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Be productive, then procreate

By Gary Johns - posted Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Children who grow up in welfare-dependent families are much more likely to be dependent upon welfare as adults. This is the unsurprising finding of Professor Deborah Cobb-Clark in the Youth in Focus research project.

It is not a hard and fast rule. Bright and/or tenacious children break free and succeed. Many do not. Among others, separation and joblessness are two causes of dependence. Both are intergenerational (Longitudinal Study of Australian Children). Children whose grandparents or parents experienced separation or job­lessness face a greater risk of separation and joblessness as adults.

By age six, children in families who have experienced persistent intergenerational disadvantages have already fallen behind in academic performance and social-emotional development.


Intergenerational disadvantage is pervasive and its effects upon the youngest generation of a family begin early.

Young people growing up in families with a history of intensive income-support are less likely to complete Year 12, are more likely to be in poor health, and have a higher prevalence of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use. Mental health also seems to be worse among the more disadvantaged.

They are more likely to have experienced alcohol or drug abuse problems or trouble with the police. They are more likely to face unemployment, have children early, and receive income support themselves.

In 2009-10, almost 15 per cent of children lived in families where no parent was employed. The proportion of jobless families was 45 per cent among one-parent families and 5 per cent for couple-parent families.

Since 1980, single-parent families have accounted for at least half of all jobless families with children.

No contraception, no dole


Compared with middle-class families (Pech and McCoull 2000) income support dependent families are three and a half times as likely to have more than four children, three times as likely to have a youngest child under six years of age. The parents in income support dependent families are four times as likely to be unpartnered, and about twice as likely to have given birth before the age of 2l.

In 2012-13 there were 135,000 children receiving child protection services (investigation, care and protection order and/or in out-of-home care).

Australia, there is a problem.

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About the Author

Gary Johns is a former federal member of Parliament and served as a minister in the Keating Government. Since December 2017 he has been the commissioner of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

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