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International Day Of Families - Maharey Speech



15 May 2000

International Day of Families

The International Day of Families is being observed for the seventh time on 15 May 2000. This year's theme is Families – Agents and Beneficiaries of Development and Social Progress. The special observance of this day reflects the importance the international community attaches to families as basic units of society. This report provides a snapshot of New Zealand families.


Around the world the Family is the primary source for nurturing, sharing love, security and support, and is a vital means of protecting human values and cultural identity.

Families educate, train, and motivate their individual members, investing in their future growth and development. Families play a fundamental and crucial role in shaping society, being the main instrument of social integration through their function of socialisation.

A strong family framework is conducive to the wellbeing of all family members, which in turn benefits society as a whole.

New Zealand Families – Diversity and Change

In New Zealand family generally means groups and individuals which are the primary sources of interpersonal support and guidance, including kinship groups, enduring relationships of mutual commitment between couples, and enduring networks of friendships. Many different forms of families exist and structures are now much more likely to change over time than in the past.

The 1996 Census showed that the vast majority of New Zealanders (around 4 in every 5) live as part of a family, within the same household. Most people also have family ties with people living in other households: parents - adult children, children living with their other parent, other relatives and even close friends who are regarded as “family”.

Changes in the characteristics of families over time reflect such trends as the ageing of the population, delayed marriage and childbearing, increased cohabitation and marital breakdown, and extended youth dependency. The living arrangements and economic well-being of families have also been influenced by changes in the state of the economy and the labour market over the past 15 years.

Families with dependent children
Among families made up of parents and children, most (79 percent) included at least one dependent child. It is these families which were historically the focus of government policy for families with children. However, longer periods of education, high levels of unemployment, and changes in state support for young people mean that many young people remain partly dependent on their parents at older ages. For example, in 1996, 72 percent of 15-19 year olds, and 33 percent of 20-24 year olds were still living with their parents. At the same time, 17 percent of unemployed men aged 25-44 were living with their parents.

Sole parent families
One of the most notable trends in the past 30 years has been the growth in the number of sole parent families. Although this growth slowed in the 1990s, sole parent families made up 27 percent of families with dependent children in 1996, compared to 10 percent in 1976. Almost one in four children (24 percent) lived with just one parent at the time of the last census, the proportion being higher for Maori children (41 percent) and Pacific Islands children (29 percent). Higher proportions of children are likely to spend at least part of their childhood in a sole parent family than can be shown in the snapshot provided by the census.

Children in sole parent families do not necessarily lack adult company. In 1996, about 1 in every 3 sole parent families shared a household with other families or individuals, sharing being most common among Maori and Pacific Islands sole parents. Many children of sole parents spend time with their other parent, and some acquire new sets of relatives as their parents find new partners. There is no comprehensive data on blended or step-families, but the rise in remarriage suggests that the incidence of such families is likely to be increasing.

Sole parent families are generally more disadvantaged than two-parent families in terms of employment, income, education and housing. New Zealand and overseas research provides evidence of a strong association between childhood disadvantage and poor outcomes in later life.

Mäori families
Mäori are less likely than non-Mäori to live in couple-only families and much more likely to live in families with dependent children. In 1996, only 11 percent of Mäori lived in couple-only families, compared to 27 percent of non-Mäori. Conversely, 81 percent of Mäori individuals lived in families with dependent children, compared with 60 percent of non-Mäori. These patterns reflect the younger age structure of the Mäori population and higher rates of childbearing.

Among sole parent families, 31 percent of parents were Mäori in 1996. Mäori are more likely than non-Mäori to live in extended families, indicating the continuing importance of the traditional whanau. In 1996, 20 percent of Mäori lived in an extended family, compared to just 8 percent of the non-Mäori population.

Older Mäori are less likely than non-Mäori to live alone or with a partner – 20% live in multiple family arrangements. Older Mäori also benefit from the status accorded to older people, especially kaumatua, and are generally optimistic about ageing. .

Pacific peoples living in families
Pacific peoples living in New Zealand are more likely than other ethnic groups to live in families, particularly families with children. In 1996, only 7 percent of Pacific people lived in couple-only families, compared to 30 percent of Europeans and 11 percent of Mäori. Conversely, 83 percent of Pacific peoples lived in families with dependent children, compared to 57 percent of Europeans and 81 percent of Mäori.
New Zealand’s Pacific population is comparatively young. Half are 20 years or younger. A total of 96% of Pacific peoples are living in family households, compared to 87% of the total New Zealand population. Of those living in households that contained more than one family and/or other individuals, 42% were Pacific peoples, compared to 17% for the New Zealand population as a whole. Overseas-born Pacific peoples are more likely to be sharing accommodation with other families.

Pacific peoples are more likely than the general population to live in extended families. However Pacific peoples whose living conditions were crowded were twice as likely (74%) to belong to an extended family.

In 1986, 21% of Pacific families lived with only one parent, by 1996 this had risen to 32%.

Couple-only families
The number of couples without any children at home continues to rise. In 1996, 37 percent of families living in the same household were couples without children, an increase from 32 percent in 1986. Some of these are older couples whose children have left home; others are younger couples likely to have children in the future. A small proportion of couple-only families (0.7 percent) were same-sex couples.

New settlers and refugees
Between 1991 and 1996 New Zealand's overseas-born population increased by almost 78,000 people, with 72 percent of that number being born in Asia. Migrants tend to have a more youthful profile than the population as a whole, with a high proportion in the working age groups, many of whom are families. Of new immigrants counted in the 1996 census, more than 2 in 5 were aged 25-44 and a further 1 in 4 were children under 15.

