Research Confirms Diversity Of New Zealand Families
A report released today by the Ministry of Social Development provides a detailed picture of how the New Zealand family
has changed in recent decades. The report was commissioned from the Population Studies Centre, University of Waikato.
Patterns of Family Formation and Change in New Zealand describes a range of changes over recent decades in patterns of
family formation, dissolution and reconstitution. In particular, it details changes in the age of women at first
marriage, rates of cohabitation, age at first birth, rates of separation and repartnering, and the extent to which
children live in different family situations such as sole-parent and blended families.
Launching the report today, Dr Arunachalam Dharmalingam, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Social
Policy at Waikato University, said many of the trends that the report describes are well established.
“The value of the report is that it provides quantitative information about these trends. It also confirms that families
are diverse and that families change in form over time.”
Dr Dharmalingam said one of the key findings is that children are being raised in an increasingly diverse range of
“More children are being raised in sole-parent and blended families, and children are exposed to a range of different
family situations as their families change around them.
Dr Dharmalingam said that the report findings would assist in the development of public policy to ensure that the
interests of children living in such families are protected.
“I hope that the report will also contribute to an informed public debate about changes that are affecting families and
children in New Zealand.”
Key findings of the report The age at which women first marry has increased. Young women are now more likely to cohabit
than marry in their first union.
The proportion of women who are in a relationship has remained steady as the two trends have counterbalanced each other.
The number of couples who separate has increased.
About one woman in three separates within 20 years of first marrying.
Couples are most likely to separate in the early years of marriage, with the likelihood of separating declining as the
Women who married at a younger age are more likely to separate.
Separated people are increasingly likely to form a new relationship.
One woman in three has entered a new partnership within two years of separation.
About three women in four has repartnered within 10 years.
Women who are older at separation and women with children are less likely to repartner.
The longer a person is separated, the less likely they are to repartner.
The age at which women have their first child has been steadily rising.
Intervals between births have also been increasing. In recent years, births have been more common outside marriage.
Births to women in their teenage years are especially likely to be outside marriage.
Due to increasing rates of separation and childbirth outside marriage, rates of sole parenthood have risen significantly
in recent decades.
Nearly half of mothers have spent some time as a sole mother before they turn 50.
Young mothers are the most likely to be sole parents.
Young mothers, those in professional occupations and those with older children are most likely to move out of sole
Blended families are those that include children from a prior union of one or both partners.
Around a fifth of women have spent some time living in a blended family.
One in eight of these families included children from previous unions of both partners, which equates to around 2.5% of
Children are staying longer at home. Girls leave home at a younger age than boys.
Children, especially girls, are most likely to leave blended families early and least likely to leave intact families
About the Authors Dr Dharmalingam is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Social Policy at Waikato
University. Professor Ian Pool is Professor of Demography at the University of Waikato. Dr Janet Sceats is Managing
Director of Portal Consulting and Associates Ltd in Hamilton. Ross Mackay is a Principal Advisor in the Ministry of