Nuclear family a thing of the past, new research shows

Pip Giles-Hosken is one of many parents raising her children Seth, 11, Lydia, 7, and Shantelle, 7, on her own.
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Pip Giles-Hosken is one of many parents raising her children Seth, 11, Lydia, 7, and Shantelle, 7, on her own.

The nuclear family is a thing of the past, according to new research that found only a quarter of 15-year-olds live with both their biological parents.

Only six per cent of those surveyed had spent their whole lives in households made up of only their mum, dad, and siblings.

The research was part of The Next Generation Study, which analysed the lives of 209 15-year-olds who are children of members of the internationally-renowned Dunedin Study. 

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Next Generation Study researcher Dr Judith Sligo said few teenagers had a consistent pattern of parental-care arrangements and most had experienced multiple changes in who they were living with.

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Only 54 (26 per cent) of the participants were living with both of their biological parents at age 15, and just 14 (six per cent) had lived their whole lives in households made up of only their mother, father and siblings.

Pip Giles-Hosken and her children Seth, 11, Lydia, 7, and Shantelle, 7, are among thousands of New Zealanders who do not ...
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Pip Giles-Hosken and her children Seth, 11, Lydia, 7, and Shantelle, 7, are among thousands of New Zealanders who do not conform to traditional household structures.

"This research just really debunks the idea of a nuclear family living in a nice little house with a white picket fence," Sligo said.

"There is a huge diversity of family arrangements."

Overall, the participants experienced up to eight changes in care arrangements over their 15 years. They also had lived at an average of eight different addresses.

Pip Giles-Hosken is raising three children on her own and says the family has undergone a lot of change over the last few years.

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She separated from her children's father two years ago. The family moved to a "horrible" house, with her dad and aunt.

"Looking back it was a really hard time. Being a single parent is tough. When you have a partner you share all the jobs and childcare. When you are on your own you have to do it all."

After spending the last couple of years in Christchurch, Giles-Hosken made the decision to move her family back to Ashburton.

"Everyone is a bit sick of moving I think. The kids want a forever home."

Giles-Hosken said she knew a lot of families in a similar situation.

"When I was growing up it wasn't very common to see single parents. Now it's the norm really. Which is good in some ways. It means I get heaps of support from heaps of other single mums."

Giles-Hosken said she was also supported by Birthright Canterbury Trust, a charity that works to support single parents.

Trust board chairwoman Jane Lancaster said there was no such thing as a normal family and more needed to be done to support single parents who were struggling.

"At the moment we are working with a granddad who is raising his grandchildren on his own," she said.

"There are all kinds of different situations but they are all families and they all need support." 

The charity worked with 192 families, including 437 children, and had a long wait list of families needing extra support.

Growing up in New Zealand is a longitudinal study tracking the development of about 7000 New Zealand children from before birth until they are young adults. 

Research director Susan Morton said the Next Generation findings revealed the diversity of family life in New Zealand, but should not be taken as a representational sample.

"The teenagers in the Next Generation study are the children of young mums. Having a young mum is one of the most common determinants that defines vulnerability for children from before their birth. 

"It is absolutely the case that family structure is different from a generation ago . . . However, we have found that living with a sole parent in the early years is less common for today's children than living in an extended family situation (5 per cent versus 20 per cent) and less common than living with non-kin (6 per cent)."

About 70 per cent of Growing Up in New Zealand children still lived with their mum and dad, she said. 

"It's all dependent on a huge range of risk factors. There isn't just one thing that makes a family or child vunerable."

 - Stuff

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