October 27, 2021

The end of the nuclear family …. ?

The model of the nuclear family is irretrievably broken and it will soon become normal for children to be raised by relations other than their parents

So said the Daily Telegraph at the end of November quoting a press release from the new chief executive of The Family and Parenting Institute (FPI); Dr Katherine Rake.

The press release gave startling figures such as: “The percentage of children living in a couple relationship fell from 92 per cent in 1972 to 77 per cent in 2008”; “Approximately one in four children are being brought up by single parents compared with one in 14 in 1972” and “Changing family forms are producing a so-called ‘beanpole’ effect, with more generations alive at the same time, but with fewer aunts and uncles etc”.

Dr Rake also emphasised that the concept of the family will alter radically within the next 10 to 20 years with mothers playing a less dominant part in children’s lives due to work committments and the extended family will take on the role of communal parents.

All of this, if correct, will have serious implications for genalogists in the future.

Those of us used to tracking family groups back through successive census records will find it much more difficult if the “family” group consists of two children (possibly from different fathers), a mother and her grandparents. The grandparents may have a completely different surname from the mother of the children. Now this could be beneficial if they are her grandparents on the paternal side as it will give some clue to the missing generation, but if they are on her maternal side the missing generation will be much more difficult to find.

Tracing from birth certificates will result in far more dead ends due to illegitimacy reducing the possibility of successfully finding all of a person’s great-great-grandparents. Tracing back through marriages and marriage certificates will not necessarily be an option if marriage becomes a much less common occurrence, and less marriages removes more than just marriage certificates it also reduces the number of divorce records.

Perhaps new basic skills will have to be learnt such as following records from the Child Support Agency (CSA) or even gaining access to Social Security records in order to ascertain parentage. Records of civil partnership may also become more key documents. Perhaps genealogists will just have to rely even more on family records and personal knowledge of living relatives to gain an insight into ancestors necessary to build a family tree.

Not everyone agrees with Dr Rake; Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, pointed out that for many young people extended family ties no longer existed because of break ups in previous generations. This view tends to rule out the possibility of communal parenting.

All in all it doesn’t look like the genealogists task will become any easier. We can only hope that the continuing advancement of government bureaucracy provides more quantity and quality of other records to assist us in the face of this predicted breakdown of the standard family group.

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