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Family life constantly changing for young people, study shows - Otago University

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

New research from the University of Otago highlights the constantly changing nature of family life for young people today.

The study found that more than half (57 per cent) of today’s 15-year-olds experience changes to the caregiving arrangements provided by their biological parents at some point in their lives, that almost all (94 per cent) had moved house at least once, and that most young people have shared a household with a non-nuclear family member or family friend at some point in their lives. The researchers used a unique, two-generation study involving 612 children born to 375 members of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study (known as the Dunedin Study) to investigate care and living arrangements from birth to age 15. Study Lead Author Dr Helena McAnally says the study indicates that changes are experienced by most young people 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," she says.

Only 126 participants lived their whole lives in households with their conventionally defined nuclear family - mother, father and full biological siblings. This differed slightly by parental age; the 306 participants with younger mothers had a median of nine nuclear or non-nuclear co-residents, whereas participants born to the 306 older mothers had a median of six co-residents.

Overall, children born to younger mothers are more likely to experience change than those born to older mothers, so It is therefore important to consider the challenges experienced by younger parents when thinking about how to support families.

"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," Dr McAnally says.

"Regarding a nuclear family as the normative standard for families’ living arrangements fail 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."

The study was undertaken by Dr Helena McAnally, Dr Judith Sligo, Associate Professor Joanne Baxter, Janine Tansley, Aroha Bolton and Professor Bob Hancox, all from the University of Otago. The paper Changes to family structure, household composition and address among young New Zealanders: an update, was recently published in Kotuitui, doi:10.1080/1177083X.2021.1957946

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