The dynamics of families are projected to undergo substantial transformations in the coming years, according to a recent study conducted by the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research. The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, highlights a notable decrease of over 35% in the number of relatives individuals are expected to have in the near future.
Led by Diego Alburez-Gutierrez, head of the Research Group Kinship Inequalities at MPIDR, the study delves into the evolution of human kinship relationships globally. Analyzing historical and projected data from the United Nations’ World Population Prospects, the researchers utilized mathematical models to examine the size, structure, and age distribution of families.
The findings suggest a permanent decline in family size across all regions, with South America and the Caribbean experiencing the most significant reductions. For instance, a 65-year-old woman in South America who had 56 living relatives in 1950 is anticipated to have only 18.3 relatives by 2095, marking a 67% decline. In North America and Europe, where families are already relatively small, the changes will be less pronounced.
The study emphasizes the implications of these shifts, particularly in the context of rapidly aging populations. As birth cohorts decrease in size, individuals will increasingly need to care for older adults who have fewer or no relatives. The availability of kinship resources is expected to decline worldwide, with family networks becoming not only smaller but also older.
This trend poses challenges for societal well-being, as (great-)grandparents, expected to be more prevalent in the future, may themselves require care. The study underscores the importance of investing in social support systems to ensure the welfare of individuals at all stages of life. With a significant portion of the global population lacking access to advanced support systems, family ties are likely to remain a crucial source of support and informal care.
Diego Alburez-Gutierrez concludes that these substantial shifts in family structure will present societal challenges requiring consideration by policymakers in both the global North and South.