The New Zealand family from 1840: a demographic history by Ian Pool, Arunachalam Dharamlingham and Janet Sceats: Auckland University Press.

AuthorCook, Len
PositionBook review

This book brings together a plethora of studies about the family in New Zealand and elsewhere to present a continuity of thinking about fertility and its changes, from the 19th century colonising period through to the start of the 21st century. In doing so it presents a very rich combination of statistics, analysis, insights and inferences.

The book is timely because after three decades New Zealand continues among the upper end of countries with sub-replacement fertility and seems more likely than most to avoid the dramatic ageing shifts of Japan and parts of Europe. Pool et al. focus on the polarisation of fertility, the shifts to a great diversity of family forms, the reduced size of all family forms and the loss of supportive policy settings, and conclude that future fertility in New Zealand remains vulnerable to global and social influences, perhaps even more so than before the 1990s.

The total fertility rate of New Zealand fell below 2.1 in 1974. The fall was quite rapid and dramatic, after ranging from 4.0 to 4.5 throughout the baby boom years from 1946 through to 1973. After this family sizes fell--excepting the baby blip of the early 1990s, which was repeated in 2000--and have continued to do so.

In this extensive social study, Pool et al. analyse the family not only from the perspective of the reproduction of the population, but also as an economic unit, as a housing unit, and as a cultural, social and political entity. As such the family is almost always the direct or indirect focus of public policy, generally where only some family forms are recognised explicitly or implicitly in legislation, institutions or process. Societal norms, religious beliefs and cultural traditions also shape conventions and practices, which can have immense influence. Where the dwelling, the household and the family have involved the same people we have the most information about the family, compared to family forms that are more disparate.

The post-war baby boom was a period of immense conformity of view about the primacy of the nuclear family as the representative and predominant form of the family. Pool et al. note that early marriage was almost universal, along with early childbirth, often of up to four children spaced quite tightly together. During this period the nuclear family was underpinned by public policy on employment, education and housing, as well as the form of welfare benefits, and was recognised in religious and cultural traditions. Marriage underpinned these traditions.

Until the 1970s marriage was an essential precursor to living together and the bringing up of children, even though the first child in many marriages was conceived before marriage. The existence of a marriage facilitated home ownership, and it also simplified belonging to schools and many other organisations. The Civil Union Act 2004 brought statutory protection to the interests of both co-habiting partners. Pool et al. note that marriage now offers few preferential benefits, and it is difficult to identify many beyond the obligations provided by religious belief and parental wishes, which could be again used to...

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