New Irish Family Structure to be Examined by Trinity College Study

Posted on: 29 October 2008

The reasons behind the changes in the structure of Irish families since the 1970’s will be examined in an in-depth two-year study by Dr Margret Fine-Davis of Trinity College’s School of Social Sciences and Philosophy. The study, entitled Changing Gender Role Attitudes and Behaviour: Implications for Family Formation in Ireland is the first of its kind in Ireland and will be funded by the Family Support Agency.

Since the early 1970’s Ireland has experienced fundamental structural changes in family life which include an increase in different types of family units, changes in gender roles, and a 50% drop in the birth rate. All of these will have consequences for the future.

The study will examine the reasons for the change in family forms and if these choices are leading to greater well-being. Dr Fine-Davis and her team will investigate attitudes to family formation and childbearing in a sample survey of 1,000 Irish men and women. Interviewees will be between the age of 25 – 44 and come from various family structures (single/cohabiting/married and living together), with and without children from a variety of socio-economic groups. The main study will be preceded by an in-depth qualitative study.

Dr Fine-Davis, Director of the Social Attitude and Policy Research Group in the School of Social Sciences and Philosophy said: “While much demographic research has attempted to explain trends in family formation, particularly in relation to the birth rate, hardly any research has explored people’s attitudes and preferences in relation to these trends.  It is clear that the current data available is insufficient to understand the changes in family formation that we are witnessing.”

Dr Fine-Davis’ research will lead to a greater understanding of the effects of changing gender role attitudes and behaviour and their implications for family formation in Ireland.  These issues are of particular importance because of the following factors: the falling birth rate and its implications in relation to the ageing population and the resulting dependency burden; the increasing prevalence of single person households and the implications for social isolation; the increasing prevalence of lone parent households; and the potential lack of well-being engendered by childlessness.

Speaking about the study, CEO of the Family Support Agency, Pat Bennett stated: “This is the first study of its kind in Ireland and one of the first in Europe and will provide us with crucial information that will benefit future generations. It is critical for us to understand how and why these changes are taking place so that we can fulfil our role in the Family Support Agency to greatest effect.”

The Family Support Agency under the aegis of the Department of Social & Family Affairs provides support to families and promotes and disseminates information about marriage and relationships, family mediation, parenting and family responsibilities and related matters.