Within the social capital literature it is generally assumed that the mere practice of family life will generate norms of trust and reciprocity in the community. Community life has typically been the focus of social capital researchers. This work has pointed to the ‘decline of community’, but has tended to assume that family life has been unchanging. Yet, over the past few decades, family forms and practices have also been changing rapidly. Drawing on a national random survey of 1,500 Australians undertaken by the Australian Institute of Family Studies in 2001, this paper explores the relationship between family life and social capital. We examine whether generalised trust and reciprocity, and ties to community groups and organisations – two key measures of social capital in the community - vary for families in different circumstances and with different characteristics. In particular we examine whether they vary in traditional versus 'new' family forms (for example, two parent families versus lone parent families and single income families versus dual income families), whether they relate to people's attitudes to relationships and gender roles, and whether they relate to the level of trust and reciprocity within people's family and kinship networks. These analyses contribute to broader debates about the role that families play in the generation of social capital in the community, and the link between changes in family life and changes in community life.
Proceedings of the 8th Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference, 14-14 February 2003, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia