Societies are in a state of constant evolution. Social structures and mores shift to accommodate our new ways of viewing and understanding the world around us. In exploring the reality of modern Irish family structures and belief systems, we were expecting to document and reflect upon a rapidly changing culture. What we were not expecting was the sheer velocity of that change.

Times they are a-changing, and fast

In our research we explored Irish attitudes to the family unit, marriage, gender roles, sexuality and religion. People are experiencing these key pillars of society in new ways and our data reflects a very dramatic shift in attitudes and behaviour from one generation the next in 5 key areas.

"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future" - John F. Kennedy

1. The Family Unit

Non-traditional is the new norm

43 percent non traditional

"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" (Leo Tolstoy) 

The family is the primary unit of socialisation. Only 10% of the Irish population grew up in a non-traditional family* but 43% describe their current family as being non-traditional, a massive shift from past to present experience. The accepted parameters of a family unit are eroding quickly with 85% of us currently having close family/ friends belonging to non-traditional families and 58% of us on average are excited by or liking this change. The extent of our positivity towards the evolution of what we define as a family structure is directly co-related to our age, peaking at 73% with the 18-29 cohort (millenials) and declining to 38% for 60+ age group.

*In our research we defined a traditional family as a married man and woman with at least one child. In contrast a non-traditional family was defined as a single parent, blended, inter-racial, co-habiting or same sex family.


2. Marriage

Not wedded to wedlock

58 percent marriage

"Love, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage" (Ambrose Bierce)

The referendum returned a 62.4% vote in favour of marriage equality. While we have acted to make sure everyone can have the same access to marriage, as an institution its appeal is waning. 58% of us agree that there is no real difference between being in a long-term committed relationship and being married, with 60% of our respondents finding the former preferable. Millennial men are the least attracted to wedlock- 79% preferring to be in a long term relationship without getting married and 46% of them feeling that getting married prevents people from living the life they want to live. Overall 79% of us still see marriage as an important institution within our society, an aspirational ideal, but people are increasingly happy for themselves as individuals to pursue long-term relationships and parenting outside of marriage.

3. Work and parenting

Who is ‘mummy’ depends on the money

73 percent breadwinner

"Behind every working woman is an enormous pile of unwashed laundry" (Barbara Dale)

Women’s changed role in the work force is now firmly established in our culture and this is reshaping traditional gender roles both in work and within the family. 67% of us describe as outdated the idea of women staying at home to raise the kids and 73% the idea of men being the breadwinner of the family. And though 79% of us still agree that it is harder for women to advance their career once they have a family, finance rather than gender is now shaping our assumed parenting roles. 66% of us agree that if one parent needs to stay at home with the children, it should be the one with the lower salary.

Amongst working parents what was striking in our data were the similarities between male and female respondents in attitudes to being full time with their family. 63% of men and 62% of women agreed that if they could afford to they would stay home with their family full time, while 46% of both genders did not find the idea of staying at home full time appealing. With more women than men agreeing that their work is more linked to their sense of self (70% vs. 60%) and 50% of men expressing a desire to spend more time with their children, there is potential for traditional gender roles to continue to shift into the future.

4. We’re coming out

and if we’re not we are happy you are

60 percent Millennial equal marriage

"Heterosexuality is not normal, it's just common" (Dorothy Parker)

Our survey showed high levels of acceptance from all age cohorts of same-sex couples living together, being in civil partnerships and having children together. However the millenials went beyond acceptance to active support of same sex families – 60% vs. average of 45.5%.

Our data shows a direct correlation between age and stated sexual orientation as being homosexual, bisexual or other. On average 9% of men fell into this category and 5% of women, but for the millenials these figures rise to 18% and 8% respectively. This indicates either a rise in homo/ bisexuality or that the younger generation are just more open and in touch with their sexuality. As 57% of the millenials find gay couples having children very socially acceptable, we can surmise that the parameters of the accepted family unit may evolve further in the future.

5. Losing our religion

72 percent men religion

"When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion" (Abraham Lincon)

59% of us classify ourselves as being Roman Catholic, but this seems to be more a descriptor rather than a statement of ideology. A massive 68% of us agree that religion has lost its relevance today, 67% that religious ideologies have done the world more harm than good and 53% of us don’t practice any specific religion.There is a clear difference between those currently in traditional families and those in non-traditional families regarding their views on religion with those in non-traditional families more likely to consider themselves more spiritual than religious, to find religion less relevant, to not believe in organized religion and to not practice any religion.

Where do we go from here?

Across the board the millenials scored highest on accepting and supporting our changing social structures. They were the most supportive of non-traditional family typologies and sexual orientations and the least drawn to the constructs of marriage and religion. Unlike older generations they are growing up in a culture where redefined gender roles have become firmly established.

The marriage equality referendum was an issue that activated and politicized the youth voice in ways we haven’t seen before. Younger voters were the main driver of the 60,000 additional people added to the supplementary register in the run up to voting day. Pairing this action with the attitudinal information we gathered, we can surmise that as our population ages a growing majority will embrace the continued evolution of non-traditional family units and be supportive of new iterations.

As a nation, we are changing our definition of the social units that shape us and how we relate to one another and we are looking for these changes to be reflected and recognised in all aspects of our culture.

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything

George Bernard Shaw


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