Family and household makeup of ex-serving ADF members

Ex-serving ADF members lived in similar household types as the Australian population

Social support from other people and services can be vital in times of need and can contribute to connectedness through interactions between people. Social support comes in many forms, but broadly covers ‘support accessible to an individual through social ties to other individuals, groups, and the larger community’ (Lin et al. 1979).

Having a positive and reliable social support system can enhance resilience to stress, help protect against developing trauma-related psychopathology, decrease the functional consequences of trauma-induced disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and reduce medical morbidity and mortality (Ozbay et al. 2007). However, the nature of ADF service can make it difficult to develop and maintain social connections outside of the military, as ADF members often need to spend periods away from home for deployment and/or training (Open Arms, 2021). Understanding the living situation of ex-serving ADF members can provide insights on the informal social support provided by family, friends and those they live with. The level of informal support available to an individual often mediates their need for formal support services through programs provided by government and non-government organisations, designed to enhance wellbeing (AIHW 2017).

A household is broadly defined as a person, or group of people aged 17 years or over who occupy a private dwelling. The composition of people living in the household may contribute to a person’s feelings of safety, and social and community connectedness (AIHW 2018a). For the purpose of this report, household compositions are divided broadly into family households, group households and lone person households.

In 2016, the majority of ex-serving ADF members were living in family households. Higher proportions of ex-serving ADF males who were Commissioned Officers at the time of separation lived in family households compared to those of Other Ranks (87% and 83% respectively). However, ex-serving ADF females who were Commissioned Officers were less likely to live in family households compared to Other Ranks (80% and 85% respectively). For Australian males, 81% lived in family households compared to 82% Australian females.

Ex-serving ADF males and females who had been separated from the ADF between 1 and 5 years ago (from 31 December 2015), were most likely to live in a group household (6.4% and 6.3% respectively), compared with those who were separated for 10 or more years who were the least likely (2.8% and 2.3% respectively). For Australian males, 5.4% lived in a group household compared to 4.1% Australian females.

In 2016, ex-serving ADF males and females lived alone (11% and 12% respectively), similar to the rates for Australian males and females (11% and 13% respectively). Ex-serving ADF females aged 55 years and over had 3.2 times the rate of living alone compared to those aged under 55 (30% and 9.3%, respectively). A similar pattern was observed for the Australian population with 26% of Australian females aged 55 years and over living alone, while 6.3% aged under 55 were living alone. For ex-serving ADF males aged 55 years and over, 12% lived alone, while 17% of Australian males aged 55 years and over lived alone (Figure 9).

Figure 9: Proportion of the ex-serving population in 2016, household type by age and service characteristics

The interactive data visualisation includes the household types of family, group, and lone persons households as well as unrelated individuals. In 2016, ex-serving ADF males and females lived alone (11% and 12% respectively), similar to the rates for Australian males and females (11% and 13% respectively). Ex-serving ADF females aged 55 years and over had 3.2 times the rate of living alone compared to those aged under 55 (30% and 9.3%, respectively). A similar pattern was observed for the Australian population with 26% of Australian females aged 55 years and over living alone, while 6.3% aged under 55 were living alone.

Visualisation not available for printing

Family members of ex-serving ADF members

Service in the ADF is a unique occupation. This service affects the lifestyle of the ADF member, with flow on effects for their family life. For example, moving regularly for operational requirements might make it difficult for members and their families to form enduring relationships within a community (Tan 2020).

DVA provides a range of support services for ex-serving ADF members and their eligible family members (DVA 2021). For these services to be relevant to DVA clients, it is important to understand the family household structures common among ex-serving ADF members.

The term spouse refers to the husband, wife, partner or de facto partner in a couple family present in a family household on Census night. Family households are further broken down by:

  • Couple family with children where children includes dependent children (under 15 years of age, dependent students studying full-time aged between 15 and 24 years, and non-dependent children aged 15 years and over who are not studying full-time.
  • Couple family without children. It is worth noting that a couple family without children household can include those couples whose children have left home and not present in the household on Census night, not just those couples who have not had children.
  • Single parent family with children where children is as above.

