Family is an idea, not an institution

20 November 2014

LONDON: The notion of what constitutes a family is evolving far beyond the traditional average of mother, father and 2.4 children, with most Britons now believing that one size no longer fits all.

The Future of Families, a study of 4,000 people across the UK by media agency OMD UK and publisher Time Inc, UK highlighted the changes taking place, as 19% of respondents chose to include friends within the family sphere and 36% brought their in-laws into the circle. And 29% even viewed their pets as part of the family.

Overall, half of those surveyed believed that there simply wouldn't be a stereotypical family structure in future.

And just as the definition of family is altering, so too are the roles within it. In particular, parents were found to be sharing more of the day-to-day responsibilities and decision making than they did when a similar survey was undertaken in 2008.

This was especially true in the fields of childcare and upbringing (up from 54% to 67%), working and earning money (up from 34% to 41%) and shopping decisions (up from 24% to 33%).

Financial burdens abound, with two thirds of respondents concerned about the cost of living and one third worried about making the rent or mortgage payment each month.

But these same pressures, the report said, "have triggered the development of broader, more powerful family support networks", with, for example, two thirds of grandparents being called into action as childminders on a weekly basis.

People have also adopted cost-saving mechanisms as part of their everyday life. Thus, some 60% of mothers said they had swapped products to save money, up from 47% in 2009. And 63% of women were budgeting more carefully, compared to 43% in 2009.

The other major change in the past five years is the prevalence of technology in the home. Parents understandably worried about the sharing of personal information (68%) and privacy (67%), but most (78%) thought technology was not domestically disruptive and could even bring families back together in the living room, to watch movies on demand or to watch live TV events and tweet about them.

"It's encouraging to see that family is as important as ever - government, businesses and brands should take note of its changing face, behaviours and needs in order to effectively communicate with families across Britain today and in the future," said Lynne Springett, insight director, Time Inc UK.

Data sourced from OMD UK; additional content by Warc staff