Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) Peer relationships and social networks, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 29 May 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Peer relationships and social networks. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/peer-relationships
Peer relationships and social networks. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 25 June 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/peer-relationships
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Peer relationships and social networks [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021 [cited 2022 May. 29]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/peer-relationships
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021, Peer relationships and social networks, viewed 29 May 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/peer-relationships
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During adolescence, the social networks of young people become more complex. As they become more independent from their families, they spend more time with their peers, and place greater value on their peer relationships (Rohrbeck & Gavin 2014).
Social connections—how connected and engaged people are, how and with whom they spend their time, the quantity and quality of time spent with others, and how supported people feel—are an important dimension of quality of life (OECD 2020). Peers, though, can be both a positive and a negative influence.
Electronic media, including text messaging, email, online chats, interactive video games and electronic social media (see Box 3), has introduced a range of new contexts and changed how young people interact (Rohrbeck & Gavin 2014). It can be positive in terms of greater opportunities for social connection; however, it can also lead to negative online behaviours (see Bullying and negative online experiences).
The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) is a major study, which began in 2004 and follows the development of Australian children. The survey collects information on physical and mental health; education; and social, cognitive and emotional development. The data are sourced from parents, child carers, educators and the children themselves.
Population estimates from the LSAC represent the population of Australian children born in Australia between March 2003 and February 2004 (B cohort) and those born between March 1999 and February 2000 (K cohort). These 2 cohorts of children totalled more than 10,000 children at the outset of the study in 2004. (Data are not representative of children who migrated to Australia.)
The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) study is a nationally representative longitudinal household study that began in 2001. It follows the lives of more than 17,000 Australians, over the course of their life. The survey collects information on many aspects of life in Australia, including household and family relationships, income and employment, and health and education. The same households and individuals are interviewed every year, to see how their lives are changing over time. The survey follows not only the initial sample members for the remainder of their lives, but also their children and all subsequent descendants.
The Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY) follows young Australians over 10 years as they move through school to further study, work and beyond. Survey participants enter the study when they are about 15 years old and are then contacted once a year until they turn 25. Nationally representative samples of over 10,000 young people start out in each cohort.
Since 2003, participants have been recruited from Australian schools that take part in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Information collected includes student achievement and aspirations, attitudes to school, social background, vocational and further education, employment and job seeking, and satisfaction with various aspects of life. Groups of survey participants are known as ‘cohorts’. Cohorts Y09 and Y15, which began in 2009 and 2015, respectively, are included in this report.
Variation across population groups
While the data collections LSAC and HILDA include variables to support the disaggregation of data by remoteness and socioeconomic areas, in many cases findings were not statistically significant, and so are not reported here. This may be due in part to small sample sizes.
In 2016, based on data from the LSAC, most young people aged 16–17 (98%) reported that they had at least 1 good friend (84% reported it was certainly true, and 14% that it was somewhat true).
Based on data that used the Peer Attachment Scale (see Box 2), a high proportion of young people also responded positively to measures of trust. For the majority, it was almost always true/often true/sometimes true that their friends:
There was little difference between males and females.
A high proportion of young people responded positively to measures of communication, although the proportions were consistently lower than those for trust. Young people reported that it was almost always true/often true/sometimes true that:
For all 4 measures of communication, proportions were higher among females than males. The difference ranged from 5.3 percentage points for ‘their friends sensed when they were upset’ to 8.3 percentage points for ‘friends ask me about my problems’.
Source: AIHW analysis of the LSAC Wave 7.
The LSAC wave 7 includes a peer attachment measure adapted from the Inventory of Peer and Parental Attachment. The scale included in the LSAC is made up of 2 sub‑scales: trust (4 items) and communication (4 items). Young people are asked to respond to the following statements:
In this section, individual items from the scale are reported based on young people’s response that the statement was always true/often true/sometimes true.
For more details, see Technical notes.
The LSAC survey asked young people aged 16–17 how much time they spent interacting with friends face-to-face or electronically. In 2016:
Social media services play an important role in keeping young people connected with family and friends.
According to the eSafety report, The digital lives of Aussie teens, in September 2020, young people aged 12–17 used an average of 4 different social media services. Those aged 12 to 13 used an average of 3.1 services compared with 4.5 for those aged 16 to 17.
