The report, entitled Family Figures: Family Dynamics and Family Types in Ireland, 1986-2006, shows that most women now wait until their 30s to have children, that marital breakdown has levelled off in recent years and that when marriages fall apart the child stays with the father in one-in-eight cases.
Published by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), it also shows how religious affiliation and ethnicity can have a greater impact on the possibility of marriage than socio-economic factors.
While Minister for Social and Family Affairs Mary Hanafin stressed that families round the country will benefit from a variety of social welfare payments this year, the report’s conclusions, written before the Budget, warn that cuts would impact on the less well-off.
Pointing out that those in lower socio-economic groups are more likely to be lone parents and more likely to have families with three or more children, the report states: “Whatever cuts may or may not be imposed on family-related payments and services, therefore, it is important that the redistributive weighting of those supports in favour of the less well-off is at least preserved and preferably enhanced.”
Referring to evidence of growing cohabitation and the prioritisation of having a first child over marriage, the report claims that there is limited opportunity to alter trends in family structure through financial incentives.
Family Support Agency chief executive Pat Bennett said the report showed an “unprecedented” level of change over the 20-year period, so much so it might never be surpassed.
Regarding the growth in the number of same sex couples and cohabiting couples, he said the Civil Partnership Bill was a move to have policy reflect what is happening in society.
He also highlighted some “contrary” current policies, also referred to by the minister, such as the fact that social welfare payments are higher for the third and fourth child, yet the report highlights the pressure on families after a first child, when there is a greater chance of marital breakdown.
Mr Bennett also said the report highlighted other areas that needed attention, such as the small number of men, about 900, receiving the One Family Payment, even though statistics pointed to 10,000 lone fathers raising children. This meant that many men are in employment and possibly not claiming support payments.