New research has given us a snapshot of what modern families look like in New Zealand. 

An Otago University survey of over 600 fifteen year olds revealed only 47 percent were living with both of their biological parents. The findings show how the traditional “nuclear family” isn’t as common as it once was. 

At birth almost 80 percent of the participants were living in a two-parent household. However by the time they were 15, less than half still lived with both of their biological parents and almost 44 percent were either in a sole parent or some form of multiple resident care. 

Overall, 80 percent of 15 year olds lived with a non-nuclear family member, for example, a parent’s new partner or an extended family member (for example a grandparent or aunty).

The study, published in Kōtuitui: New Zealand Journal of Social Sciences, also found by age 15, 94 percent had moved house at least once, with over half moving house more than five times. 

The authors of the study say the results reveal how “diverse, complex and frequently changing” the lives of New Zealand teenagers are. This is why they argue “conventional ideas about family structure should be re-examined”.

“Regarding a nuclear family as the normative standard for family’s living arrangements 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.”

“This perspective can create systemic social issues, including inadequate social support for families that are non-nuclear.”

Other findings include:

  • Of the 612 participants, all spent at least some time with their biological mother, however, 6 percent never lived with their biological father.
  • 13 percent were in shared parental care arrangements after their parents were separated. 
  • Teenagers born to younger mothers were less likely to live in a two-parent house for the first 15 years of their life and more likely to have a non-resident father.

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