Is the ‘Australian Suburban Nuclear Family Dream’ too strong to die?

Whilst we often hold up the suburban nuclear family as ‘typical’ of Australian society, it is becoming increasingly clear that this form of co-habitation was a ‘special’ constellation that characterised the era of the 1950s and 1960s. Several trends mark its evident decline. The average Australian household is shrinking and ageing, and while specific historical factors are often held up to explain this shift – the sexual revolution, the advent of contraception and the rise in family planning – a broader social movement towards greater ‘individualisation’ plays a great part in this story.

The British sociologist Anthony Giddens describes the ‘transformation of intimacy’ in the later 20th century ‘late modern’ period, which continues today. We have so much more independence now from the constraints of traditional family and gender roles, that we can (and do) seek emotionally driven, egalitarian ‘pure relationships’ over traditional bonds such as marriage. This can be seen in the decline in marriage rates in Australia, and in the rising proportion of defacto couples.

Giddens’ theory goes further than marriage. It implies that human relations have become so individualised that we have lost (or can afford to lose) interest in traditional forms of cohabitation – such as the nuclear family – of any kind. This is evidenced in media concerns about the rise in childless couples, single parent families, and in particular, lone person households. However, a close examination of ABS statistics reveals a more complex picture.

The proportion of single parents, childless couples, and lone-person households in Australia increased substantially up to just past the turn of the millennium, but then slowed to almost no change. Research from the Australian Institute of Family Studies shows that while the proportion of childless couple families is projected to overtake child couple families by 2036, there is almost no projected increase in the proportion of single parent families. ABS data also shows only a very small increase in lone-person households to 2036, which is much lower than the large increases seen in countries overseas, particularly in Scandinavia and Western Europe.

Evidently, Giddens’ transformation is taking place to some degree, but seemingly at a lesser rate in Australia than in other countries. Perhaps that raises the question – what makes our families and us so special? Is the ‘Australian Suburban Nuclear Family Dream’ too strong to die?

#S208UOW17 #Tut5

Posted in SOC208 - Cities, Communities and Families, Uncategorized, UOW.

28 Comments

  1. Average Australian household is shrinking, this is due to many reasons, such as cost of living, contraception, and family planning. ‘Nuclear family’ no longer the norm. Women are choosing career and having families later on due to IVF and adoption trends.

    • The concepts of IVF and adoption trends is an interesting point to bring up in regards to the ‘traditional’ nuclear family – and in turn could also bring in the concept of surrogacy. I don’t recall any statistics given in the lecture regarding these, though I believe it would be an interesting area to investigate, and what impact this has on the shape of cities, communities and families.

      For example, what impact would surrogacy in relation to same sex couples (or couples in general) have on not only family structure, but also cities where it is legal/illegal or only allowed on an altruistic basis (such as Australia)?

      #S208UOW17 #Tut5 #Mon1130

  2. If you were to compare the typical nuclear Australian family to the families of various countries around the world, you would find that on average, Australian families have larger families as a whole. There are many reasons as to why Australian families typically have larger families, one major factor being that generally, Australian’s live in larger homes with 2-3 bedrooms, allowing more room for additional family members.

    However, although marriage rates may be declining, this does not necessarily mean that birth rates are declining as a result. Couples are still together yet cannot always afford the financial burden of paying for a wedding or some individuals simply do not believe in marriage as a whole. However, divorce between married couples is becoming increasingly more common, which ultimately leads to the typical nuclear Australian family that consists of two parents and 2-3 children, less common nation wide. Instead, we see more families with single parents raising 1-2 children and perhaps re-marrying with other divorced single parents who also have children of their own. It is here that we find the standard Australian nuclear family trend being broken.

    The average Australian household is also shrinking is size due to families simply not being able to afford having more than 1 child, with medical and educational costs continually rising, some families simply cannot financially support having a larger family.

