The Age (Melbourne)
6 July 2010
One-third of babies born out of wedlock
By Adele Horin and Erik Jensen
Nothing short of a revolution has swept through the institutions of marriage and family in the past 30 years, says the director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, Alan Hayes.
The most striking change is the rise in babies born out of wedlock. More than a third of babies born in 2008 (34.4 per cent) were to mothers who were not married, an increase from 8.3 per cent in 1970.
"For many children it's been a good revolution, but it depends on the extent to which they are in safe and stable homes," Professor Hayes said.
The big rise in ex-nuptial births was to cohabiting couples, he said. The proportion born to single women on their own had remained stable since the early 1990s.
"It's difficult to generalise about the effects on the children," Professor Hayes said. "It depends on whether the cohabiting relationship is long-term and stable, whether it leads to marriage, or whether it is fragile and part of a series of relationships."
Professor Hayes will report today on the modern family at the annual conference of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, which has charted the changes since it opened its doors 30 years ago.
It was more important to focus on how a family functioned than on its form, Professor Hayes said, on whether parenting was harsh and inconsistent, and whether relationships "disappeared before children's eyes". It was easier for governments to support families irrespective of their form than to try to change marriage rates.
Rebecca Huntley, director of Ipsos Mackay Research, said for many members of the cohabiting Generation Y, the sign of commitment was the decision to have children and to buy a house together. But later, when they could afford it, the couple splashed out on a big, ostentatious wedding.
"They see the wedding as a party with 150 friends," she said. "For their parents' generation a wedding was the licence to buy a house and have the children."
Another sign of the revolution is the proportion of couples who have lived together before marrying, which reached 78 per cent in 2008, compared with 23 per cent in 1980. Both parents are much more likely to be in work, with 63 per cent of mothers of dependent children in jobs (mostly part-time) compared with 43 per cent in 1981.