Focus on families: New Zealand families of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Author:Cribb, Jo
Position:Report
 
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Abstract

This article, based on the Families Commission publication The Kiwi Nest: 60 years of Change in New Zealand Families (2008), will discuss how family forms and roles within families have changed over the past 60 years, and will consider the future implications for those interested in families. The article first looks at New Zealand families today and includes projections looking forward. The different experiences of family over the last 60 years will then be presented through the lens of three generations of New Zealand families. The story that emerges is one of increasing diversity and change. The article concludes by discussing the implications for future public policy.

INTRODUCTION

Some may argue that the role of the family in society is diminishing. Evidence could be presented that shows some activities undertaken by the family in previous decades--such as the care of pre-school children and the elderly, the production of food (especially vegetables), house and window cleaning, and making bread and clothing--are now often purchased from outside the family more than they may have been 50 years ago. For some, this may signal the demise of the family.

What is more difficult to argue, however, is that the functions of the family are any less important to society, even if some of the activities historically associated with families are now often "outsourced" or "commercialised".

Four core functions of families can be identified. They are:

* the nurturing, rearing, socialisation and protection of children

* maintaining and improving the wellbeing of family members by providing them with emotional and material support

* the psychological "anchorage" of adults and children by way of affection, companionship and a sense of belonging and identity

* passing on culture, knowledge, values, attitudes, obligations and property from one generation to the next (Families Commission 2005). (2)

How these functions are performed has changed over time and is likely to continue to change. Families today are different in many respects from families of yesteryear. An accurate appreciation of these differences and the current forms families take is a prerequisite to designing effective polices and programmes to support them in the future.

This article, based on The Kiwi Nest: 60 years of Change in New Zealand Families (Families Commission 2008), will discuss how family (3) forms and the roles within families have changed over the past 60 years and consider the future implications for those interested in families. The article first considers New Zealand families today and includes projections looking forward. The different experiences of family over the last 60 years will then be presented through the lens of three generations of New Zealand families. The story that emerges is one of increasing diversity and change. The article concludes by discussing the implications for future public policy.

NEW ZEALAND FAMILIES TODAY AND LOOKING FORWARD

At the heart of New Zealand families today are couples. In 2006 57% of all adults aged 16 years and over were partnered and living together. The majority of those partnered (76%) were legally married (Statistics New Zealand 2007g). Of all households in 2006, 38% were couples with at least one dependent child and 19% were couples without children. Couples without children are expected to increase faster than couples with children over the next couple of decades (Statistics New Zealand 2007e).

De facto relationships and re-partnering are common. In 2006, 34% of all marriages were remarriages (Statistics New Zealand 2007c, 2008:1, 62). In the same year about 20% of all men and women who were in partnerships were living in a de facto relationship. Of partnered people aged 15-44 years, about 40% were living in de facto relationships, compared with 10% of those aged 45 years and over (Statistics New Zealand 2007c, 2008:63). This suggests de facto relationships will remain important, if not increase in frequency.

Living alone is a growing family form. Of all households in 2006, 23% consisted of people living alone, and this proportion is projected to increase to 26% by 2021. In part this reflects the projected ageing of the population (Statistics New Zealand 2007a).

Mothers are older at the time of the birth of their first child. In June 2007, the median age of women giving birth to their first child was 28 years, while the median age of all women giving birth was 30.1 years. This compares with a median of 25 years, for giving birth, in 1976 (Families Commission 2008:25).

The number of children being born is decreasing (in actual numbers and as a proportion of the population) as more people stay single, more people partner but do not have children, and more women delay having children until they are financially settled--often into their mid-30s or later. The fertility rate in June 2007 was just on the "replacement level" of 2.1, which allows for replacing the woman and her partner and babies who die soon after birth. The fertility rate subsequently increased slightly to reach 2.2 by December 2007. By 2016, however, fertility is projected to drop to 1.85 (Johnston 2008, Statistics New Zealand, 2005b, 2007b). It is projected that by 2061 children aged up to 14 years will make up only 16% of the population, compared with 21% in 2006. There were 890,000 children in this age group in 2006 (Statistics New Zealand 2007d).

However, the fertility rise towards the end of 2007, mentioned above, is associated with a mini baby-boom, going against the general downward trend in the number of births and fertility rates: 64,040 births were registered in 2007, the most since the early 1960s. The fertility rate at the end of 2007 (2.2) was the highest since 1990. By age, the highest fertility rate in 2007 was among women aged 30-34 years, while in the late 1960s it was among those aged 20-24 years. The reasons for this mini baby boom are not known, and a fall in fertility rates by 2016 is still predicted (Johnston 2008).

Maori and Pacific populations have a younger age structure than other ethnic communities in New Zealand. At 30 June 2007, for example, the median age of the Maori population was 23 years, compared with a median of 34.1 years for New Zealand's total population. In 2001 the median age for New Zealand's Pacific population was 21 years, compared with a median of 34.8 years for the population as a whole at that time (Statistics New Zealand 2003:9, 2008:14). Compared with other ethnic groups, Maori women have a higher fertility rate (2.8 at June 2007), lower median age of giving birth (25.9 at June 2007), and lower median age of marriage (25 years in 2005) (Pool et al. 2007:192-193, Statistics New Zealand 2007b, 2007a).

Families are becoming more ethnically diverse. About one in five children born in New Zealand in 2006 had more than one ethnicity. By comparison, about one in 10 mothers had multiple ethnicities (Statistics New Zealand 2008:34).

Family form varies by ethnicity. Maori and Pacific children are more likely than other ethnic groups to live as part of a single-parent family, while Asian children are the least likely to do so. In 2001, for example, the proportion of women likely to be single parents differed markedly depending on ethnic group and age. (Statistics New Zealand 2005:36-37). Some ethnic groups are more likely than others to live in multi-generational households and families. This is a particular characteristic of Asian families, as well as many Maori and Pacific families. In 2006 just over 27% of families with dependent children in New Zealand lived in households where there was more than one family. In 1981 this proportion was 17.2% (Pool et al. 2007:193-194, 260, Statistics New Zealand 2007e).

60 YEARS OF CHANGE

Our perception of "family" may change over time and our experiences are affected by our age and culture. The story of how different generations have experienced family life, is a story of change and growing diversity in the family form and the roles within families.

To begin the story this article explores the experience of families through the lens of three generations of families. This section provides statistics on the family forms for three broadly defined generations of adults:

* people aged 65 years and over (born in 1943 or before)

* people aged between about 38 and 64 years (born between 1944 and 1970)

* people aged between 15 and 37 (born between 1971 and 1993).

The generation that lived through World War II is considered first, and a picture emerges of a generation that married, married young and had large numbers of children. Few people born at this time deviated from the trends described here.

Experiences of Family for Those Born in 1943 or Before

For people aged 65 years and over (born in 1943 or before), family life might typically correspond with these statistical family forms.

Most people born in the early 1940s got married, and mostly before...

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