    I feel that Australians like the idea of the typical nuclear family but due to the changing world we live in today, it isn’t so possible due to various financial and economic reasons. #S208UOW2017 #TUT5 #MON1130

  3. Pure Relationship – “refers to a situation where a social relation is entered into for its own sake… and which is continued only in so far as it is thought by both parties to deliver enough satisfaction for each individual to stay within it”. (Jamieson 1999, p. 477)
    Ah, the pure relationship… I can’t say I’m as optimistic as Giddens but it does sound appealing. I think there is no denying that people are much more independent nowadays, particularly women. Women are now in a better position to support themselves financially rather than relying on the traditional institution of marriage and the gender roles that go with it. We can see this in action when we look at the statistics presented in the lecture, marriage rates are declining and defacto relationships are increasing, such statistics support the idea that intimacy has indeed transformed. As a result of this transformation we yearn for a relationship that is pure, one heavily based on emotional connection and equality rather than security and adhering to socialised gender roles.

    This transformation is all well and good, and I do believe that it is something to be strived for, yet it is something I feel will never be completely achieved. I admire Giddens positivity but I have to admit, I found Jamieson’s (1999) perspective more realistic. The section of the reading titled ‘Coupled Relationships’ explains that although we are striving for this pure relationship men continue to play the role of the breadwinner and women the role of the carer/housekeeper. These roles are still reflected in dual income families as women’s income is often seen as supplementary. Instead of striving for equality we “carefully construct” (1999 p. 484) a picture of ourselves and our partner as equals in order to trick ourselves into believing the inequalities within the relationship do not exist. I know I for one am guilty of this, but to be honest I’m not too bothered by it.

    Maybe this is why the Australian dream of the nuclear family is too strong to die? I think we are at a stage where many people are torn between the traditional ideas of the nuclear family in the suburbs and the modern concept of the pure relationship. We want the independence and the individual success but the narrative of the suburban family on the quarter acre block is something that we are socialised to strive for. Maybe, we forgo some of our independence or carefully construct skewed views of our relationships to think that we are achieving both?

    #S208UOW17 #Mon1130 #Tut5

  4. Pure Relationship – “refers to a situation where a social relation is entered into for its own sake… and which is continued only in so far as it is thought by both parties to deliver enough satisfaction for each individual to stay within it”. (Jamieson 1999, p. 477)

    Ah, the pure relationship… I can’t say I’m as optimistic as Giddens but it does sound appealing. I think there is no denying that people are much more independent nowadays, particularly women. Women are now in a better position to support themselves financially rather than relying on the traditional institution of marriage and the gender roles that go with it. We can see this in action when we look at the statistics presented in the lecture, marriage rates are declining and defacto relationships are increasing, such statistics support the idea that intimacy has indeed transformed. As a result of this transformation we yearn for a relationship that is pure, one heavily based on emotional connection and equality rather than security and adhering to socialised gender roles.

    This transformation is all well and good, and I do believe that it is something to be strived for, yet it is something I feel will never be completely achieved. I admire Giddens positivity but I have to admit, I found Jamieson’s (1999) perspective more realistic. The section of the reading titled ‘Coupled Relationships’ explains that although we are striving for this pure relationship men continue to play the role of the breadwinner and women the role of the carer/housekeeper. These roles are still reflected in dual income families as women’s income is often seen as supplementary. Instead of striving for equality we “carefully construct” (1999 p. 484) a picture of ourselves and our partner as equals in order to trick ourselves into believing the inequalities within the relationship do not exist. I know I for one am guilty of this, but to be honest I’m not too bothered by it.

    Maybe this is why the Australian dream of the nuclear family is too strong to die? I think we are at a stage where many people are torn between the traditional ideas of the nuclear family in the suburbs and the modern concept of the pure relationship. We want the independence and the individual success but the narrative of the suburban family on the quarter acre block is something that we are socialised to strive for. Maybe, we forgo some of our independence or carefully construct skewed views of our relationships to think that we are achieving both?