The most popular social media services were:
The LSAC asked young people aged 16–17 from whom they sought support in the last 12 months. In 2016:
In 2018, based on LSAY data for the cohorts Y15 (aged 18) and Y09 (aged 24), the vast majority (92% of the Y15 cohort and 94% of the Y09 cohort) reported that they could ask someone for any type of support in a time of crisis if they needed to.
Among the Y15 cohort, a slightly higher proportion of those living in non‑metropolitan areas could ask someone for support in a time of crisis than those living in metropolitan areas (95% and 91%, respectively). For the Y15 cohort, a higher proportion of those living in the highest socioeconomic areas could ask someone for support in a time of crisis than those living in the lowest socioeconomic areas (94% and 85%, respectively).
In relation to whom young people turned in a time of crisis:
Source: AIHW analysis of the LSAY.
Based on the HILDA, of young people aged 15–24 in 2018:
The HILDA data set includes 10 questions relating to levels of social support. These data items are presented individually in this section.
In 2018, based on data from HILDA, among young people aged 15 to 24:
However, in relation to negative constructs:
Source: AIHW analysis of the HILDA.
The social support items included in the HILDA can be used to construct a social capital score (see Box 4).
Based on the social support data items in HILDA, in 2018, among young people aged 15–24, fewer than 1 in 10 (9.1%) had low social capital. The proportion of young people with low social capital was more than 3 times as high in the lowest socioeconomic areas (16%) than in the highest (4.3%). However, it should be noted that the proportion for the highest socioeconomic areas had a relative standard error of 28%, and so should be treated with caution (see Technical notes).
Social capital generally measures social networks, including intimate attachments to spouse and family, friendship and social support networks and acquaintances (including neighbours). The measure of social capital used in the HILDA’s survey is based on responses to a 10–item self-completion questionnaire administered in each wave.
The following statements are used to describe how much support participants get from other people. Response options range from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). An overall measure of social capital can be constructed which can range from a low of 1 to a high of 7. An individual is classified as having low social capital if their score is less than 4 (Wilkins & Lass 2018).
For school-age children, school is an important place for making friends. Being able to make friends easily at school affects how socially connected young people feel to school and is a part of school belonging (OECD 2019) (see also Secondary school education).
In 2018, based on international PISA results, among 15 year old Australian students, around 3 in 4 (76%) agreed or strongly agreed with the statement ‘I make friends easily at school’. This result was similar to the OECD average (75%) (Figure 1).
*Data did not meet the PISA technical standards but were accepted as largely comparable.
Source: OECD 2019.
For information on topics related to negative peer relationships in Australia’s youth, see:
For information on Indigenous young people and contact with family, see:
For information on children and social networks, see:
Amichai-Hamburger, Kingsbury M, Schneider B 2013. Friendship: an old concept with a new meaning? Computers in Human Behavior 29(2013):33–9.
Duffy J, Foeken E, Renda J, Demir D, Wild M, Jessup K, Gasser C, Dunstan J & Daraganova G 2020. Growing up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children—rationale report. Release 8.0, September 2020. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies. doi:10.26193/VTCZFF. Viewed 12 March 2021.
Office of the eSafety Commissioner 2021. The digital lives of Aussie teens. Canberra: Office of the eSafety Commissioner. Viewed 12 March 2021.
OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) 2019. PISA 2018 results (Volume III): What school life means for students’ lives. Paris: OECD Publishing.
OECD 2020. How's Life? 2020: measuring well-being. Paris: OECD Publishing.
Rohrbeck C & Gavin M 2014. Peer relationships: promoting positive peer relationships during adolescence. In: Gullotta T and Bloom M (eds). Encyclopedia of primary prevention and health promotion. New York: Springer Science+Business Media.
Tiller E, Fildes J, Hall S, Hicking V, Greenland N, Liyanarachchi D & Di Nicola K 2020. Youth Survey Report 2020. Sydney: Mission Australia.
Wilkins R & Lass I 2018. The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey: selected findings from waves 1 to 16. Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research, University of Melbourne.
The Peer attachment scale included in the LSAC wave 7 is adapted from the Peer Attachment Scale, Armsden and Greenberg (from the Inventory of Peer and Parental Attachment (1987)).
Response formats include:
For more information on LSAY data, see About LSAY data.
For general technical notes relating to this report, see also Methods.
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