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Don’t Write Off The ‘Nuclear Family’

7 September 2016

Don’t Write Off The ‘Nuclear Family’

Family First is warning that recent media headlines such as “Mum, dad and the kids? Not so much ...” "nuclear family a thing of the past" and "the nuclear family has exploded" are misleading because of the shortcomings and limitations of the research that the statements are based on.

"The research comes from a very small sample of just over two hundred 15-year-olds. The study itself states that 'the sample cannot be generalised to all New Zealand children.' This is primarily because the 15 year-olds' parents were young at the time of their birth, but also because it is not a random sample of NZ teenagers," says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of family First NZ.

"The mothers' median age was just 22 and young maternal age is a known marker for increased instability of family life. The study authors state that 'young parenthood may be associated with educational and socioeconomic disadvantage'. That only 26 percent were living with two biological parents by age 15 may be an effect of this disadvantage and distinct to this sample."

"Additionally, nuclear families are defined as mother, father and siblings. To highlight the finding that '7 percent lived their whole lives in households containing only nuclear family members' only tells us that many lived in households including a grandparent or boarder for instance. If we look at nuclear families of the past, the same would almost certainly be true. This is primarily a report on the living arrangements of children," says Mr McCoskrie.

“Significantly, the study also fails to distinguish between couples who are married and de facto couples.”

“Marriage is an important social good with a smorgasbord of positive outcomes for children and adults alike. This has been discovered from decades of research. In virtually every category that social science has measured, children and adults do better when parents get married and stay married – provided there is no presence of high conflict or violence. This is not a criticism of solo parents. It simply acknowledges the benefits of the institution of marriage. Governments should develop policies which encourage and support what works best,” says Mr McCoskrie.

Despite these shortcomings the study does provide new and useful data about the diversity and frequent disruption of some family households. Participants had lived in an average of 9.1 houses by age 15. Discussion about the impact of changing schools and social networks is raised but left unanswered by the researchers. Ironically a separated mother highlighted in one of the media reports of the study said, 'Everyone is a bit sick of moving I think. The kids want a forever home.'

Family First believes that children want and need stability and security. Study after study shows the nuclear family - with or without Grandma living downstairs - is the best model for providing these.

"It's regrettable that many seem happy to write off the nuclear family. Fortunately, they are premature. The number of unmarried births is now falling as are divorce rates."


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