New lifestyles, new data – planners need a modern definition of the 'family'A wider range of social and demographic data to enable planners and policymakers cope with huge changes in people's living arrangements is called for in an important new booklet published today by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). It will involve re-defining what we mean by 'family' and households.
The advice comes against a background of:
- an ageing population;
- a decline in marriage;
- rising cohabitation, divorce and re-partnering;
- more births to unmarried parents; and
- a major move towards solo living.
Information will be needed beyond that provided by today's official registers of births, marriages and deaths, censuses and surveys, according to professors Mike Murphy, of the London School of Economics, and John Ermisch, of the University of Essex, 'Changing household and family structures and complex living arrangements', is published today by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to accompany a seminar held in conjunction with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the British Society for Population Studies (BSPS).
In it, Professor Murphy points out that, traditionally, data collection have used the household as the unit of analysis and have tended to be relatively unconcerned with what happens beyond its borders. He says: "It is increasingly important to be aware that 'the family' is not simply the group of close relatives that one lives with at a particular point in time.
"There are increasing proportions of children not living with their biological parents (and often with step-parents) and adults with former partners alive. And as average length of life increases and older people are less likely to be living with their children, who are major providers of informal care, their needs will be met increasingly from outside the household."
Professor Ermisch says: "Marriage and birth registration data shows us that major changes are taking place as to when in their lives people form family units. For instance, the age at which one-half of women had married at least once rose from 24 for those born in 1962, to 29 for women born in 1971. The median age for women having their first baby also increased - from 26.5 to 28.
"This difference between postponing marriage and motherhood immediately suggests that more women must be having their first child outside of marriage. However, it is not actually possible to confirm this inference by examining registration statistics alone. The problem is that official data collected at registration only records the order of births for those within marriage."
The booklet accompanies the start of a series of special seminars organised by the ESRC with the ONS, at which policy departments and academic experts will discuss key issues for those who provide official data.
Professor Ian Diamond, Chief Executive of the ESRC, will chair the first seminar, on May 18 in London. He said: "Clearly there are major implications here across housing, planning and the environment, as well as challenges for those attempting to estimate and measure the population. That is why what is going on in households and family is at the very top of our agenda."
For further information or a copy of the report, contact:
Amanda Williams at the ESRC on 01793 413126; e-mail: [email protected]
NOTES FOR EDITORS
1. 'Changing household and family structures and complex living arrangements' is published by the ESRC to accompany a seminar in London on May 18 - the first of a series being organised with the ONS. John Ermisch is Professor of Economics at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER), University of Essex, Colchester, and Mike Murphy is Professor of Demography at the London School of Economics.
2. The event is part of the Public Policy Seminar series, which directly addresses key issues faced by ESRC's key stakeholders in government, politics, the media, and the private and voluntary sectors. Others organised with ONS will examine the demographic effects of our ageing population, and globalisation, mobility, and the impact of migration.
3. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is the government department providing UK statistical and registration services. It is responsible for producing a wide range of key economic and social statistics which are used by policy makers across government to create evidence-based policies and monitor performance against them. ONS builds and maintains data sources both for itself and for its business and research customers and makes statistics available so that everyone can easily assess the state of the nation, the performance of government and their own position. More at www.statistics.gov.uk
4. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It provides independent, high quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC total expenditure in 2005/6 is £135million. At any time, the ESRC supports more than 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk
5. The British Society for Population Studies (BSPS) is a non-profitable society of persons with a scientific interest in the study of human populations. BSPS was founded in 1973, but originated in the 1960s. More at http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/BSPS/
6. ESRC Society Today offers free access to a broad range of social science research and presents it in a way that makes it easy to navigate and saves users valuable time. As well as bringing together all ESRC-funded research (formerly accessible via the Regard website) and key online resources such as the Social Science Information Gateway and the UK Data Archive, non-ESRC resources are included, for example the Office for National Statistics. The portal provides access to early findings and research summaries, as well as full texts and original datasets through integrated search facilities. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk
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