Couples with kids on the slide.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) have released the census data, and demographers are licking their lips. This recent data has many discussion points regarding the changing nature of Australian society, including such phenomena as the increasing secularization of our society, cultural diversity, and our ageing population. Couples with children are still the most common family unit (44.7% of the 6.1 million), however this number has fallen from previous census’, with an increase in family diversity, including many couples without children, and single parent families, who have also increased in number, with 80% of single parents being mothers.

The census data shows that family incomes on the whole have risen (nice to know), and that higher income couples tend to have larger families of two or more children. Of these families, almost two thirds are dual-income, whereby both parents contribute to the family income as well as childcare. So on the whole family life is far different to that of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Some would tend to bemoan these changes as evidence of some form of deterioration of the traditional family unit. I think it best to defer any judgement about what these changes mean, other than we are heading in to uncharted territory.

Changes in family life can feel quite seismic to some couples, who often are pioneers in their own family dynasties. For example, sharing the roles of breadwinner and childcare in a much more egalitarian way can be very challenging to couples as it is a very different arrangement to what they experienced themselves growing up, often coming from homes where family life was more ‘traditional’. Change can often come with growing pains, and certainly dual income couples are reporting to be feeling the pinch. Women are still shouldering the burden of childcare, even though they also contribute financially to the family. Men are reporting feeling unsure of their new identity as ‘involved’ fathers, feeling the weight of societies expectation to provide financially as well as emotionally for their children.

This recent census data can help us to see the direction of where we are heading as a society, and what we might be able to do in response to this new trajectory. It gives us as a society the opportunity to formulate good answers to important questions, such as; Are we able to implement legislation and policy that helps to support parents in this new world of family life? For example, how might paid parental leave help support working couples who decide to have a family together? How might workplaces better accommodate working parents with integrating their family life and their work life? How could schools better adjust schedules to allow for parent involvement in the education of their children? And so on…

Obtaining good data through a census can be a master stroke in formulating a direction and a plan for our future as a society, rather than just a narrative for historians. Let’s hope we see this data lead to planning for a positive future for our children.