Diversity "the new norm" for the modern Irish family

A Trinity college study has found fathers and grandparents are taking on a greater role in childcare and Irish family life

New research shows the modern Irish family is smaller and more diverse than ever before.

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin have found that families have adapted to changing economic conditions - although there is a growing risk of poverty in many homes.

The traditional nuclear family is now complimented by a wide range of modern family arrangements.

Irish family life has grown closer to European family norms with a rise in the number of single-parent, same-sex, migrant and mixed-nationality families.

The research also found rising numbers of co-habiting couples, families split across countries by emigration and ‘living-apart-together’ couples - those who are separated for parts of the week.

The research studied the evolution of the Irish family since the state’s foundation - with fathers and grandparents found to have taken on a greater involvement in modern Irish family life.

The study’s co-author, David Ralph, assistant professor of sociology at Trinity said “diversity is the new norm for Irish families:”

Through in-depth interviews with 240 Irish people across four generations, the research paints a detailed picture of smaller, more diverse family groupings in Ireland.

Mr Ralph said the study finds families have shown themselves to be persistently resilient, however distinct class divisions remain with children from professional, middle class backgrounds experiencing advantages in terms of education and opportunity.

“Those most at risk of poverty, both in the past and continuing to this day, are single parent families - but particularly single parent families headed by females,” said Mr Ralph.

“Nowadays you have what you might call the new poor; those families where at least one partner is working yet they are at risk of poverty or in poverty.”

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

The study found there has been a sea-change in what constitutes “good” fatherhood, with men far more involved in their children’s upbringing than before.

Grandparental supports were found to have taken on a hugely important role in family life as young couples struggle to secure a toehold on the property ladder and childcare costs prove prohibitively expensive for many.

An increase in the availability of contraception in the 1980’s has significantly changed childhood experiences in Ireland with fertility rates dropping to an average of two children per mother in 2016.

The research suggests children with fewer siblings are now “searching upwards for family bonds” and cultivating stronger ties with their grandparents.

Jane Gray, Professor of Sociology at Maynooth University and co-author of the book said it is important to recognise that different family groups have varying capacities to achieve resilient family relationships.

“It is necessary to avoid both over-estimating the challenges families face and over-stating the extent to which families are able to cope with whatever social and economic change throws at them,” she said.

The authors of the book are now hoping that the findings can be used to drive policy and implement changes - including potentially recognising the contribution of grandparents to modern family life through state supports.