Tuesday 21 November 2017

Modern Irish family revealed: fewer kids, stay-at-home dads and vital grandparents

Grandparents’ contribution to supporting families has been consistently underestimated, according to research by academics in Trinity College Dublin. Stock photo.
Grandparents’ contribution to supporting families has been consistently underestimated, according to research by academics in Trinity College Dublin. Stock photo.

Grainne Loughran

The face of the modern Irish family has changed dramatically - it is now smaller, more diverse, and often has both parents working.

Grandparents' contribution to supporting families has also been consistently underestimated, according to research by academics in NUI Maynooth and Trinity College Dublin.

The research found that without grandparental supports, young families would struggle to join the property ladder and childcare costs would become exorbitant for many.

It also discovered that families are becoming smaller, and today's fathers are much more involved in their children's upbringing as more women enter the workplace.

The study of four generations of Irish families has revealed fundamental changes in the nature of family life over the past century, bringing Ireland in line with European counterparts.

There has also been a rise in the diversity of the family structure, with more single-parent families, migrant and mixed-nationality families, and gay and lesbian families.

The findings have been published in a new book entitled 'Family Rhythms: The Changing Textures of Family Life in Ireland'.

Co-author David Ralph says that big changes started happening to family structure in the 1980s.

"The swinging sixties happened in London in the 1960s, but they probably happened in the 1980s and 1990s in Ireland," said the assistant professor of sociology at Trinity College.

"It happened a little bit later in Ireland, but when it eventually did happen, it happened dramatically."

Mr Ralph cites the availability of contraception and the feminist movement as some of the most central reasons for the change.

"Since the foundation of the State, what was different about Irish families was that women had very large numbers of children.

"We were exceptional in a European sense in terms of fertility rates, but there was a massive drop off there with things like the availability of contraception and the rise of feminism," he said.

"The marriage bar in the civil service was in place for women until 1973. Now more women are staying in the workplace for longer, which means there are more men and women working together, which changes the relationship of mothers and fathers in the home."

He hopes that policy makers will take the findings of the book and implement changes accordingly.

"One thing would be recognition of the contribution that grandparents make, with some sort of tax credits around that, that the grandparent would be recognised as being in that caring role and rewarded for it," Mr Ralph said.

The project, which was started in 2011, used 240 archived interviews to create a picture of Irish family life.

"The oldest one was born in 1916 and the latest born in the 1980s, so we had four generations of Irish people all speaking about family life in this very rich archive," the assistant professor said.

Jane Gray, professor of sociology at Maynooth University and co-author of the book, said: "It is necessary to avoid both overestimating the challenges families face and overstating the extent to which families are able to cope with whatever social and economic change throws at them."

Irish Independent

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