Despite what can read like attempts to will it to death, the family unit is proving resilient.
Let’s bust a myth. You’ll have read plenty of reports that the traditional family unit is in decline, and that single person households or group households are on the rise. This, we are told, is going to mean a fundamental change to the way we provide housing and lifestyle choices.
It’s true that there have been some marginal shifts in the rise of single person households. The proportion has grown from 21 per cent of all households in 1991 to 24 per cent in 2001. But this is a shift at the margin, the causes of which aren’t necessarily due to wholesale disgruntlement with the family unit but also to drivers like the ageing population (which invariably produces more widows living longer), and also to the postponement by young people of family formation (due to the perceived costs of raising children and the importance of careers, as in this story).
The biological urge to pair with a partner of the opposite sex and produce children is proving more stubborn than some forecasters and “trend spotters” might like to believe.
Only recently came evidence from the ABS (“Marriages and Divorces in Australia 2008”) that the number of marriages registered in Australia last year was at a 20-year high, while the overall divorce rate was at a 20-year low.
That sits at odds with what some commentators are saying, like this from KPMG’s Bernard Salt: “There's gay couples, divorcees, married couples who don't have kids, singles, ex-pats, de facto couples and we can't forget that we have an ageing population.” “Those groups didn't exist 30 or 40 years ago …”
Sorry Bernard, but gay couples, divorcees, married couples without children, singles and others did indeed exist 30 or 40, even 60 years ago or more. We just didn’t read about them quite as much.
He continues: “… so there's different kinds of families now who have different housing requirements. There's less need for basic three-bedroom brick veneer homes in the suburbs.”
Really? Cause and effect are open to debate here. Any shift away from the suburban detached house isn’t as much driven by changing family units or consumer choice but also by deterministic planning policies which are restricting the supply of new suburban land in favour of high density living, among other things.
“We're talking density housing," he says. "There'll be less backyard cricket and more communal facilities like parklands. It's going to mean getting used to living close to people, which is a cultural shift for Aussies who are used to their own place in suburbia.”
The same Courier-Mail article which quoted Salt also featured a lesbian couple, promoted as “the face of the future”:
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