Family Values: 54% would be willing to help a relative die

Fathers’ rights, same-sex marriage, right to die: old and young agree on most family issues

The gap between young and old isn’t nearly as wide as you might think, based on the results of The Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI “Family Values” opinion poll

The changes to the Irish family within a single generation have been dizzying: In the late 1960s, just 3 per cent of children were born outside marriage, and cohabiting couples were so rare they weren’t even counted in the census.

Today, more than a third of children are born outside marriage. Same-sex couples are raising children in the community. Tens of thousands of children are growing up among cohabiting couples.

Given that older people are more likely to reflect the values prevalent in their formative years, surely the changing shape of the Irish family is a cultural war zone being fought across the generational divide?

Well exponents of inter-generational conflict are set to be disappointed: the gap between young and old isn't nearly as wide as you might think, based on the results of The Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI "Family Values" opinion poll.


There are differences in attitudes on some issues, for sure; but the modern generational divide is a much gentler affair.

Take the issue of marriage versus co-habitation. When respondents are asked whether marital relations are more stable than cohabiting ones, overall opinion is divided down the middle – 51 per cent are in agreement, while 43 per cent disagree.

More stable

But the divide isn’t necessarily age-related. When the figures are broken down, a majority of older people (59 per cent) aged 55 or more agree that marriage is more stable.

Yet, almost half (47 per cent) of younger people aged under 34 also agree that marriage is more stable.

There’s a similar pattern when respondents are asked whether children fare better when their parents are married.

Overall, opinion is divided in two. A closer look at age-related patterns shows a majority of older people (63 per cent) agree that young people do best in these settings. Yet, a fairly large proportion of young people (39 per cent) do too.

The large proportion of younger people who see marriage as superior may seem surprising given the rapid increase in the numbers choosing to cohabit since the mid-1990s.

But sociologists point out that for most unmarried couples with children living together, co-habitation is a precursor to marriage.

So while there are changes across the generational divide on attitudes to family life, there also appears to be deep underlying continuities in Irish families.

Latest figures appear to bear this out. Younger adults are more likely to postpone both childbirth and marriage. In fact, marriage as an institution has been growing in popularity over recent years.

Respondents were also asked whether they felt two-parent families are better than single-parent families.

Overall, a large majority (72 per cent) feel two-parent families were better. Support levels are highest among older age groups, but a significant majority of young people (63 per cent) feel the same way.

Strong ties across the generations are also evident in attitudes towards co-habiting couples being allowed to adopt.

Adoption by unmarried couples is not allowed at present, though there are plans to change this under the Child and Family Relationships Bill, which is being debated in the Oireachtas.

A large number (80 per cent) of overall respondents support the idea that co-habiting couples should be able to adopt.

When broken down by generations, a healthy majority across all age-groups are in favour of such a move.

There is broad consensus, too, and support for equal rights for fathers and mothers with an overwhelming majority (96 per cent) backing this move.

Despite this spirit of generational rapprochement, young and old are still different in their attitudes to aspects of how families live now.

Take the contentious issue of same-sex marriage. A large majority of overall respondents (78 per cent) agree that gay people should be allowed to marry, a figure which will boost the confidence of marriage equality campaigners in the run-up to May’s referendum.

When these numbers are broken down by generation, it’s little surprise to see that young people are most likely to support these moves.

While a great deal of older people do too, the gap between the generations begins to widen on same-sex issues.

An overwhelming majority of under-35s (89 per cent) support same-sex marriage. But most over-55s say they would also support such a move in significant numbers (61 per cent).

On whether same-sex couples should be able to adopt, again, a significant majority (71 per cent) of overall respondents agreed.

When broken down by age, a large majority of younger people (83 per cent) agree, while a slender majority of older people (51 per cent) would support it.

The issue of surrogacy has often been thrown around in the same breath as same-sex marriage, given that it offers a pathway to parenthood for some same-sex partners.

Under new laws, commercial surrogacy – where a woman is paid to carry a baby for someone else – is due to be banned in Ireland.

Despite this, a majority of respondents say they support commercial surrogacy (60 per cent). Younger people were more likely to support it (72 per cent), falling to 57 per cent among those aged 35 to 54, and 48 per cent among those aged 55-plus. Among those aged 55-plus, a slender majority were opposed (50 per cent, versus 48 per cent).

Twenty years on from the divorce referendum, though, there is little sign of the division that split the country in two.

In fact, a majority of respondents (65 per cent) believe it should be easier to get a divorce, while 31 per cent disagree.


This majority extends across all age groups, but declines with age (from 68 per cent among under-34s to 59 per cent among over-55s).

Perhaps the closest there is to a wide generation gap is in relation to the morally controversial issue of euthanasia.

Overall, a slender majority of respondents – 54 per cent – agree there are circumstances where they would help a family member to die. Younger people are most likely to agree. Some 66 per cent of those aged 15 to 34 agree, falling to just 37 per cent among the over-55s.

The Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll interviewed a representative sample of 1,000 adults aged 15 and over, and was carried out between February 5th and 19th 2015.