Based on the representation of households on the 2016 Census night, there were 48,100 spouses and 60,300 children who lived in a house with an ex-serving ADF member. This equated to 83% of ex-serving ADF males and 84% of ex-serving ADF females living in a family household. More than four in five (86%) ex-serving ADF members in family households lived with a spouse, with 99% being an opposite sex spouse and 1.1% a same sex spouse.

Of all children living with ex-serving ADF members in 2016:

  • 74% were under the age of 15
  • 14% were dependent students aged between 15 to 24 years who attend full-time study 
  • 12% were non-dependent children aged 15 years and over, and who were not a full-time student aged 15-24 years.

Ex-serving ADF males and females who had children, had a higher rate of children under the age of 15 (74%) compared with the Australian population (62%).  This is likely to be confounded by the higher proportion of persons aged between 25–44 represented in the ex-serving ADF population in the linked data.

In 2016, the median age of children living with an ex-serving ADF member under the age of 15 was 6.5 years, similar to the Australian population at 6.9 years.

Spouses living with ex-serving ADF members had similar or higher rates of education qualifications and employment than Australians living in a couple family

ADF members often need to move around to meet operational needs. This can be disruptive to their family members’ education and employment opportunities (Tan 2020). Defence makes information and support available to families before, during and after deployments or absences to help them address these challenges.

In 2016, spouses of ex-serving ADF members were more likely to have an educational attainment that was higher than a school qualification (Year 12 or equivalent or below), regardless of whether they had children or not compared with Australians living in a couple family with and without children. A Certificate III/IV was the most common highest level of educational attainment for male spouses of ex-serving ADF members with and without children (32% and 29% respectively). In comparison, the most common highest level of educational attainment for Australian males in a couple family with or without children was Year 12 or equivalent or below (36% and 34% respectively).

For female spouses of ex-serving ADF members with and without children, the most common highest level of educational attainment was a bachelor degree or higher (36% and 34% respectively). Like Australian males, the most commonly reported highest level of educational attainment for Australian females in a couple family with or without children was Year 12 or equivalent or below (39% and 44% respectively). After adjusting for age, similar proportions of females with a bachelor degree in 2016 were observed between female spouses of ex-serving ADF members without children and Australian females in a couple family without children.

Spouses of ex-serving ADF members with children were equally likely to be employed (75%), when compared to the Australian population in a couple family with children (74%). For spouses of ex-serving ADF members without children, nearly 7 in 10 (69%) were employed compared to 55% of Australians in a couple family without children. After adjusting for age, similar proportions of employment were observed for ex-serving ADF members without children and Australians in a couple family without children.

In 2016, for spouses of ex-serving ADF members with children, 2.5% were unemployed, which was nearly half the rate when compared to Australians in a couple family with children (4.3%). After adjusting for age, this pattern remained to be observed. For spouses of ex-serving ADF members without children 2.5% were unemployed, which was similar to Australians in a couple family without children (2.4%). After adjusting for age, the proportion of spouses of ex-serving ADF members without children unemployed was at a rate 1.2 times lower than Australians in a couple family with children. In terms of unemployment rates, spouses of ex-serving ADF members with or without children experienced lower unemployment rates (3.2% and 3.5%) compared to Australians in a couple family with or without children (5.4% and 4.1%).

A similar proportion of spouses of ex-serving ADF members with children were not in the labour force (22%) as Australians in a couple family with children (21%). Almost 3 in 10 (28%) of spouses of ex-serving ADF members without children were not in the labour force compared to 43% of Australians in a couple family without children. After adjusting for age, similar proportions of spouses of ex-serving ADF members without children were not in the labour force as Australians in a couple family without children. Note that spouses labour force status results by sex breakdowns are not available due to small numbers.