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Definition

The 'family type classification' is a derived variable that classifies family nuclei according to the presence or absence of couples, parents and children.

All four of the classifications that identify types of children included in a family nucleus, are derived variables. These identify the types of children or parents in a family nucleus, without having to collect all the detail of the family type classification.

The following supporting concepts are defined in the glossary:

  • family nucleus
  • couple
  • parent
  • child in a family nucleus.

Operational issues

Family vs household

It is important to distinguish between the concepts of family and household. A family (or family nucleus) is defined as a couple, with or without child(ren), or one parent and their child(ren), all of whom have usual residence together in the same household. The children do not have partners or children of their own living in the household. A household is defined as one or more people usually resident in the same dwelling, who share living facilities (see household in the glossary). A household can contain one or more families, or can contain no families at all. A household that does not contain a family nucleus could contain unrelated people, related people, or could simply be a person living alone.

The classifications relating to these concepts are 'family type' and 'household composition'. Family type is a derived variable that classifies family nuclei according to the presence or absence of couples, parents and children. Household composition is a derived variable that classifies all households according to the relationships between the people in them, whether there is a family nucleus present or not. To illustrate the difference: there is no family type category for a person living alone, whereas the household composition classification has a category called ‘one-person household’.

Child vs child(ren) in a family nucleus

There are two definitions for children. The first is that a child is anyone who is living with a parent. This broad definition includes people who are partnered and who are parents themselves. The 'relationship between members in a private dwelling' and 'living arrangements' statistical standards use this concept of child. However, this broad definition is not used for deriving the family type classification. For the purposes of the family type classification, only children in a family nucleus are counted as children (see child(ren) in a family nucleus in the glossary).

A child in a family nucleus is a narrower definition than the broader concept of child. To be a child in a family nucleus, you must usually reside with your parent(s), and have no partner or child(ren) of your own living in the same household (see usual residence, parent and partner in the glossary). Children in a family nucleus can be of any age. For example, a 50-year old person who does not live with a partner or child of their own and is living with their 75-year old parent is a child in a family nucleus. The standard classification for 'child dependency status', embedded in the family type classification, can provide information on families with dependent children. Continuing the example of the 50-year old child in a family nucleus, the 50-year old would be classified as a non-dependent child in a one parent family. See the statistical standard for child dependency status for more information on classifying dependent and non-dependent children. Also see the related classifications and standards section for more classifications that can be embedded in, or cross-tabulated with family type.

Birth/biological, adopted, step-, grand-, and other children

Children are grouped into four different categories in the family type classification. These groupings determine the type of family nucleus they will fall under in levels 2 and 3 of the classification.

  • Birth/biological, adopted children are children who are related to their parents by biology, legal registration on the child's birth certificate, or adoption.
  • Step-children are the birth/biological or adopted child(ren) of one partner in a couple but not the other. Step-children are only found in ‘couple with children’ families and cannot be included in one parent families. This is because the definition of a step-child requires that the birth/biological, adoptive parent be a partner in a couple with the step-parent, meaning step-children can only reside in couple families. If a parent in a one-parent family indicates that they are usually resident with a step-child, this child should be coded as an 'other-child' for the family type classification rather than a step-child.
  • Grandchildren are the children of a persons child (birth/biological, adopted or step). For the purposes of the family type classification, only grandchildren who usually reside with their grandparents and who do not usually reside with their birth/biological, adopted or step-parents are counted as grandchildren.
  • Other children usually reside with a ‘person in a parent role’. They are not the birth/biological, adopted, step-, or grandchild(ren) of the person in a parent role. ‘Other children’ do not have a partner or child of their own and do not usually reside with their mother or father (birth/biological, step or adopted) or grandparent. Examples include foster children, children under guardianship, or otherwise related or unrelated dependent children or dependent young persons. The specific criteria as to who is included or excluded from being an ‘other child’ should be defined by the survey.

For the family type classification there is an order of precedence when grouping children into a family nucleus. Birth/biological, adopted and step children take precedence over grandchildren and other children when deciding which category to place a family nucleus into. For example grandchildren and other children can be present in a 'couple with birth/biological, adopted children' families, but birth/biological, adopted children cannot be present in 'couple with grandchildren' or 'couple with other children only' families. Grandchildren also have precedence over other children, for example 'other children' can be present in 'couple with grandchildren' families, but grandchildren cannot be present in 'couple with other children only' families. For the specific criteria for inclusion in a category please see the classification section.

The classifications for identifying types of children in a family nucleus have been developed for cases where the order of precedence rule will mask types of children in a family nucleus that a collection may be interested in. For example 'grandchildren' and 'other children' will be hidden in 'couple with birth/biological, adopted children' and 'step family' family types. These classifications will give counts of the number of family nuclei that contain or do not contain the types of children.

