent they did not live with more frequently than older children.
  • 42 per cent of families (199,200 one-parent families and 53,700 step and blended families) received cash child support from the other parent .
  • A further 16 per cent of families received support such as clothing, pocket money and assistance with school fees.
  • 41 per cent of families received no child support from the other parent.
  • Around one-third of all families receiving cash child support received, on average, $100 or less per month per child.
  • For one-parent families, the median income for families receiving child support was $18,200, while for those not receiving child support it was $16,900.
  • For step and blended couple families, the median income for families receiving child support was $45,140, while for those not receiving child support it was $37,440.


This publication presents main findings of the Family Characteristics Survey conducted in April 1997. It contains information on the composition of families and households, giving particular emphasis to the characteristics of children, such as their age, sex and family relationships. One population group of special interest in the survey was children in one-parent and step families who live with one of their natural parents but have another parent living elsewhere. Much of the information about these children was collected by ABS for the first time. The publication presents tables showing the length and frequency of visits between children with their parent living elsewhere. There is also information on child support, including amount, frequency, kind of non-cash support and steps taken by parents in making child support arrangements for their children. Other issues covered in this publication include a detailed analysis of marital status and the labour force status of parents by the age of their children.

Persons, families and households - 1992 and 1997

Household type

Family Households
One family
14 897.9
15 115.1
4 616.1
4 859.9
4 616.9
4 859.9
15 337.6
15 531.7
4 775.2
5 009.6
4 694.4
4 933.7
Non-family households
Lone persons
1 386.9
1 730.2
. .
. .
1 386.9
1 730.2
. .
. .
1 945.8
2 617.7
. .
. .
1 627.5
2 120.7
All Households
17 283.3
18 149.4
4 775.1
5 009.6
6 321.9
7 054.3

Frequency of visits with other natural parent

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