  5. I feel as though there still may be areas of life that people want to thrive in and many things they strive to achieve and that the ‘Australian Suburban Nuclear Family Dream’ IS dwindling away. Owning homes, having a family and stable work are still things that people may dream of. But this may not be seen as the typical “nuclear” family and the previous ideas on marriage and family traditions. We seek more in or lives than ever before due to the social changes, sexual revolution and changes in gender roles, marriage and equality. Although Jamieson identifies that “others continue to make explicit reference to traditional beliefs of manhood and womanhood, sometimes disavowing that this is how life should always be organised, but accepting that it works for them” (Jamieson 1999, pg. 485), Giddens says that a pure relationship “for what can be derived by each person… and which is continued only in so far as it is thought by both parties to deliver enough satisfaction for each individual to stay within it” (pg. 477)
    Relationships nowadays seek more in not only relationships but in all areas. There is more flexibility that doesn’t fit the older social constraints.

    #S208UOW17 #Tut5 #Mon1130

    • so do you think that the nuclear family ideal is dying because of rise in individualism and self-concern?

    • But what about the effect pop culture has on our society?
      Do you think depictions of current, individual based family dynamics (unlike the “perfect nuclear family” in the past) in film and media has had an impact on our societies acceptance of the new normal? I think so.

  6. The decline in the ‘nuclear’ family and the transformation of intimacy which was touched on in the last lecture goes to show just how relationships has changed in the past and is still changing in the present.
    Anthony Giddens had a theory on ‘transformation of intimacy’ which found that a type of intimacy within a ‘pure relationship’ is one that requires complete equality by both people within the relationship. Ultimately this equality formed within relationships between males and females, spread into greater things within society in general (Jamieson 1999). As stated by Giddens on ‘pure relationships’, “key sustaining dynamics are mutual self-disclosure and appreciation of each other’s unique qualities”. The emergence of the ‘pure relationship’ found an increase in more response and creativity in the form of sexuality and relationships, which ultimately gave individuals more freedom from what once had very traditional and pre-given constraints (Jamieson 1999). The independence that oneself has over their own sexual relationships is in complete contrast to what was once considered a non-issue, where the feelings and love for another person never decided a partner relationship (Jamieson 1999.
    Jamieson (1999) goes on to discuss that relationships may seem that they are shaped by what brings pleasure and freedom to the people within the relationship, but in fact is often influenced by societal factors such as what’s practical, economic elements and material circumstances. The shift to Giddens ‘pure relationships’ has led to greater acceptance and interest, for women especially, in intimacy and sex. What was once a topic that was never talked about in public by women, sexual experimentation and diversity of sexual practices is now talked about, accepted, anticipated and displayed on the covers of women’s magazines (Jamieson 1999).

    Do we subconsciously allow societal factors to influence our sexual relationships?

    #S208UOW17 #Tut4 #Mon1630

  7. “Is the ‘Australian Suburban Nuclear Family Dream’ too strong to die?” is an important question to consider as family structures are becoming increasingly diverse in Australia. I believe the nuclear family is still set as the ideal structure for the functioning of the family and therefore considered the norm. However, statistics are reflecting cultural shifts.

    One statistic raised that caught my interest was that by 2036, it is estimated that couples without children will become the majority. I think this projection highlights the decline in the traditional nuclear family. Social changes in regards to women in modern society may be influencing this. For example, women are increasingly choosing careers over families now with the greater access to employment opportunities and decline in the tradition of being a housewife. Another important influence is the pursuit of what Giddens describes as a ‘pure relationship’ that is free of traditional restrictions and allows for more freedom in a relationship (pg.477). This could be also suggested to influence the increase in de facto relationships as well.

