Families and Households
Family life in Australia, as in many other parts of the western world, has undergone profound transitions during the past century. Giddens (2001:17) has referred to this as a 'global revolution in how we think of ourselves and how we form ties and connections with others'. Beck and Beck-Gernsheim (1995:5) make a similar point:
it is no longer possible to pronounce in some binding way what family, marriage, parenthood, sexuality or love mean, what they should or could be; rather, these vary in substance, expectations, norms and morality from individual to individual and from relationship to relationship.
Understanding the diversity of families has been a central theme in Australian social research on family life.Typically the first chapter in any recent textbook on the sociology of the family introduces the problem of defining 'the' family and argues instead for recognition of social, cultural and historical divergences in definitions of families.The evidence to support the diverse social bases of family life lies not only in the wide variety of family forms across cultures and historical periods, but also in the enormous changes that have taken place in family formation and dissolution patterns during the past thirty years.The rising divorce rate, increase in de facto cohabitation, declining fertility rate and increased entry of married women into paid employment are just some of the trends that point to a quite radical reorganisation of family life.This reorganisation has been accompanied by changes in values and attitudes towards marriage. One indication of these changing attitudes is the increased use of civil celebrants in 'do it yourself'-style marriage ceremonies rather than more traditional religious marriage services. In 1966 only 11 per cent of marriages were performed by a civil celebrant, compared to 43 per cent in 1994 (De Vaus and Wolcott 1997:15).
These kinds of statistics are often used as the basis for claims that historically the family, or family values, are in decline.Typically this concern is couched in terms of the consequences for children of changing family structures. Recently, for example, Bettina Arndt, commenting on the award of Australian of the Year to Pat Rafter, bemoaned the fact that the Australia Day Council was unconcerned about giving the award to an unmarried father-to-be. According to Arndt (2002), there is
a worrying sector of Australian society where increasing numbers of children are born to young unmarried couples in unstable, impoverished relationships. These are the children most likely to