Anything goes in modern Kiwi family unit

'The family takes enormous numbers of different forms'

SHABNAM DASTGHEIB
Last updated 05:00 08/08/2012
Tony Simpson
CHRIS SKELTON/Fairfax NZ

TONY SIMPSON: ‘‘A complete nexus of relationships that runs every which way.’’

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With an ex-wife, two adult children and a gay partner, Wellington man Tony Simpson says his family should be recognised as valid as anyone else's.

A report from the Families Commission, released today, shows a shift in attitudes coupled with other factors has transformed what it means to be a family. There is now such a high level of diversity that it is impossible to pinpoint any idea of a "typical" family unit.

Mr Simpson, who is chair of Rainbow Wellington, was married for 13 years and he and his ex-wife have two grown-up children. He is now in a long-term committed relationship with another man which is accepted by his wider family.

"People who say you've got to conform to strict parameters and then you qualify as a family, I always find it of considerable impertinence. Who do they think they are, telling me I'm not part of a family? We've known one another for about four years now, so there is a complete nexus of relationships that runs every which way."

Mr Simpson, 67, said people took diversity for granted these days and everyone had a set of relationships which just fitted together. "In the past, although the two-heterosexual-parent family was more usual, and probably more usual for them to be married, they also usually had far more children than they would have today. It just changes over time and the family takes enormous numbers of different forms."

Families Commission chief research adviser Jeremy Robertson said over the past few decades there had been major shifts in the timing of significant life events.

The ageing population and decreasing rates of marriage were the most prominent present trends, as well as increased racial and cultural diversity due to immigration and higher birthrates of Asian, Maori and Pacific people.

The family still remained the basic unit of society and many couples, whether they are married or not, still perform one of the most important roles in society - caring for children.

HOME TRUTHS

New Zealand families in a nutshell:

The median age of the population has increased from 26.4 years in 1976 to an estimated 36.8 years last year.

About 23 per cent of adults were living alone in 2006 compared with 19 per cent in 1986.

The marriage rate is now less than one-third of that in 1971 and the age when men and women get married has risen by about seven years since 1971.

There have now been more than 2745 civil unions with 80 per cent of these same-sex unions.

Women now have on average two children compared with four in the 1960s.

The median age of New Zealand women giving birth is now 30 years, compared with 26 in the early 1960s.

Far fewer teens are giving birth compared with the 1960s, with the rate dropping from 69 per 1000 births to 31 per 1000 today.

Nearly half of all live births in 2010 were to unmarried women, compared with just under 10 per cent in 1964.

The percentage of working women rose to 58 per cent last year compared with 49 per cent in 1991.

In 2006 two-thirds of all mothers were working. Fathers' employment rates have remained consistent at about 90 per cent.

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Between 2000 and 2001, the hours that a child spent in licensed early childhood education rose from about 13 hours a week to more than 20.

- The Dominion Post

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