    Lastly, whilst the suburban nuclear family dream may still be considered the ideal for some, it is becoming increasingly unachievable. I would argue that one important explanation for this is the huge increase in house prices in popular suburbs and cities. This means people are less likely to end up residing in 3 – 4 bedroom houses with large gardens for children to grow up in. Instead people may have to purchase smaller homes or rent apartments in the city which may not be suitable for raising children in. Perhaps people could move locations for a cheaper house however this then may affect their employment and hence this option may not work for all families.

    Overall, the Australian suburban nuclear family dream appears too strong to die at this point in time because it is still largely regarded as the ideal. However, I think as attitudes and family structures continue to change and progress then there is a strong possibility that it will die.

    #S208UOW17 #Tut5 #mon1130

  8. I agree with Courney. I think it is hard to determine in 2017 what a ‘Nuclear family’ is. people in today’s society are becoming a lot more educated and informed to be able to make their own decisions in life. Logical thinking has replaced what used to just be expected. And example of this is the motion of women now having children later in life and choosing to focus on their education and career’s rather than starting a family at the age of 18.

    As to the examples of single person households there can be multiple different factors that could lead to this occurrence. An increase of urbanisation with more people living in cities in Australia than ever before, and an increasing rise in declining social capital may be leading to people to become more isolated within their own residence. I believe the shift towards a more individualised society is that of people being more informed to make their own decisions in life and with the rise of technology, the need to have a individual personality and sense of accomplishment has become increasingly important

  9. The decline in the traditional ‘nuclear’ family within Australia has been due to many reasons.
    Technology has had a major affect on the traditional family, women are now able to have control over there choice of when and if they have kids. IVF and other medical developments have also influenced nuclear families, with same sex couples and singles to have a family with out the pressure of being married traditionally. This also gives women older in age more chance of having kids later in life in order to achieve other goals such as travelling or having a career. #S208UOW17 #tut5 #Mon1130

  10. There are many factors that are contributing to the change in family structures and the decline of the suburban nuclear family.

    Giddens claims that there is a trend toward the ‘pure relationship’ between couples.”A pure relationship is one in which external criteria have come dissolved: the relationship exists solely for whatever rewards that relationship can deliver.” (Giddens 1991).

    The pure relationship drifts away from the traditional forms of relationship, in todays society we have much more freedom when deciding who we want as our partner.
    This has resulted in a rise of different types of relationships, such as same sex relationships and defacto relationships.
    This is believed to make relationships more unstable because as Giddens says, its good until further notice.
    This has drifted Australians away from the Suburban Nuclear Family Dream, because we are no longer sticking to tradition.

    #tut5 #mon1130

  11. I feel that the “nuclear family” is not necessarily dwindled away to nothing. As Tegan stated above, people still aim to have a family, and to own a home etc. But maybe these things are just wanted at a later date. People more are focusing on their career before family, and focusing on possibly travelling before owning a home. What also a large part of these social changes is the new acceptance of various families types now. There is no longer just one type of family. There is change within gender roles, importance of marriage and also equality between the sexes, and marriage equality. Relationships are now more about the relationship, and not necessarily about the view that is put to society. It is now widely accepted that relationships and families are not just the typical ‘nuclear’ families.
    #S208UOW17 #Tut5 #Mon1130

  12. The age old question, is the Australian nuclear family dream too strong to die?

    I suggest that it may no longer be the that Australian’s wish to have the “traditional nuclear family” with 2 children, a working father and a stay at home mother. However, there is still a strong tie to the ideology of having a “family” in whichever form that may take. Humans as a whole and not just Australian’s thrive on the sense of support, pride, unconditional love and normality of family life. Most of us are brought up in families so its only natural that we would want that for ourselves.

    Whilst the ‘family dream’ does seem to be dying, particularly in inner city areas such as Sydney whereby the housing prices are now too high to achieve the quarter acre block family dream, or simply the fact that there is not enough room to have a family. I think the Australian suburban family dream is still significantly achievable in rural areas, where there is still land and lower housing prices. Therefore if we look at the Australian family dream only from the perspective of cities, yes it does seem that it is dying, however the dream is still strong in rural areas.

