Australian Family Diversity: an Historical Overview 1960-2015
Riggs, Damien Wayne
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Over the past three decades, increasing attention has been paid to the diversification of Australian families, particularly with regard to both modes of family formation and family structure. Researchers have provided extensive accounts of, for example, lesbian mother families, families formed through surrogacy, grandparents parenting their grandchildren, and the lives of people who were donor-conceived. These accounts, among many others, have served to expand our understanding of what counts as a family, and the specific experiences and needs of a range of family groups. At the same time, however, changes in the political landscape have increasingly brought to the fore an emphasis upon one particular form: the heterosexual nuclear family formed through reproductive heterosex. As such, whilst on the one hand we have seen increased recognition and indeed celebration of family diversification, we have also seen something of a push back against this diversification. The present report was developed in order to facilitate a robust, empirically-based discussion of the topic of family diversification in Australia. The report highlights two key points that address both the fact of diversification outlined above, and concerns that have arisen in response to it: First, changes to the face of Australian families have been slow yet consistent over the past five decades. Such changes have been brought about by developments in the realm of reproductive science, legislative change, and shifts in public attitudes. In this sense, diversification reflects the reality of Australian society, rather than being the agenda of any one group. Second, despite changes to the face of Australian families, much remains the same. In other words, the information presented in this report highlights both continuity and change. In drawing upon data collected by, amongst others, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare, available both publically and through request by the authors, this report presents an overview of key family-related areas. As such, it builds upon the significant work undertaken by the Australian Institute of Family Studies in their Diversity and Change in Australian Families report (de Vaus, 2004) by adding a historical component. Mapping changes and continuity across time provides researchers, policy makers, and members of the public with an informed understanding of Australian family diversification.