Refugees comprise a key group of new entrants, with New Zealand committed to an intake of to 750 refugees a year, who may in turn sponsor the entry to New Zealand of other family members from similar situations. It is now increasingly recognised that immigrants and their families need special support to help them settle into New Zealand and enable them to contribute to the community. This need is crucial for refugees who have experienced much trauma and loss.

Families and Older New Zealanders
Families narrowly defined include parents and children. However, more broadly defined, the family can include three or more generations of children, parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents. At 65 New Zealanders can expect to live a further 15.5 years if they are male and 19 years if they are female. This gives older people the chance to play a diverse and often symbiotic role in relation to their family.

Older people often contribute to families while children are young, by providing not just the support and encouragement that young parents and their children need, but frequently also routine and emergency child care. However, as people age further and become frail, the roles are often reversed with families looking after their older members.

Some new grand parenting issues associated with reconstituted families have been emerging in recent years relating to grand parents having access to grandchildren. And grand parents are increasingly providing care for family members with disabilities.

Issues for New Zealand families

Somewhere between 1 in 10 and 1 in 20 families are considered to be at risk and somewhere between 4 in 10 and 5 in 10 are at some risk.

Research indicates that there are risk factors associated with poor outcomes, including persistent low income, poor parental health, poor maternal education attainment, parenting skills, attitudes and preferences, family disruption and dysfunctional relationships. A significant number of children in New Zealand live in situations where some of these risk factors are present. An accumulation of risk factors increases the likelihood of poor outcomes.

Changes in parents' employment
The last 15 years have seen the development of “work-rich” and “work-poor” families:
 the proportion of couples with dependent children in which only the father is employed declined from 37 percent in 1986 to 26 percent in 1996;
 nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of two-parent families had both parents employed in 1996 and in almost half of these families, both parents worked full-time (30 or more hours per week);
 in the remaining 9 percent of families, neither parent was employed.

Partnered mothers’ employment rates rose from 40 percent in 1976 to 65 percent in 1996. Sole mothers’ employment rates are lower, but have also increased in recent years, standing at 36 percent in 1996 after falling from 40 percent in 1976 to 27 percent in 1991.

The percentage of mothers with babies under one year who were employed jumped from 23 percent in 1991 to 31 percent in 1996. Similarly, for those with children aged 1-4, employment rates rose from 37 percent to 49 percent over the five-year period. While there has been a rapid growth in the number of childcare services , there is still considerable unmet demand. The 1998 Childcare Survey showed that lack of access to early childhood education and childcare services was a barrier to employment for 22 percent of mothers, 30 percent of sole parents, and 23 percent of parents with incomes below $20,000.

Parental unemployment
A family’s relationship to the labour market is a key determinant of its economic position. Economic changes in the past two decades have adversely affected levels of employment and income for many families:
 during the 1980’s the employment rates of partnered fathers and sole parents declined, while the upward trend for partnered mothers virtually stalled;
 in 1996, more than a fifth (23 percent) of New Zealand children had no parent in paid work, up from 11 percent in 1981;
 in June 1999, 27 percent of children under 18 years lived in families receiving benefits, an increase from 13 percent in 1986.

Family incomes
High levels of sole parenthood, parental unemployment and benefit receipt result in an over-representation of children in the lower part of the income distribution:
 of all children in 1996, 26 percent were in households in the bottom income quintile (bottom fifth of the income distribution), and 23 percent in the next-to-bottom quintile, compared to only 11 percent in the top quintile;
 over the decade to 1998, the average disposable income of households with children or dependent youth, after taking account of differences in household size and composition, was just under 90 percent of the average disposable income of all households.

More parents have qualifications
Poor educational attainment of parents is associated with family disadvantage and can hinder educational achievement in the next generation. In the ten years to 1996, there was an improvement in the educational level of parents of dependent children. While the situation has improved for all ethnic groups, Maori and Pacific Island children are still more likely than other ethnic groups to have a parent with no formal qualification. The proportions exceeded 60 percent in 1996 .

Living arrangements
Over the last three decades there has also been considerable change in household composition patterns in New Zealand:
 one-person households have increased from an estimated 11 percent of all households in 1961 to 20 percent in 1996;
 the proportion of households containing more than one family remains small (3 percent), but increased by 62% between 1991 and 1996.

 in 1998, the median age of childbearing was 29 years, compared to 25 years in 1971;
 in 1998, the rate of childbearing among 15-19 year olds was 29.6 per 1,000, compared to 67.9 per 1,000 in 1971;
 New Zealand now has fertility rates that are below the level of population replacement;
 the rate of childbearing among unmarried women (including women living in de facto relationships) rose from 37 per 1,000 in 1985 to 50 per 1,000 in the early 1990s, but has declined slightly in recent years, reaching 47 per 1,000 in 1998.

Union formation and dissolution
Accompanying the shift to delayed childbearing has been an upward shift in the age of first marriages and a decline in the proportion marrying:
 in 1998 the median age of first marriage was 29 years for men and 27 years for women, an increase of approximately six years from 1971;
 among younger partners, cohabitation has replaced marriage as the most popular type of first union. Cohabitation is more common among Mäori than non-Mäori;
 the proportion of marriages ending in divorce increased steadily from the late 1970s, although the trend has now slowed.


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