    Although in saying that, there is obviously a great trend toward childless couples and lone-person households. It has been argued by Abbott et al in ‘The family and the Household’ that this may be due to a growth in the ideologies of individualism, similar to that argued by Giddens. Meaning that more women and men expect, choice, control and equality over their lives, being single and not having children gives people this freedom as they have no family responsibilities, priorities or compromise to take place over their own lives.

    Thus I think that the transformation of intimacy is taking place in Australia as Gidden suggests, this is heavily reflected in the ability for women to work outside of the home, a greater departure from traditional gender roles with men having greater input in family life and the trend toward co-habitation rather than marriage. Although I would still maintain that while some Australian’s may delay family life, due to career aspirations, particularly women. Family life is still an aspiration that people would ideally like to achieve, increases in technology aiding the ability for this to be possible.

    After all, nobody wants to be of old-age and lonely, with no family of their own.

  13. It is plain to see in modern Australian lifestyle that the nucelar family is slowly drifting away from its once idealistic position, thus giving other family and living structures an opportunity to floruish. Personally I grew up in a de facto household and whenever friends or peers would come over no one would even notice as it didn’t effect my lifestyle or outlook at all, infact many visitors assumed I was from a nuclear family. The transformation of intimacy in this context was an intangible factor due to the laid back nature of my family. It is important to remember everyone is unique and that whether it be a nuclear family, single parent, extended or whatever structure there are different desires that meet different needs. #S208UOW17 #Tut5 #mon430

  14. With childless couples set to take over couples with children in 2036 this does put a strain on the” Australian suburban nuclear family dream”? Are we going to see this dream fizzle out or because of the world we live in today with couples working full time and the price of that dream house and family in suburbia is just not possible? Because couples are getting married later on in life are they so use to having just the two of them that they do not want to change their lifestyle and have no desire to have that nuclear family?
    #S208UOW17 #tut5 #Wed1430

    • In regards to your last question…. who’s to say that this concept of a ‘nuclear family’ MUST consist of two parents, and dependent children. What if we assigned a new definition to that term. Australia over the years has been characterised by a number of different family dynamics, whether we’re talking about childless couples, single parents, same sex couples/families or de facto relationships/families. Why can’t these family structures be considered the new ‘nuclear family’ ideology? Our society has greatly evolved…as so should our perceptions of family life.

      #S208UOW17 #Tut5 #Wed1430

  15. Coming into modern times, the ideal of a nuclear family is no longer a priority. With many different theories to help account for this transformation they all have appropriate validity in what could be the main factor, which shaped this change. I believe that in combination all aspects played a role in shaping the tradition of modern day society in terms of family structure and relationship/life goals. Gidden’s theory of intimacy expresses our growing independence and change of notion of relationships where the traditional notion of the family has been reinvented to include step families, de facto couples, single parents, same sex couples, adoptions and surrogacy. Aspects such as the aging population, fewer people getting married and the fertility rate being lower then replacement levels shows that the nuclear family will be a minority. I believe that the change is so great and opportunities now so vast that in some cases, individuals do not see the nuclear family as plausible, therefore it is fast losing its strength in what constitutes the “Australian dream”.
    #S208UOW17 #Tut5- Wed1430 #WK6

  16. As Jamieson (1999) mentioned, couples in the 60’s felt marriage was a way to form stability in an unpredictable world (p.480). However as discussed in the lecture, we are now seeing a decline in the number of marriages in Australia and increase in de-facto relationships. Does this suggest people feel more stable in the world compared to the past? And hence feel secure enough to remain in de-facto relationships rather than attaining the long-term security marriage can provide?
    As touched on in the lecture individuals are becoming more independent, and as Kiosha has suggested above there are greater education and hence career opportunities for people in the 21st century, particularly for women. Therefore I believe there isn’t as great a need for attachment to another through marriage – because if a relationship isn’t working out, it is more likely these days that both individuals in the relationship would be able to financially cope without the other. Given this is the way our society is shifting, should we really be concerned with raising rates of de-facto couples?

