Story: Families: a history
Families in 19th-century photos may seem very different from our own, with eight or nine children, and mother and father in clearly defined roles. Family photos now might show different stories but the sense of belonging remains as important as ever.
Full story by Ian Pool and Rosemary Du Plessis
Main image: Wedding party, Wairarapa, 1909
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19th- to mid-20th-century families
Families in the 19th century were large – Pākehā women had on average seven children each, Māori women six. In the early 20th century Pākehā began to marry later, and birth rates dropped to around two per woman.
Grandparents, parents and children lived together in Māori households. Most Pākehā households were just parents and children, although some included elderly grandparents, other relatives, or friends.
Mothers and fathers had different roles, especially in the cities. Men were the breadwinners, who went out to earn money. Women took care of the house and children. In rural areas, women and children joined men in work on farms and in small businesses.
Mothers without male support survived doing paid work. A Widows’ Pension was introduced in 1911, but it wasn’t until 1946 that all mothers could access the Family Benefit.
The baby boom
After the Second World War there was a ‘baby boom’, when Pākehā women had three or four children each. Women who got pregnant outside marriage would usually marry before the birth.
In the 1970s Pākehā and Māori birth rates both dropped to around two births per woman. This did not change over the next three decades. Pacific women tended to have more children on average, and Asian women fewer.
Families from the 1970s
People had begun to question traditional ideas about families. From the 1970s more mothers were involved with paid work and had on average only two children. However, in 2010 mothers were still more involved with childcare than fathers.
In 1973 the Domestic Purposes Benefit for solo parents was introduced. This enabled more women to raise children on their own, or to leave their husbands. Divorce became more common.
As parents entered new relationships, many children were brought up with step- or half-siblings. Some children moved between their separated parents. Some were raised by parents in gay or lesbian relationships.
In 2008 nearly half of all children were born outside marriage, often to couples in committed relationships. The average age for giving birth was 30.