Parents (mothers, fathers) and people in a parent role

The definition of parent includes two groups of people:

  • Parents (birth/biological, adopted, or step) of children in a family nucleus
  • 'People in a parent role', who are not mothers or fathers (birth/biological, adopted, or step) of children in a family nucleus but who usually reside with a person who otherwise meets the criteria for a child of a family nucleus (ie is not partnered, has no child of their own, and is aged less than 15 years), and, who can be considered a parent according to current social norms. Examples of 'people in a parent role' would be grandparents, foster parents or legal guardians. The specific criteria for classifying these 'people in a parent role' is defined by the survey. (See parent in the glossary). It is recommended that foster parents are always included as 'people in a parent' role.

It is important to note that when a parent (birth/biological, adopted, or step) is usually resident in the same dwelling as their child, there cannot also be a 'person in a parent role' to that child. The specific criteria for classifying people who are not parents (birth/biological, adopted, or step) as 'people in a parent role' of a child in a family nucleus should be determined by the survey. The classification criteria for 'people in a parent role' will be constrained by operational limitations of the survey. There are two types of surveys:

  • Self-administered surveys that derive people in a parent role (ie do not ask a direct question about the relationship but derive ‘people in a parent role’ from information gathered from other variables such as relationship, sex, age, marital status)
    Interviewer-administered surveys that have a choice; they may derive people in a parent role or they may ask respondents questions that more accurately identify ‘people in a parent role’. Common examples of people in a parent role (ie not the mother or father of a child in a family nucleus) include grandparents or foster parents.
  • Problems occur when young people, who we would expect to live in a family nucleus, do not report living with a mother or father. To solve this problem, surveys can either choose to classify young people outside of a family nucleus, or they can be classified as a child in a family nucleus and assigned to a person in a parent role (such as a grandparent or foster parent).

The Census of Population and Dwellings is an example of a survey that derives information on people in a parent role. As a general rule for the census, all people under the age of 15 should be classified as children in a family nucleus. The exception is people under 15 who have a child or partner of their own and cases of households where there are no usual residents present who are aged 15 years or over. Otherwise, people under 15 who are not reported as living with a mother and/or father should have another person in the household assigned to them as a person in a parent role. Further, if the child in a family nucleus is under 15 years of age, they should also be classified as a dependent child for the child dependency status standard classification. Due to historical practices and operational constraints census classifies foster parents as 'parents' rather than 'people in a parent role'. This should be kept in mind when comparing census data to data from other collections using this statistical standard.

Other surveys may choose not to derive people in a parent role, children in a family nucleus and dependent children in the same way as the census. For example, an interviewer-administered survey may choose to ask young people who do not report living with a mother or father if they are financially and/or otherwise dependent on another person usually resident in the household. A survey may decide to only assign related people, such as grandparents, aunts/uncles, and older siblings, to a parent role. This avoids creating family nuclei from unrelated flatmates. In all cases, the criteria for classifying people in a parent role needs to be explicitly defined by the survey for the users of the data.

Explanatory notes

Changes since the 1999 review of the standard

The previous version of the family type was a flat classification. It is now a hierarchical classification with three levels. Level 1 has not changed. Level 2 has been added in recognition of the increasing diversity of family types. Couple with children families are now divided into 'couple with birth/biological, adopted children', 'step family', 'couple with grandchildren' and 'couple with other children only'. 'Sole parent with children' families are now divided into 'sole parent with birth/biological, adopted children', 'sole parent with grandchildren' and 'sole parent with other children only'. Level 3 further divides 'step families' into 'non-blended step-families' and 'blended step-families'. The inclusion of these categories in a hierarchical classification with level 1 remaining the same, will ensure that no data or data comparability will be lost for users, while a greater level of detail will be available on the differing types of families in our society.

Foster parents are no longer defined as 'parents' and are now defined as 'people in a parent role'. The specific criteria for classifying 'people in a parent role' is defined by the survey, but it is strongly recommended that foster parents are included in this category to ensure data comparability between collections using the 2008 family type statistical standard. Data comparability issues may arise with historical survey data collected using previous versions of the family type statistical standard.

Child dependency status will still be able to be cross-tabulated with level 1 of the classification to give the same output as the standard classification 'family type by child dependency status'. In addition, levels 2 and 3 will also be able to be cross-tabulated by child dependency status to gain this information on more detailed family types. See the classification section of this statistical standard or the standard classification of child dependency status for more information.

Four classifications identifying the different types of children included in a family nucleus have been developed and added to the statistical standard. These are available for use when the order of precedence rule will mask types of children in a family nucleus that a collection may be interested in (see operational issues, birth/biological, adopted, step, grand, and other children). For example 'grandchildren' and 'other children' will be hidden in 'couple with birth/biological, adopted children' and 'step family' family types. These classifications will give counts of the number of family nuclei that contain or do not contain the types of children.

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