  17. As Jamieson (1999) mentioned, couples in the 60’s felt marriage was a way to form stability in an unpredictable world (p.480). However as discussed in the lecture, we are now seeing a decline in the number of marriages in Australia and increase in de-facto relationships. Does this suggest people feel more stable in the world compared to the past? And hence feel secure enough to remain in de-facto relationships rather than attaining the long-term security marriage can provide?
    As touched on in the lecture individuals are becoming more independent, and as Kiosha has suggested above there are greater education and hence career opportunities for people in the 21st century, particularly for women. Therefore I believe there isn’t as great a need for attachment to another through marriage – because if a relationship isn’t working out, it is more likely these days that both individuals in the relationship would be able to financially cope without the other. Given this is the way our society is shifting, should we really be concerned with raising rates of de-facto couples?
    #S208UOW17 #tut5 #wed1430

  18. Contemporary society has seen a great shift in life structure. Previously, personal life goals would include marriage and kids, with a stable job only being a male job. Now women can be financially independent without a man and men and women can find satisfaction within themselves, their social lives and their careers without having to be married to feel a sense of self fulfilment. This is all due to a change in society views and broader spectrum of acceptance and religious views. The concept of marriage is Christian based, however a multi-cultural nation brings a variety of beliefs and people are standing up against such religious values dictating society. As mentioned in the lecture, people are also leading more individual lives and choosing alternative paths to marriage and kids.
    Society has many more options for different kinds of families and living situations, however humans will always have the instinctual urge to reproduce and therefore the nuclear family model is likely remain popular in society.
    #S208UOW17 #tut5 #Wed14.30

  19. I think that the nuclear suburban family dream is still quite strong in Australia, as the statistics show it is being achieved either later in life or it’s a dream that is never achieved. This can be due to a number of factors that have also been touched on, rising house costs, contraception, family planning etc.

    I think the reason that childless couple households will overtake child couple households by 2036 is because with the cost of living these days it is rather difficult to be able to afford both having a family and owning your own home. I believe we are seeing a lot more young people who are career orientated whilst they are young, getting themselves set up while they are young with good education and a stable job and then going on to think about starting a family later in life.

    The Australian Suburban Nuclear Family Dream is still strong however I think the idea of what makes up a Nuclear family is also changing

  20. I believe that the Australian Nuclear Family Dream is still very strong within society these days. However the age at which we achieve the dream has changed due to a number of factors, these include; contraception, marriage/relationship ideologies, cost of living and education etc.

    while it can be argues that society has become more individualistic with everyone becoming more independent it could also be said that the Australian Nuclear Family is simply unaffordable. With the rising cost of living, both owning a house and having a family may be seen as unaffordable particularly for young people. I believe we are seeing a trend of young people who are set on getting a good education or a good job to set themselves up to then go on and start their family when they are at a stage where they have achieved everything they want to before having kids.

    It is safe to say there has been a shift in family structure in contemporary society, however i believe that the Nuclear Family Dream is still strong within Australian society and will take a long time to fully disappear. If it ever does

    #S208UOW17 #tut5 #Mon1130

  21. Australia has an ageing population and decreasing fertility rates. Not only this, but family structures are significantly different to the ‘ideals’ of the nuclear family. Families come in so many shapes and sizes; couples (heterosexual and same-sex) with and without children, blended families with step-parents and children, multi-generational families and so on. While traditionalised roles have allowed for nuclear families to still be prevalent, they are not what all people aspire to have anymore. It has decreased throughout the progression and diversity of societies.
    #SOC208UOW17 #tut5 #Wed1430

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