How family structure and composition has changed since The Olden Days

At one time, the "nuclear" family - those living in the same dwelling - in most cases, at least in Western countries, consisted of an adult couple and one or more children. Exceptions were when there were no children, either by choice of the couple or it just "didn't happen" because of biological or psychological problems with one or both adults; or where there was only one parent due to bereavement or separation. Often this nuclear family was extended with grandparents, cousins etc. choosing to live as part of the famiy.

Over recent years the composition of this mix of families has changed in several ways.

  • The options available for those with difficulty having children have increased, with improvements in fertility treatment, sperm donorship, and surrogacy. This has resulted in many couples who previously would remain childless, having one or more children.
  • With single-sex marriage now accepted, there may be two adults of either gender, who are co-parents of one or more children, with the use of artificial insemination or surrogacy, or simply living together as a married couple.
  • A single male or female can now become the legal parent of a child either by adoption or surrogacy.
  • For financial or other reasons two or more families may live in the same dwelling, or on the same property with a "granny-flat" or separate part of the premises for one section of the group.
  • With gender-equality now being given more importance, there are more families now finding it necessary or expedient to have both partners working for income.
  • With more cases of both parents having outside-employment, there is a greater demand for child-care services, both during and after school hours. For information about the types of care now available, see the Child Care page.
  • Increasingly, it has become acceptable, both morally and socially, for couples to live in a de-facto relationship, and to raise children, with the same status as married couples. The stigma that was once applied in many cases to children born "out of wedlock" has been removed.

The changes in genetic relationships within families could make for a complicated judgement as to the safety and advisability of marriage between two people. For instance, a marriage between two people who were conceived through IVF with the same surrogate but unrelated donor sperm or eggs, can be considered "safe" but if the father's sperm or the mother' eggs are used this is not the case.

Legal complications may also arise in relation to wills, or child custody in the event of marriage breakdown etc. particularly in the case of a same-sex marriage.


The comments above do not in any way reflect my opinion on the moral aspects of any of the situations mentioned; they are merely observations about the changing conditions involved.

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