Families in times of accelerated societal and demographic changes

Monteortone, Abano Terme (Pd, Italy), 11-14 January 2023

Over the last decades, family structures and family dynamics have undergone major changes in most European countries with increases in unmarried cohabitations, singlehood, divorces and separation as well as step and blended families.

In family demography, these changes are typically interpreted on the one side as consequences of structural change (e.g. the massive increase in women’s education and their labour market participation), on the others as the result of deep transformations in values, attitudes and norms.

Even in more traditional contexts, there are clear signs of change in gender and intergenerational relationships and values, which also mean new needs and roles for family members. Such changes translate in adaptations in the way families function but also require adaptation in the legal regulation of family relationships. In addition, in the last fifteen years, Europe had to face several disruptive external shocks: The Great Economic Recession (2008 2013), the recent Covid-19 pandemics (since 2020), the most recently the energetic crisis (since 2022) which fuel further changes in family behaviours. In addition to these period events, new challenges are brought by the steady population ageing in process Europe leading to the so called “Grey Tsunami”, an unprecedented proportion of older individuals that will also affect family and societal life on the whole.

The de-standardization of family life course is to be understood in the light of such context. Growing couple instability, increasing family diversity, as well as stagnant low fertility and increasing prevalence of permanent childlessness are phenomena seem to be exacerbated by such contextual changes. The challenge for family researchers is to be able to capture empirically the development of family relationships and structures, generate pertinent analyses of new family risks and processes through valid and reliable data. Such evidence-based ground for policies is crucial in order to lead changes, to address family vulnerabilities and reduce inequalities.