Less than half of New Zealand teens live with both parents at 15

Auckland for Kids

Research from the University of Otago shows the constantly changing nature of family structure and household composition for young people today.

It also describes the life-time family structures, living arrangements, and residential mobility of 612 15-year-old New Zealanders and considers the differences in experiences of children born to younger and older mothers.

All the study participants had a parent who is a member of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study. The mothers’ ages at the participants’ birth ranged from 16.3 to 41.0 years.

Data on young people’s life-time care arrangements, household composition and shifts were collected from their primary caregiver via a life history calendar.

In terms of family structure, the study found fewer than half of the young people were living in a household consisting of two biological parents. Only a fifth had lived in a household consisting of only nuclear family members for all 15 years. A proportion of those kids haven’t always had a care arrangement.

Children born to younger mothers are less likely to live in a two-parent house for 180 months and more likely to have a non-resident father, the study found.

It also noted that participants born to older parents tended to have fewer changes to care arrangements and family structures.

Most young people have experienced a substantial degree of change across their lives. The authors led by Helena McAnally say that the data indicates that complexity and change are normal in young New Zealanders’ living arrangements.

Another finding shows that most of the study’s target group had experienced multiple changes of address (median 6, range 1–27).

Noting these changes is important because this degree of complexity and change is poorly recognised by the policies, practice, and research aimed at supporting young people, say the authors. In their view, conventional ideas about family structure should be re-examined.

The nuclear family in New Zealand isn’t necessarily the norm, the researchers say. Assuming this fails “to take into consideration cultural variations in parenting and family systems and structures, reflecting a set of values that do not reflect the current diversity of society.”

In fact, of the 612 participants, just 126 of them lived their whole lives in households with their conventionally defined nuclear family – mother, father and full biological siblings.

The study found almost all (94 percent) had moved house at least once and most young people have shared a household with a non-nuclear family member or family friend at some point in their lives.

“These changes are not necessarily good or bad, but should be recognised by those working with young people as a reality of family life,” McAnally says.

“Families and households that include children are often flexible and may experience frequent change.

“The systems and policies to support families should also be flexible. At the moment this is not the case because most support agencies appear to expect stable arrangements with fixed and inconsistent rules about what counts as shared care.”


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News category: New Zealand, Top Story.

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