Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2022) Australia's children, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 09 February 2023.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2022). Australia's children. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/australias-children
Australia's children. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 25 February 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/australias-children
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australia's children [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2022 [cited 2023 Feb. 9]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/australias-children
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2022, Australia's children, viewed 9 February 2023, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/australias-children
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Safe, secure and stable access to room for study, play and undisrupted sleep is critical for children’s health and development. However, a number of children live in overcrowded dwellings—homes that are too small for the size and composition of the household—limiting their access to such space.
At increased risk of experiencing overcrowding are:
Overcrowding extends beyond 2 siblings sharing a room. It is characterised by uncomfortable or irregular sleeping arrangements, with multiple children of different ages and sexes sharing bedrooms, parents forced to share bedrooms with their children, and single adults or multiple couples sharing a room. Families often resort to sleeping in living and dining rooms in the absence of space (Shelter 2005). For more information on how overcrowding is defined, see Box 1.
Overcrowding has been associated with increased risk of emotional and behavioural problems and reduced school performance, likely due to disrupted sleep, lack of space to study and the impact of noise levels on concentration (Solari & Mare 2012). Lack of privacy can impact family relationships, leading to family conflict. It can contribute to childhood mental health problems including anxiety, depression and stress (Solari & Mare 2012). Distress over lack of control of living conditions is frequently reported by adults living in crowded dwellings (Lowell et al. 2018).
Overcrowding can also impact children’s physical health, with asthma frequently reported by families experiencing overcrowding (Shelter 2005; Solari & Mare 2012).
Overcrowding is higher among Indigenous households and therefore can impact children’s health, including ear, skin and other infections. Overcrowding can also compromise children’s access to adequate nutrition, with flow-on effects to their health and development (Lowell et al. 2018; Thurber et al. 2017).
Data on overcrowding come from the ABS Census of Population and Housing. The Census is collected by the ABS every 5 years with the most recent data available for 2016. The 2016 Census collected information on welfare-related topics, including overcrowding.
In this section, households are considered overcrowded if they are estimated to require 3 extra bedrooms according to the Canadian National Occupancy Standard (CNOS) (ABS 2018).
Persons living in overcrowded dwellings are considered a marginal housing group and may be at risk of homelessness. Persons living in severely overcrowded situations (households requiring 4 or more extra bedrooms) are considered homeless and are not included here. They are instead included in homelessness estimates.
In 2016, approximately 40% of children living in households requiring 3 or more extra bedrooms were considered homeless.
The ABS definition of overcrowding differs from that used in National Housing and Homelessness Agreement reporting and the Report on Government Services, where overcrowding is defined as households requiring 1 or more additional bedrooms (SCRGSP 2019).
Canadian National Occupancy Standard
The CNOS assesses the bedroom requirements of a household based on these criteria:
Overcrowding can be assessed at household level or individual level.
This section reports on overcrowding at individual level.
In 2016, around 18,900 children aged 0–14 lived in overcrowded housing, a proportion of 0.4%.
The proportion of children aged 0–14 living in overcrowded housing remained relatively stable between 2006 (0.3% or 13,100) and 2016 (0.4% or 18,900).
In 2016, the proportion of children aged 0–14 living in overcrowded housing varied by population group.
Children from households with multiple families were more likely living in an overcrowded situation (1.6% or 8,100) than children in 1-parent families (0.5% or 3,300) and couple families (0.2% or 7,400).
More children were living in an overcrowded situation in Remote and very remote areas (2.4% or 2,600) than in Outer regional (0.4% or 1,500), Major cities (0.4% or 12,900) and Inner regional (0.2% or 1,900) areas.
Children living in the lowest socioeconomic areas were also more likely than those as in the highest socioeconomic areas to be living in an overcrowded situation (1.2% or 9,700 compared with 0.1% or 760).
Differences were also evident between children born overseas and children born in Australia (0.9% or 3,300 compared with 0.4% or 15,300), and between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and non-Indigenous children (1.8% or 3,900 compared with 0.4% or 14,700) (Figure 1). However, rates of overcrowding among Indigenous children showed a positive change between 2006 and 2016, decreasing from 2.5% to 1.8%.
Chart: AIHW. Source: ABS 2018.
Limitations to the way family relationships are coded in the Census can result in the misclassification of relationships, especially for large households with complex family relationships or multiple families. If relationships are incorrectly recorded, households including more than 1 couple may look like crowded group households as single adults require their own bedroom while couples can share a bedroom under the Canadian National Occupancy Standard. This may inflate the number of children recorded as living in overcrowded housing. The ABS has recently started exploring the definitions of family across its full suite of surveys and data sources.
For more information on:
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2018. Census of Population and Housing. ABS cat. no. 2049.0. Canberra: ABS.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2017. Canadian National Occupancy Standard. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 26 August 2010.
Easthope H, Stone W & Cheshire L 2017. The decline of ‘advantageous disadvantage’ in gateway suburbs in Australia: The challenge of private housing market settlement for newly arrived migrants. Urban Studies 0:0042098017700791.
Lowell A, Maypilama L, Fasoli L, Guyula Y, Guyula A, Yunupiju M et al. 2018. The 'invisible homeless' - Challenges faced by families bringing up their children in a remote Australian Aboriginal community. BMC Public Health 18(1):1–14.
Mission Australia 2019. Out of the shadows—Domestic and family violence: A leading cause of homelessness in Australia. Sydney: Mission Australia.
SCRGSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision) 2019. Report on Government Services; Part G: Housing and Homelessness. Productivity Commission. Viewed 20 September 2019.
Shelter 2005. Full house? How overcrowded housing affects families. London: Shelter.
Solari CD & Mare RD 2012. Housing crowding effects on children’s wellbeing. Social Science Research 41:464–476.
Thurber KA, Banwell C, Neeman T, Dobbins T, Pescud M, Lovett R et al. 2017. Understanding barriers to fruit and vegetable intake in the Australian longitudinal study of Indigenous children: a mixed-methods approach. Public Health Nutrition 20(5):832–47.
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