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The family is a remarkably significant social unit It is defined a group of individuals related by blood marriage adoption or cohabitation AIFS 2001 In all known societies the family has the function of regulating sexual behaviour and reproduction of socialization of protecting children and the elderly and of providing its members with emotional support health and well being Edgar et al 1993 Over the last few decades family formation patterns have changed considerably Contemporary family sociology has identified that family practices too are also changing rapidly Massive demographic change has signaled significant changes in family-form with family-households now being considerably smaller in size Moreover there is evidence that the norms governing family life are also undergoing change from being primarily obligational to negotiational Changes in family networks and changes in the norms governing family life have considerable implications for the Australian family as a unit Over the last 20 years the marriage rate has begun to decline The number of registered marriages or weddings per thousand population gauges this trend In 1998 the crude marriage rate was 59 marriages per thousand population ABS 2000 The marriage rate decline can be attributed mainly to changes in attitudes to marriage and living arrangements Two prominent contributing factors are that young people are staying in education systems for longer periods of time and the increasing incidence of de facto relationships and social acceptance of these relationships These aforementioned causes - prolonged education and increasing numbers of de facto relationships - have also influenced the median age of first marriage In the Family trends table a noticeable rise in age can be noted from a calculated average of 222 years in the early 1970s to 27 in the late 1990s attributed to societys change in attitude regarding these issues De facto couples are those who live together but are not registered as married and who identify themselves as de facto in a relationship question ABS 1995 These
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