FAMILY, COMMUNITY, SOCIAL COHESION AND PROGRESS
People are social beings. They require love, companionship and engagement with others to flourish. The absence of family, friendship or other caring or cooperative social relationships at any stage of life, but particularly when people are least able to care for themselves, can have a serious impact on personal wellbeing as well as on wider social cohesion. There are often high costs to the wider community associated with assisting people with poor or broken social relationships.
Closely bonded groups help build social cohesion as the individuals involved are likely to trust one another, share values and provide each other with material and emotional support. Reciprocal relationships in particular, where there is an expectation that support given will be returned, may encourage people to behave more cooperatively. A strongly reciprocal society not only encourages caring, but also supports the sharing of knowledge and ideas between individuals, groups and communities. Groups, clubs and charitable organisations provide a vast range of services that are a crucial adjunct to the role of the family. Where the scale and complexity of the service is beyond that which families or communities can provide, some community support functions are provided by governments.
While views about ideal levels of social cohesion may vary, for some aspects of social cohesion there is likely to be general agreement that change in a particular direction indicates progress or regress. For example, most would agree that decreases in the rate of suicides or drug-induced deaths represent improvements. However, while many statistical measures reflect care and support in families, community cohesion and social capital, it is difficult to pinpoint one or two indicators that summarise progress in this dimension. The commentary therefore presents a range of measures that provide insight into whether family and community life and social cohesion are improving in Australia. The measures include the proportion of children who live in households without an employed parent, the proportion of the adult population who volunteer, suicide rates, and drug-induced death rates.
The section 'A picture of Australian families and communities' presents information about how families and communities in Australia have changed over the past few decades, and how this may have impacted on changes observed in the progress indicators.
Some key outcomes of family and community life, such as whether people are participating in sporting and social events, are able to avoid involvement in criminal behaviour, or achieve good educational and work outcomes, are covered in other sections (Culture and leisure, Crime, Work, and Education and training).
For a full list of definitions used in Family, community and social cohesion, please see the Family, community and social cohesion glossary.
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