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What does the average family in Ireland look like?

The traditional model of a married couple making up a family is in decline, according to a major new study which looked at family structures in Ireland.

Image: Julien Behal/PA Archive/Press Association Images

THE TRADITIONAL MODEL of a married couple making up an “average” family in Ireland is in decline, a major new study has found.

One in three families in Ireland now departs from this model, according to research by the ESRI and UCD.

The study found that one in four children under 21 now lives in a family that is not made up of a married couple, both of whom are in their first marriage.

Alternative family structures are dominated by cohabiting couples who have never been married and lone mothers.

The major study, Households and Family Structures in Ireland (PDF) was undertaken by researchers from the ESRI and UCD using information from the 2006 Census. It is one of the most detailed statistical studies to date of the structure of Irish families.

The study also uncovered interesting facts on what couples are like in Ireland. These facts include:

  • In heterosexual couples, men are on average 2.3 years older than their female partner.
  • In more than one quarter of young couples (under 30) at least one partner is from outside Ireland and/or non-white ethnicity.
  • There are more couples with different religious affiliations than with different nationalities or ethnicities.
  • In heterosexual couples aged 26-40, the woman has higher educational qualifications than the man in 34 per cent of couples.

Of the 1.15 million children in Ireland, 75 per cent live with two married parents, 18  per cent live with a lone parent, and 6 per cent live with cohabiting parents.

The study looked at the family circumstances of couples, parents and children resident in Ireland, and used micro-data from the 2006 Census.

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The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances FitzGerald, said that the report was “critical” to understanding families in Ireland and desigining services for them.

“This report gives us a valuable insight into contemporary Irish family life,” said the Minister. “Understanding the modern family is critical if we are to design and deliver quality services for families and children in Ireland, which is a priority for my Department”.

About the author:

Christine Bohan

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